Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Money, Mayhem and the Beast: Narratives of the World's End from New Ireland (Papua New Guinea)

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Money, Mayhem and the Beast: Narratives of the World's End from New Ireland (Papua New Guinea)

Article excerpt


Le present article traite des relations entre l'argent, l'idee de nation et le nouvel imaginaire de l'apocalypse en Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinee. Robert Foster affirme que l'argent a joue un role important dans les efforts deployes par l'administration australienne pour creer l'idee de nation a la fin de la periode coloniale. L'auteur etudie les effets d'un nouvel imaginaire qui transcende l'idee de nation et s'exprime dans un apocalyptisme chretien qui devient la principale grille de lecture du monde. L'argent revet ainsi une nouvelle signification et de nouvelles valeurs, avec pour consequence la destabilisation du lien entre argent et nation observe par Foster. L'auteur affirme que dans cette nouvelle vision du monde, l'argent perd son pouvoir symbolique, de nouvelles formes d'identite se font jour et l'attachement des peuples a leur nation s'affaiblit.

The question of introduced money in Melanesian societies has tended to be discussed in terms of its effects on earlier forms of currency and exchange. There has been much interest in the way that money is incorporated into exchange systems and what this might reveal about the nature of indigenous valuables and, indeed, of money itself. The emphasis has been on the ways in which indigenous systems cope with the influx of money. As Robbins and Akin comment in their introduction to Money and modernity, 'the transition to money use has been as diverse as Melanesian cultures themselves, reflecting complex cultural, historical, and geographical variables' (1999: 20). Most of the case studies in that volume examine the processes through which these societies absorb money into their particular ceremonial and gift-exchange systems, and the ways in which these bestow meanings differently from market economies. My aim is not to discuss questions such as whether Melanesian valuables are form of currency comparable to money, or the relationship between indigenous valuables and the cash economy. Rather, I focus on the valuations being bestowed on introduced money, and their moral and political ramifications.

My starting-point is Robert Foster's analysis of the connection between money and the development of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) nation (1998). Foster argues that the discourses through which the Australian administration sought to educate the people about money before independence played a key role in shaping local people's conceptions of nation and state. Here, I extend his analysis to consider the subsequent effects of" new religious beliefs upon these conceptions. As Foster says, the new post-independence money, which bears distinctive emblems drawn from indigenous forms of valuables, became an important component in the transformation from colony to nation. These emblems were a major factor in bridging boundaries of-collective identity which had been formed around local and regional frames of reference.

In promoting the use of money, the colonial authorities stressed its advantages. Islanders were told that the new money was easily transported and could be widely used; it was universally recognizable and was thus held to be unlike traditional forms of wealth, not all of-which were readily portable and could be utilized only within the localized society of the village, archipelago, or valley system--and even then sometimes only in highly circumscribed contexts (Foster 1998: 65). Thus, money was extolled as a more convenient form of valuable; its adoption was an essential ingredient of progress and modernization and was thus a requirement for a 'well ordered and productive life' (cited Foster 1998: 65).

A great deal of emphasis was placed on the saving of money by accumulating it in banks. What the authorities had in mind was not so much the dissipation of money as a result of" wasteful consumption, as the physical disintegration of money that was hoarded in homes or pockets. The point here was that money was fragile and subject to physical loss or dissolution (Foster 1998: 67). …

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