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  • L'art des échanges: Penser le lien sociale chez les Sulka (Papouasie Nouvelle-Guinée)
  • Marta Rohatynskyj
L'art des échanges: Penser le lien sociale chez les Sulka (Papouasie Nouvelle-Guinée), by Monique Jeudy-Ballini. Lausanne: Éditions Payot, Anthropologie-Terrains, 2004. ISBN 2-601-03319-3; 348 pages, tables, figures, maps, photographs, appendixes, written in French, bibliography, index. €27.00.

A few years ago, at a conference on intellectual and cultural property rights, a Papua New Guinean lawyer referred to the ethnographic corpus of the country as composed of baseline studies. One can appreciate his logic from the particular concern with property rights. First-time ethnographies, often defining ethnographies inthe sense of establishing a group name and boundary, map out recognizable claims to knowledge and cultural practices, which are, themselves, modified through various historical influences. In this sense, the first professional ethnography of a group of people becomes the base against which various forms of social and cultural change can be measured. The effectiveness of first-time ethnographies hinges on the establishment of the uniqueness of the cultural group in question, and various practices and institutions become iconic of the group and cultural region.

Some areas of Papua New Guinea provide better examples of this phenomenon than others. Areas such as East New Britain Province present a patchwork of studies undertaken at different historical periods and reflecting diverse interests and goals. The ethnography of this province is characterized by amateur and missionary ethnography in the early contact [End Page 185] period, with classic ethnography of the politically dominant group, the Tolai, not emerging until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Significantly, the East New Britain corpus boasts agroup of people, the Baining, who defied Gregory Bateson's efforts at ethnographic research in the late 1920s as well as those of Jeremy Poole, a doctoral candidate, some forty years later. A definitive monograph of the Baining did not appear until 1997, published by Jane Fajans.

Jeudy-Ballini's ethnographic monograph of the Sulka people of the Wide Bay region of the Pomio District of the province is a welcome addition tothe provincial ethnographic corpus, and its contribution is shaped by the particular configuration of this larger body of work. The Pomio District contains some of the most disadvantaged populations of the country and has until recently been generally ignored by ethnographers. A significant exception is the work of Michel Panoff, who published extensively on the Maenge in the 1970s and 1980s. Jeudy-Ballini bases her monograph on two years of research carried out from 1980 to 1994. Her work joins that of Panoff in locating distinguishing customs and practices of Pomio peoples in the larger historical setting, shaped by the political economy of the large-scale, nineteenth-century plantation enterprise based on the Gazelle Peninsula. Like Panoff, Jeudy-Ballini ranges between historical accounts, her own fieldwork, and informants' memories in an effort to contextualize present practices thus constituting a Sulka ethnography.

The Sulka today live largely in two disparate communities, one on Wide Bay and the other in the Mope area of the Gazelle Peninsula. The original Mope settlers were refugees from incessant conflict with the Gatke, aBaining group, as well as forced recruits for plantation labor in the early German colonial period. In accordance with the historical mix of the Gazelle resulting in the concentration of plantation labor drawn from a variety of groups from the south coast, Jeudy-Ballini is forced toconsider Sulka identity in relation to Baining and Tolai identities. A common theme that permeates ethnography of the region is the social and cultural superiority of the coastal populations in comparison with the inland populations. Jeudy-Ballini invokes this theme in her discussion of the Sulka. Her treatment of the Sulka is historically sensitive and she worries about the amnesia of the people of Milim village in not informing her that Gregory Bateson, himself, conducted research in that village for five months in 19271928. She reports that Bateson published nothing based on this research and expressed a sentiment that the culture was in a state of decay. In spite of this, Bateson also found the Sulka more welcoming and...