Academic journal article Oceania

'Bom Bombed Kwin: How Two Card Games Model Kula, Moka, and Goroka

Academic journal article Oceania

'Bom Bombed Kwin: How Two Card Games Model Kula, Moka, and Goroka

Article excerpt

'Moka is like a card game. Now it comes to us and we win. Later it passes to someone else; and so it goes round.'--Kont, a big-man of the Kawelka Membo clan, Hagen. Epigraph to The Rope of Moka. (A. Strathem 1971:1)

Kwin (queen) and bom (bomb) were the most prevalent gambling games when I was in the town of Goroka for fifteen months of fieldwork straddling 2009-2010. (2) Situated on the Okuk Highway in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, Goroka had a love affair with gambling, principally gambling with cards. Seventy-three per cent of over-sixteens (both men and women) gambled, and the staple card games were supplemented by legal slot machines and bookies, and illegal bingo, darts, lotteries, and informal sports-betting. I lived primarily within the National Sports Institute, in the west of the town, and spent most days and many evenings in various other areas, researching everything that was related to gambling including its detractors.

Card games have remained the most pervasive and the paradigmatic form of gambling in Goroka and the country as a whole since their introduction, and the games kwin and bom are new variations upon card games documented by Donald Laycock in 1966, and by the Oceania special issue of 1987. Elsewhere I made clear that gambling is valued in part because it temporarily flattens Goroka's diversity (see Pickles 2012, 2014). In Goroka it is widely held that the ways card games have been reinvented and adapted into new forms reflects and helps to enact shifts in the Zeitgeist of Papua New Guineans. I speak of the nation as a whole because in Goroka gambling games are known to bring people from different populations together, particularly in urban areas (see Levine and Levine 1979:54), and when they do, things and ideas are said to change hands. Focusing here on the specific properties of gambling games as techniques of comingling (at the expense of the diversity that is flattened) does not mean I assume a homogenous population--rather the opposite. I am looking directly at the forms of equation or analogy that are continually and deliberately brought into being using rules because of the assumed differences between people. I inevitably participate in an analogous process of covering difference through my description. I therefore give a couple of examples of diversity and its pertinence to gambling before I proceed.

People's relationship to the land on which they live is a prime insignia in Goroka's politics of diversity that is nevertheless flattened during a game. A player might be one of the customary landowners from the six recognized peoples on whose land Goroka was constructed, (3) or they may be an officially unrecognized settler from another province living on government-owned or customarily owned lands; they might be public, private or third sector employees living in residential compounds; they could be fourth generation residents who have lived their whole life in Goroka; they might even be distant kin or affines of any of the above who are visiting from their village, or from the capital city. Each of these possibilities could embolden or discourage a potential gambler when faced with unknown opponents in an urban location. Nevertheless, when a player does decide to play a game of either kwin or bom, they deliberately limit their pathway of fecundity into a prescribed form (the game they choose) that is recognized, even lauded for its uniformity. One of the ways in which the diverse people who reside in Goroka participate in a collective sense of Gorokanness is by playing the kinds of gambling games that are deliberately standardized in the town.

No games were specifically the province of a particular gender, but there were gender differences in gambling activities. This included a much higher propensity among men for gambling on sporting events, which was a stereotypically male interest, as well as on the most combative, or expensive games, because these involved the male quality of brinkmanship. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.