Academic journal article Oceania

Dangerous Visions: The Cassowary as Good to Think and Good to Remember among the Anganen

Academic journal article Oceania

Dangerous Visions: The Cassowary as Good to Think and Good to Remember among the Anganen

Article excerpt

TNTRODUCTION

The Anganen of the Southern Highlands Province, in common with many other Papua New Guineans, hold a special place for the cassowary in their imagination (e.g., see Bulmer 1967; Gardner 1984; Gell 1975, Healey 1985, 1991; Herdt 1981; Tuzin 1997), The Angenan regard the cassowary as a unique creature due to its ambiguous and excessive qualities such as the wanton violence of adults. The Anganen fascination with them remains despite the fact that almost no one could remember seeing one since the 1970s and that few claimed to have ever owned or exchanged one. At best, men said that these creatures were popular with their now dead fathers and grandfathers. In classically Levi-Straussian (1966, 1969) fashion, the cassowary is good to think for the Anganen, particularly in relation to one definitive characteristic of masculinity, the propensity for violence. This concerns legitimate and strategic violence through the linking of cassowaries to warfare. It also pertains to the capacity of men to act seemingly irratio nally and immorally in certain contexts. What concerns me here are contexts that involve the most cherished of relationships men share, those between men conceptualised as brothers. Anganen ideology stresses that co-equivalence, mutuality, sharing and support typify fraternity, ideals not always easy to maintain of course, and it is the linking of cassowaries to instances when such ideological values are not met that interests me.

I establish this link through a discussion of men's oral histories of clan fission. Agnates' greed in failing to share cassowary meat is often cited as the reason why individuals leave to take up residence elsewhere. I elaborate on this fraternity-cassowary connection through considering rawa, the main ethnographic focus of the paper. Rawa is the Anganen version of the agonistic form of exchange that so captivated Mauss (1951, cf. LeRoy 1979). Rawa occurs between individuals in relations conceptualised as fraternal who have failed to settle a dispute. It is known as resis in Tok Pisin as it involves the competitive killing of animals, ideally cassowaries. Victory is achieved when the opponent does not respond to a killing. However, in three of the four events Anganen men could remember in some detail, rawa was terminated with both protagonists equal. By this time the precipitating cause of the dispute was apparently irrelevant.

Like the cassowary they kill, the Anganen regard rawa men as having unique psychological states that drive them to engage in excessive violence, even if this is displaced through the frenzied slaughter of animals. This state motivates them to use animals in ways deemed irrational in other circumstances. Rawa men throw animal blood and uncleaned intestines at each other while yelling the most offensive of insults, before discarding the slaughtered beast's carcass as if it were rubbish. Under no circumstance may the carcass be properly prepared and cooked for human consumption until after the event. The Anganen regard the active stage of rawa as one of widespread danger to others in the community, and women, together with some men, are too scared to witness it. In many respects the ambiguities of this period resemble the ritual danger often associated with liminality (cf. Turner 1967, 1969, 1974). I follow a Turnerian line by treating rawa processually in order to see how, as practice, it not only engenders th is danger but ultimately re-establishes the grounds for mediation by others. Between the clan fission narratives and rawa, I consider the general attributes the Anganen assign the cassowary as this enables me to see why the Anganen appropriate this creature in this period of danger when brother fights brother.

The Anganen say that the Australian colonial administration prohibited rawa sometime in the 1970s and that it is now a thing of the past. The accuracy of this claim does not concern me. …

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