Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Trobriands live primarily on four islands in Milne Bay Province, northeastern Papua New Guinea. The islands are Kiriwina, Kaileuna, Kitava, and Vakuta. Kiriwina has been the most extensively studied of the four Islands. The Kilivila language belongs to the Milne Bay Family of Austronesian languages. Trobriands are primarily horticulturalists who produce large yam harvests in addition to other crops. Fish provides the major source of protein and a source of cash. The Trobriand economy also relies on selling wood carvings to tourists and remittances sent home by youth working abroad.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Melanesia


Papua New Guinea

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Collection Overview

The Trobriands collection consists of 56 English language documents. Although primary emphasis in the collection is on the ethnography of Kiriwina Island (studied by Malinowski, Weiner, Austen, and Powell), other studies present additional data on the islands of Kitava (Scoditti), Kaileuna (Senft), and Vakuta (Campbell). General coverage for the Trobriand Islands as a whole is limited to the survey made by Seligman of the Northern Massim area in the early twentieth century (ca. 1910) -- see 47: Seligman. Seligman's study covers not only the Trobriand Islands, but also the Marshall Bennets, and Muyuw (Woodlark Island) and its annexes. In summary fashion, this document provides data on the traditional cultures of the area, with specific information on geography, social relations, clans and totems, chieftainship, family life, youth and adolescence, courtship and marriage, burial and mourning ceremonies, and religion. Malinowski was one of the first systematic ethnographers of his day, and his approach to the study of "primitive" cultures is reflected in the objectivity he displayed in the collection and interpretation of his field data.

Malinowski's works constitute documents numbered 1-12 of this collection, with the first document (1: Malinowski), being the best for an overall view of Kiriwina ethnography. Additional information on the general ethnography of Kiriwina also may be found in 25: Weiner and 48: Austen, although in the latter case coverage is limited to the early 1930s. Scoditti provides ethnographic information for Kitava Island (44: Scoditti). Below are listed some of the major ethnographic topics discussed in this collection, followed by the specific documents in which these data may be found.

The culture summary was written by Annette Weiner for the Encyclopedia of World Cultures. The synopsis was prepared by John Beierle and Marlene Martin in February and April 1993.

BALOMA (BALOM), the soul of the deceased -- Category 775; also Categories 774 and 761 depending on context

BEKU, stone axe blades used as male valuables -- Categories 556 and 431

BWAGA'U, a male sorcerer -- Category 754

DALA, a matrilineage -- Category 613

GIMWALI, barter exchange (in contrast to kula exchange) -- Category 437

GUYAU, a person of rank -- Categories 554, 622, 613

joint family -- Category 596

KABISAWALI, a cooperative economic association -- Category 474, and sometimes 179

KEYAWA, clan -- Categories 614, sometimes 602

KEDA, the route along which kula shell valuables are exchanged -- Categories 431 and 487; also a linkage between the network of men involved in kula -- Categories 431 and 571

KITOMU -- a personally owned valuable circulating in the kula exchange (e.g., a shell necklace) -- Categories 431 and 556

kula ring -- Category 431

MEGWA, poetic formulae --Category 789

MEGUA TAU, medicine man -- Category 756

MULUKWAUSI, flying witches -- Category 754

People's Kabisawali Government -- Categories 631 and 668

POKALA payments -- Category 431

Trobriand Council of Chiefs -- Category 631

Local Government Council (officials elected by villagers) -- Category 631

VALU (villages) -- Category 621

KATUPOSULA (hamlets) -- Categories 613 and 621

SAGALI, a general term for all mortuary distributions -- Categories 431, and 760

subclan -- Category 613

TABALU, the lineage group dominant in Omarakana - Category 613

TABU, a discrete, named kin person or founder (ancestor) -- Categories 613, 614, 773, or 601

TAUVA'U, malignant non-human spirits -- Category 776

TOLI'UVALAKU, leader of a kula expedition -- Categories 431 and 554

valuables as objects of wealth -- Category 556; as property, Categories 556 and 422; in exchange transactions, Categories 556, 431, 436

women's mortuary ceremonies -- Categories 765, 431 and sometimes 556

YAUSA, a "myth" of women's sexual brutality -- Categories 773, 831, and 839

yam agriculture -- Category 244

YOYOVA -- the female witch -- Category 754

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