Thomas Edison University
February 11, 2018
This paper analyzes and discusses the work of Annette Weiner while in the Trobriand Islands. She was an anthropologist who was inspired by the works and the research of the famous anthropologist Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski and went in 1971 to study the people in the island. Her initial expectations were shaped by the reading and understanding of the research that had previously been carried out by Malinowski. She expected that the culture of the people would be as highlighted in the previous researches. She worked fully aware of the discordant realities between her observations and Malinowski’s research.
Weiner began to have an open-minded approach. She adopted a new approach where she chose to forget what she had read in her previous research and begin on a clean slate gathering new information. A critical problem that she faced was communication and interaction with the local community. As a foreigner she worked hard to gain the trust of the society as well as learn their language to facilitate communication.
There are several characteristics of culture that she identified in the Islands. The first being the role played by women in gender, personhood, and reproduction in the society and how important it was compared to what Malinowski had recorded. The practices of their way of life are different when compared to eastern and western cultures. Even with colonization, they had still retained part of their culture, and the system of economy was more complicated than what previous research indicated.
The experience proved that the women played a central role in the exchange of Trobriand. The mortuary distributions were particularly important whereby one could claim their identity through acquiring or withholding forms of property and valued objects. Through this system of social organization, the sub-clans reproduced themselves through reclaiming valuables men had previously provided to their sons and daughters. The culture also dictates that an indicator of social identity and strength are in control to exchange or withhold mortuary distributions.
The women had the trust of real family guardianship. It was the decision of the women themselves as to whom power would be entrusted. With each generation that came along, women had the line, and the men represented it. In raising the offspring, children have a lot of independence and freedom with little strictness from the guardians.
During ceremonies such as marriage, the man had to work extra hard to prove himself a worthy partner. Besides availing tobacco and betel nuts, they also had to grow yams as had her father and brothers. Yams were a sign of wealth, and by tending the crop, it signified a woman’s wealth and the respect accorded to her.
In her study, Weiner stretches the social theory further. Reproduction is viewed in a broader cosmological framework in which women are central to offering sexuality in marriage. In this culture brother-sister, ties are more important than husband-wife ties. She emphasizes the role of the different actors within the system and provides a separate analysis of the society of the people in Trobriand Islands.
Weiner, A. B. (1988). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Weiner, A. B. (1976). Women of value, men of renown: new perspectives in Trobriand exchange. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.
Haviland, William A., et al. Cultural Anthropology: the Human Challenge. 15th ed., Cengage Learning, 2016.