Kabit, Rimbu and Opa: Modalities of Anganen Sacrifice

By Nihill, Michael | Oceania, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Kabit, Rimbu and Opa: Modalities of Anganen Sacrifice


Nihill, Michael, Oceania


INTRODUCTION.

Once the topic of grand theorists such as Robertson-Smith (1899) or Hubert and Mauss (1964), sacrifice can no longer be comprehended as a unitary phenomenon (Valeri 1985). As van Baal (1975) notes, one reason for this is that such arguments did not consider sacrifice among small, tribal societies such as the Anganen of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Here I discuss the two most important forms of male exclusive sacrifice, kabit and rimbu, the Anganen practised at the time of Australian colonial control and their abandonment soon after due to missionary pressure. The present argument builds upon a series of previous discussions (Nihill 1988a, 1988b, 1996a, 1996b, 2000a, 2001) which explore the theme that Anganen forms of social practice do not simply possess their own intrinsic meaning, but gain further significance in relation to other forms of practice. This may be partly through similarity, but mostly through contrast. It is the dynamic interrelations between forms of practice that gives vitality to the expression of key aspects of Anganen culture and social structure. This is especially the case when a temporal perspective is adopted as rimbu was periodically abandoned and the houses defiled, while kabit was not, the houses only being rebuilt if beyond repair.

I have already considered some aspects of rimbu and kabit in comparison with each other and with gift exchange (Nihill 1996a), focusing on similarities and differences in the forms of social organisation. Here I wish to consider aspects tangential to that argument with the focus on animal sacrifice and the venues in which it takes place, though it will be necessary to reiterate certain points of the earlier discussion. Once this is done, I wish to consider the impact, especially upon men, of the abandonment of these cults with conversion to Christianity. Part of this discussion will also consider what the Anganen consider to be a similarity between their pre-Christian cults and aspects of Christian practice, despite the radical difference between the two. This is known in Tok Pisin as opa, literally, 'offer/offering', involving the donation by the practitioners of money, food and labour to the church and church projects.

The critique of singular approaches to sacrifice is perhaps most severe with Victor Turner's (1977) likening sacrifice to another concept which has had long anthropological interest, totemism. In doing so he invokes the argument of Levi-Strauss (1963) that, like totemism, sacrifice as a phenomenon in and of itself does not exist, and therefore no single theory could be a satisfactory explanation of those practices categorised by anthropologists under this label (also see Bloch 1992:25). Moreover, even using the term 'sacrifice' is problematic if the definition of Hubert and Mauss (1964) that the offering is consecrated is adhered to. That is, it undergoes a rite of sacralisation to be followed by one of de-sacralisation. While I will note certain elements consistent with rites of passage, that the offering is specifically sanctified does not apply in Anganen. In the Highland context, this point leads Meggitt (1965:120) to reject sacrifice in favour of the more general term 'offering'. Certainly this observation is consistent with the Anganen recognition of similarity between kabit, rimbu and opa despite their at times profound differences. However, I shall use the term sacrifice here for a number of reasons. In part, as will be subsequently commented upon, the sacrificial offering as consecrated assumes the Durkheimian legacy of the sacred (and its opposition to the profane). More specifically, I use the term in part through convenience and in part as a heuristic device to explore these forms of practice.

THE ANGANEN

The Anganen live in the southern Lai-Nembi Valley region of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, being part of the some 200,000 Mendi-Pole language speakers (Franklin 1968). …

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