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"Pigs are our strong thing"

Ongka and the gift

Ryan Schram

Mills 169 (A26)


Monday, August 7, 2017

Available at: http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/2.1

The Kula Ring


A bagi necklace

(Necklace [bagi], late 20th century, Pacific Ethnographic Collection #80.1/3369, American Museum of Natural History)


A mwali armband

(Armband [mwali], late 20th century, Pacific Ethnographic Collection #80.1/3409, American Museum of Natural History)

Look closely

A Rubin vase

Vase or faces? (Rubin 1915)

A Necker cube

Which way is the cube oriented? (Necker 1832)

Who is he?

Ongka, big man of Kawelka

What do you notice about this person? (Nairn 1976)

Let's watch

We will watch the first part of Ongka's Big Moka, approximately 25 minutes.

What did you think?

Take out a piece of paper. Talk for a few minutes with the person or people next to you. What questions do you have? What do you want to know more about? What would be good to discuss in tutorial?

Write down your questions and reactions.

Now you can take that piece of paper to tutorial, and discuss your ideas in class.

Why exchange?

Do people have, as Adam Smith says, a natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” things they have for things they need (Smith 1843 [1776], 6)?

If so, why do people exchange bagi for mwali, and then exchange mwali for bagi? Why do people often exchange identical things, like a pot of water for another pot of water? What is the motivation for these kinds of transactions where nothing is gained?

What's next

On Wednesday, we learn why Ongka must give moka, and must reciprocate moka. The answer comes from the theories of Marcel Mauss.

We discuss why gifts create obligations: to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.

We then talk about why this matters to understanding contemporary society.


Anonymous. late 20th century, A.D. Armband. Shell, string, bead, seed, fiber, leaf (palm). 80.1/ 3409. Pacific Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History. http://anthro.amnh.org/anthropology/databases/common/public_access.cfm?object_list=80.1%2F%203409.

—–. late 20th century, A.D. Necklace. Shell, cord. 80.1/ 3369. Pacific Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History. http://anthro.amnh.org/anthropology/databases/common/public_access.cfm?object_list=80.1%2F%203369.

Nairn, Charlie. 1976. Ongka's Big Moka. Granada Television. http://www.der.org/films/ongkas-big-moka.html.

Necker, L. A. 1832. “Observations on some remarkable optical phaenomena seen in Switzerland; and on an optical phaenomenon which occurs on viewing a figure of a crystal or geometrical solid”. London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 1(5): 329-337.

Rubin, Edgar. 1915. Synsoplevede figurer, studier i psykologisk Analyse, Ite Del. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.

Smith, Adam. 1843 [1776]. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations With a Life of the Author: Also a View of the Doctrine of Smith, Compared with That of the French Economists, with a Method of Facilitating the Study of His Works, from the French of M. Jariner. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson.

A guide to the unit

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