Obligations Kin Have Toward One Another

1. “The social and cultural system in which we live in determines who we define as kin.” Describe the a) economic; b) political/power, c) moral obligations kin have toward one another in this society.

Since the Trobriand society follows a strict belief in matrilineage, the relationship between the mother and her family as well as the father and his family is very important. Economically, the status of a person in the family, would often determine how many items he receives, and/or gives during a marriage, death and important events such as gardening that continues throughout the years.

Depending on the individual’s rank in society, the services one receives at different occasions are fit to their rank. A chief for example, at death would receive the highest mourning ritual of all. This consists of both his matrilineal relatives – “owners” and those connected through marriage or patrilineage, are the “workers”, performing duties in honor of their deceased relative.

Birth, for Trobrianders links the infant with a dead matrilineal ancestor, in this way the new generations play an active role in keeping the connection between the past and the future of the family. A father’s matrlineage plays a key role in the child’s status as well; the father is responsible for providing gifts for the child that will establish that child’s acceptance into the society. These roles are moral obligations of the different members of the family and very often establishments that family’s power.

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The power of yams in this society plays a very important economical as well as social part in the lives of kin. A man’s yam house is a representation of that man’s wealth, as well as another man’s fine gardening skills and a woman’s status, since she is the title owner of the yams. Often, yams are used as a symbol of wealth at harvest festivals where women compete for the wealth title by bringing in yams. The higher the title, the more praise and honor goes to that woman’s matrilineage. In marriage, people from the bride’s side of the family bring gifts of yams to the groom’s relatives; later they are awarded with valuables depending on the generosity of the yam giving. Therefore, yams and valuable items such as stone axe-blades often serve in economical exchanges that define the relationships and status of the givers and receivers in the society.

2.Describe how the sexual division of labor/ specialization occurs in this society. Include an analysis of how this is related to their concepts of “male” and “female”. Women in the society of the Trobrianders play a key role. They provide the needed amount of banana leaf bundles and skirts during the death of a relative, and yams when the reputation of the family is at stake. The female is the one that supposedly determines a child’s identity when the spirit of an infant is sent to enter her body by her matrilineal ancestors.

The woman’s yam supply comes into play with a need for her husband to purchase bundles. Though men are the ones that labor on the yam gardens and plant general gardens for the family’s food consumption, the woman receives the yams, as she is the one that holds the title.

The man also plays a key role in his child’s acceptance into society he works to get his child important gifts such as Chama shells that symbolize the first important political step in a child’s life.

While the man is the obvious breadwinner in society, servings as the gardener, the carver, the orator, the chief and so on, the woman is the nurturer of the home, the infant and the important family possessions such as yams, skirts and such.

3.“Society and culture are reproduced across the generations through socialization.” Explain how this occurs in this society. The Trobriand society is bound closely by their dependency on kin relations, fear of sorcery and a strong belief in their authority, the chief. The strong influence of a chief evaluates the presenting political state of the Trobrianders, they are unwilling to change as shown by experimenters such as those of John K. The society holds utmost respect for chiefs and does everything in their power to stay respectful and not anger the powerful sorcerers. This brings us to magic, which is both good and bad, the family spells are passed on from generation to generation, while the bad ones are feared and are often protected against.

The currency of the society is mostly yams, since so many exchanges and rituals are performed with them. At death, birth, and marriage, the exchange of yams and other valuables serves as the connection between different kin and the alliances present are guarded with care.

Hard work is valued high in the society, during marriage the man must show his bride that he is a hard worker and a loyal father, as this influences the way his child shall be viewed and accepted.

Social values are passed on to children as they grow up and experiment with love and sexuality, yet as soon as marriage is declared, the couple must prove to their society that they are ready to become adults and uphold their families.

4. Assess how this society’s religious belief system and practices, and moral standards are used to promote, maintain, and perpetuate: a) power and authority, b) social organization and control; c) economic exchange and reciprocity. Include the function of myths and symbols in your comments. The Trobriand society belief in power and authority is embedded in their chiefdom. The respect given to a chief is out of both respect and fear. It is known throughout the society that the chief knows powerful spells and if one were to disrespect or anger him, the consequences could be deadly and last for generations to come.

Superiority of the chief is demonstrated during a kayasa or yam competition, which allows for new political allies and noticeable displays of power. The passing of the chief and all the mourning rituals and traditions that follow, show the status of that chief and his value in the society, as well as his ability to have more than one wife. Social organization and control are instilled in family relationships and their ties to other families through marriage. Both matrilineal ties and clan ties are important to the society so that families, their possessions and beliefs and status are passed on from generation to generation.

Some key beliefs such as spells that can be cast upon others, result in things such as post mourning exchanges and the lessons to children of not accepting food from strangers. It is believed that death before old age is the result of sorcery therefore traditions uphold that protection spells are learned and gifts to family members are given to rid oneself from possible accusations. Economic exchange becomes highly important during marriage as gifts are given back and forth from the bride’s family to the groom’s. The importance of the groom’s mother cooking during the first year of the marriage is also key as it shows the deep interdependence of kin in the society. Example such as yam gardens, which are built by bride’s brothers and fathers, show the deep relations that both sides of the family have to keep in order for the society to survive.

5. Establishing one’s identity is a complex mixture of many variables including a) ethnicity; b) gender; c) caste; d) class; e) race; f) sexuality; g) ritualized role/status changes; and h) age. How does each of these variables factor into establishing one’s identity in this culture? The Trobriand society has many variables that define one’s identity in the society. Ethnicity and race of the Trobrianders is the same throughout the society, the only difference is the location of different villages on the island.

Gender, divides the society into labor divisions and cultural roles. The men tend to yam gardens while the women make banana leaf skirts and participate in yam exchanges. Both work hard in their divisions to provide for a common goal of providing for their immediate and extended family. Class defines the amount of power and valuable possessions the individual has. A chief might have more several wives, while a fatherless child will be at a disadvantage of being looked down upon throughout its life. Sexuality often defines a young Trobriander on his or her way to adulthood, experimenting with different partners on a search for a mate to last them until death. Once, the couple is married talk of their sexuality is strictly forbidden and can be the biggest insult.

Ritualized role and status changes have to include marriage and death. During marriage, a bride moves in with the husband and the husband’s mother cooks for them for an entire year as the couple eats together. Once the year has passed, the wife cooks for the husband for the rest of their marriage and the meals are eaten separately. In death, the spirit is believed to be sent to the island of Tuma, therefore many careful rituals are performed so that the spirit gets there safe and sound and that its continued life on the island shall be as good as the one it left. Age is a key determinant of the individual in the society.

An infant enters the society in the hand of his parents, it is their role to make sure that it receives the proper care and gifts to be accepted into the society with class and status. Once an adolescent the individual is on a search for a mate, which brings him/her to the next state – adulthood. This is not defined by age but by marital status, from then on, the individual is an adult and their status is determined by family relations. Whether they are a mother, father, a grandparent, sibling and so on, determines their identity in this culture.

6. Even in societies that place a high value on egalitarianism, many forms of hierarchy and inequality are found. What types and kinds appear in this society? How are they perpetuated? Although the sport for fame is a fair game among the Trobrianders, several forms of inequality are noticed. For example, “The attainment of kula shells provides means to realize fame, but such fame must still be attached to a more elementary kind of immortality – that of lineage”(157) Meaning that a person with good negotiating skills can build fame into a permanent hierarchy, like the chief Vanoi, and establish power over other players.

Inequality is also noted in the values of gender. Women for example, are no longer equal dance partners at Cricket matches, and dress in traditional finery as spectator (114). While men hold the higher positions in the society, the role of women overshadows the men in its importance. The “women draw on their husbands’ resources to make their own matrilineage strong.”(121) though the system is of checks and balances the women’s wealth controls the overall hierarchy of the society.

In case of a death during the harvest year, yam competitions are replaced by competitions in women’s wealth, where the women “owners” are in control. Tradition and custom perpetuate the inequalities and the hierarchy of the Trobriand society, as the people are used to the numerous and complicated social and cultural exchanges that occur throughout the community. “Although the debt created through yams enables a man to become more dominant as a leader….a man cannot fill his own yam house, he is always dependent on other men.”(122)

7.What is the relationship between a) marriage and residence; and b) property and descent in this society? Property for Trobrianders can be houses and yam supplies, special rare items or banana leaf bundles, etc. All these things are directly related to social relationship of the individuals in the society. Take a couple who eats yams together to announce their marriage, they are directly linking yams, which is property, to marriage. Same goes for the food that the groom’s mother provides for a year after marriage, and the exchange that occurs during the marriage. “In marriage exchanges, each person from the bride’s side who contributed to the first yam exchange receives a valuable when they are collected by the groom’s relatives.”(87)

Yam competitions or the kayasa, are organized to “make friends” or in better words form relationships between men from another clan, in order to gain power. “Lovers, too are called, “good friends,” but only marriage stabilizes relationships between clans, shifting individual competition and seduction into permanent obligations.”(112) this intertwined web of social bonds between men in different lineages and clans, is affected by the cultural exchanges of valuables and the harvesting of yams. The preparation of bundles and skirts id dedicated to the women, while the harvesting and voyages and done by men.

“Because a women and her husband receive yams from her brother every year, her husband must help her find bundles whenever someone dies who was a member of her matrilineage.”(120). Therefore, women’s wealth is intimately tied to yam production, and the exchanges between a woman, her husband, and her brother. The limited currency of bundles and yams, in the exchange relationship operates as a system of checks and balances. It is the woman’s job to feed on her husband’s resources to make her matrilineage look strong.

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