Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society

Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society

Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society

Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society

Synopsis

Written with uncommon grace and clarity, this extremely engaging ethnography analyzes female agency, gendered violence, and transactional sex in contemporary Papua New Guinea. Focusing on Huli "passenger women," (women who accept money for sex) Wayward Women explores the socio-economic factors that push women into the practice of transactional sex, and asks how these transactions might be an expression of resistance, or even revenge. Challenging conventional understandings of "prostitution" and "sex work," Holly Wardlow contextualizes the actions and intentions of passenger women in a rich analysis of kinship, bridewealth, marriage, and exchange, revealing the ways in which these robust social institutions are transformed by an encompassing capitalist economy. Many passenger women assert that they have been treated "olsem maket" (like market goods) by their husbands and natal kin, and they respond by fleeing home and defiantly appropriating their sexuality for their own purposes. Experiences of rape, violence, and the failure of kin to redress such wrongs figure prominently in their own stories about becoming "wayward." Drawing on village court cases, hospital records, and women's own raw, caustic , and darkly funny narratives, Wayward Women provides a riveting portrait of the way modernity engages with gender to produce new and contested subjectivities.

Excerpt

Pugume Mangobe’s grave was an obvious thing to ask about when I settled into my first rural field site north of Tari town. I walked past it almost every day on the way from the house where I was staying to the trade store that had been converted into an office for me. The sky blue concrete marker drew one’s attention, and yet care for it seemed desultory; the paint was starting to chip and fade, spiky grass grew high around it. Pugume had been the third of five sisters, I was told, the middle child of Mangobe’s third and last wife. As the story went, Mangobe had been a well-respected local leader; known for his eloquence, he was one of the few men who could deftly use the cryptic metaphors, double entendres, and other aphoristic elements of traditional Huli oratory. And he was hardworking: his gardens and pigs thrived, and he had healthy, adult children from all three of his marriages. However, Mangobe was quite old by the time of the Mt. Kare gold rush in the late 1980s, and he was very angry when Pugume and her mother abandoned him to go look for gold, flagrantly disobeying his orders. Or at least this was one reason given for why he struck her down with an axe one morning as she was bent over a stream washing clothes.

Other people said no, it had nothing to do with the gold rush. Mangobe was angry about getting old and sick, incensed that he would not live to see his three youngest daughters marry and that his wife and her brothers would thus claim the young women’s bridewealth. He decided that if he couldn’t have his daughters’ bridewealth, then no one else would either, and so he set out to kill the youngest three, but only man-

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