Baloma: The spirits of the kula in the Trobriand Islands

Baloma: The spirits of the kula in the Trobriand Islands
Mark and Pulayasi Daniel, current Tabalu Paramount Chief of the Trobriands

Malinowski’s Argonauts (1922) description of Trobriand kula beliefs and practices proved pivotal for the development of modern economic anthropology and, indeed, anthropology generally. With few exceptions, subsequent investigators (e.g., Uberoi 1962; Leach and Leach 1983) have followed Malinowski in largely restricting accounts of kula to transactions between exchange partners to the exclusion of the ancestral and other spirits magically invoked at virtually every stage of kula transaction and ritual performance. On the basis of recent fieldwork based at Omarakana village in Northern Kiriwina, I argue that kula exchange is moved, not merely through the gifting obligations and reciprocities among human partners seeking worldly fame (butula), but crucially through the bwekasa sacrificial transactions between the living and the dead in pursuit of Tuman immortality. This analysis offers new insights into the broader cosmic dynamics of kula and Massim patterning of personhood, ritual, hierarchy and rank, gift exchange, procreation and the afterlife.

Mark Mosko is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology in CHL at the ANU. His earlier research was concentrated on the culture, social organization of the Mekeo peoples of PNG. Over the past 18 years, he has collaborated with cultural experts at Omarakana village (the site of Malinowski's pathbreaking research) reinterpreting and correcting the extant coprus of Trobriand ethnography, resulting in the publication of "Ways of baloma: Rethinking magic and kinship from the Trobriands" (Hau Books, 2017).

Zoom Link:
Meeting ID: 812 1179 0732
Password: 968025

Date & time

Mon 20 Mar 2023, 3–4pm


Rm 3.369 HC Coombs Building ANU


Mark Mosko, ANU


Natasha Fijn


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