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  • 5. "Pigs for Dance Songs"Reo Fortune's Empathetic Ethnography of the Arapesh Roads
  • Lise Dobrin (bio) and Ira Bashkow (bio)

After Reo Fortune died in 1979, the ethnographic materials that remained in his possession were deposited by his niece and literary executor, Ann McLean, in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand. Nearly 600 pages of these materials are directly concerned with the Mountain Arapesh people of Papua New Guinea, whom Fortune studied during his famous joint fieldwork with Margaret Mead in the early 1930s. Among these materials are some real treasures, including numerous contextualized translations of Arapesh sakihas, a now all but lost genre of richly allusive traditional speeches that, Fortune shows, were an important means of expressing and transmitting Arapesh morality at that time. But by far the largest part of Fortune's surviving Arapesh materials are notes and fragments toward what was apparently to be an ethnographic monograph on Arapesh society. Without a doubt, this manuscript was intended to stand in opposition to Mead's depiction of Arapesh culture in Sex and Temperament, with which Fortune vehemently disagreed (Fortune 1939, 1943; Roscoe 2003; Dobrin and Bashkow in prep), and possibly also in opposition to aspects of Mead's multivolume The Mountain Arapesh (1938, 1940, 1947, 1949). The manuscript includes sections with titles such as "Arapesh Religion," "Arapesh Tribal Character," and "Arapesh Ritual Idiom" as well as unlabeled fragments dealing with the interwoven topics of sorcery, warfare, and the system of "roads" (Arapesh sg. yah, pl. yeh or yegwih) along which people and items of value moved through Arapesh territory on its north-south axis (RFFP).

In this paper we focus on one reasonably coherent section of Fortune's archived Arapesh manuscript that deals in detail with the purchase of a dance complex along these roads, an event Mead referred to in her Diary of Events as the "Kobelen feast" and which is sometimes mentioned in Mead and Fortune's correspondence as the "(Dogur-)Kobelen show" (PDS; Mead 1947:337, 351, 359, 360; MMP, RF/MM, February 23, 1936 [End Page 123] [S2:2]). We also consider the nearly 40 pages of transcribed and meticulously annotated abstracts of the speeches given at this event that are included in Fortune's field notes (KFS). The roads were both real physical paths that permitted travel beyond one's own locality and social pathways for interaction and exchange. The subject of the roads is of particular interest, because it is central to the exception Fortune took to Mead's interpretation of Arapesh culture as expressed in his 1939 paper "Arapesh Warfare," inasmuch as Fortune saw that the roads historically served to construct and organize interlocality competition and war, whereas Mead's interpretation emphasized their function as routes by which sorcerers traveled and culture diffused.1 The significance of the roads in their disagreement is underscored by the attention Fortune gave in his unpublished manuscript materials to phenomena that depended on them in the stronger sense of being structured in terms of them, the main examples being sorcery, wife abduction, and warfare. Fortune repeatedly asserted in his copious letters to Mead—and subtextually implied in "Arapesh Warfare"—that Mead had insufficient experience with the roads to write about them with authority (e.g., MMP, S2:2; Dobrin and Bashkow in prep).

It is in a section of manuscript entitled "Pigs for Dance Songs" (PDS) that Fortune's understanding of the Arapesh roads is expressed in its most insightful, artful, and explicit form. Although the manuscript is unfinished and only portions of it survive in the archive, it has all the markings of a text Fortune composed for publication, and its extant segments provide a remarkably clear picture of the functioning of the Arapesh roads at the time of Fortune's fieldwork in 1931–32, contributing an important source of evidence for understanding the Arapesh roads as a social and cultural institution. Moreover, in its style, perspective, and voice "Pigs for Dance Songs" is highly revealing of Fortune's ethnographic approach. The manuscript describes a journey Fortune took along the roads, accompanying a formal party of Mountain Arapesh villagers who were gathering in Kobelen to buy the rights to a new...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5138
Print ISSN
1557-637X
Pages
pp. 123-154
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-30
Open Access
No
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