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The efflorescence of exchange

The efflorescence of exchange

Week 4: Spheres of exchange & The efflorescence of exchange

Ryan Schram
ANTH 1002: Anthropology in the world
Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Slides available at https://anthro.rschram.org/1002/2022/4.2

Main reading: Sharp (2013)

Other reading: Bohannan (1959); Bohannan (1955); Sahlins (1992)

Gifts and commodities

Gift exchange (or reciprocal exchange) and commodity exchange are distinct kinds of exchange, and reflect distinct forms of social relationship.

  • Rather than each mode of exchange belonging to different types of society, we see now that both modes exist in every society.
  • Gift exchange and capitalist institutions coexist but also conflict with each other.
    • This is not the only possible relationship between them.

Ongka redux

We can see Ongka in a new light. He’s not a living fossil. He straddles two worlds within one society. He makes money from selling coffee, and he keeps a cycle of moka going too.

  • Has a bank account
  • Grows coffee
  • He has also said that cash-cropping and moka should coexist (Strathern and Stewart 2004, 133).

Ongka and other big men draw on money earned in markets to make bigger gifts. Money has led to the efflorescence of the moka system.

What appears to be change is often continuity, and transformations of people’s lives are at the same time development and extension of their existing social ties.

Culture change is like language contact

One of the national languages of Papua New Guinea is Tok Pisin, a creole of English that emerges when people of different languages came into contact on plantations and in colonial towns

Some words in Tok Pisin

pait (v.): fight, strum.

Man i paitim gita. The man strums the guitar.

stap (v.): stop, be.

Ol i stap long Mosbi. They are in Port Moresby.

rot (n.): road, road, way, method, plan, strategy.

Husat save rot? Who knows the way?


“The first commercial impulse of the local people is not to become just like [the West], but more like themselves” (Sahlins 1992, 13).

As a Kewa leader once told an anthropologist (paraphrase): “You know what we mean by ‘development?’: building a hauslain [a village community], a men’s house, and killing pigs. This we have done (quoted in Sahlins 1992, 14).

Developman: the enrichment of their own ideas of what mankind is all about (Sahlins 1992, 14).

Ongka’s “big moka” is an example of develop-man in PNG. Is there an example of develop-man in Sydney or where you live?

The informal economy

In the spaces most people call slums or ghettos, where we assume the poorest of the poor live, there’s actually a lot of enterprise and economic productivity.

To thrive in spaces that are between one world dominated by gifts and another dominated by the capitalist market, people have to engage in “informal” economic practices that are based on both reciprocity and alienation.

  • Making gin in Frafra slums (Hart 1973)
  • Selling betel nut around PNG (Sharp 2013)
  • Selling tobacco and betel nut in Auhelawa

A trading network in Papua New Guinea

Making pots in Salamaua

We the people of Salamaua would like to put down the prices of our things in this newspaper so that all of you will see them. We would like this message to all of you people in villages in the area of Markham River and Finschhafen.

Now you all see the prices for all these things and then you all will get it right. So, prices for them are like this: If you see a pot for 4/-, then you pay with (givim long) two big pandanus of 4/-. If a pot for 2/-, then you pay with (givim long) a pandanus of 2/-. The reason is you all always just bring pandanus and get pots. So, you all don’t know the price (pei) of these things. And so, we put them for the pots so that you all can see them.

If a pot is 5/-, or £1, then you must pay (pei) directly with money. It is not good that you should give pandanus for 5/- and £1 and get a pot. You know that the work of a pot is not like the work of pandanus - Pots are harder work than pandanus, so you must pay directly for big pots with real money.

The work of pots is like this:- The very first thing, they must dig the ground and they get really deep. After that, they bring it to the village and the work of women now begins. The women bake the earth in a really big fire - They bake this earth so that it becomes really strong. This work isn’t easy. It’s really hard work. Many days pass, and then the pot is now finished and a man can cook food in it.

We say this because you all have put down many things of yours - So we see this and so we Salamaua people, we support you all. Our message is finished. We all the people of Salamaua.

“People of Salamaua.” 1948. “Pei bilong sosopen.” Lae Garamut (28 August) 2(23): 4.

References and further reading

Bohannan, Paul. 1955. “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment Among the Tiv.” American Anthropologist, New Series, 57 (1): 60–70. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1955.57.1.02a00080.

———. 1959. “The Impact of Money on an African Subsistence Economy.” The Journal of Economic History 19 (4): 491–503. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022050700085946.

Hart, Keith. 1973. “Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 11 (1): 61–89. https://doi.org/10.2307/159873.

Sahlins, Marshall. 1992. “The Economics of Develop-Man in the Pacific.” Res 21: 13–25.

Sharp, Timothy L. 2013. “Baias, Bisnis, and Betel Nut: The Place of Traders in the Making of a Melanesian Market.” In Engaging with Capitalism: Cases from Oceania, edited by Kate Barclay and Fiona McCormack, 227–56. Research in Economic Anthropology 33. Bingley, Eng., UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Strathern, Andrew, and Pamela Stewart. 2004. Empowering the Past, Confronting the Future: The Duna People of Papua New Guinea. Basingstoke, Eng.: Palgrave Macmillan.

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