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  • Sinuous Objects: Revaluing Women's Wealth in the Contemporary Pacific ed. by Anna-Karina Hermkens and Katherine Lepani
  • Marion Cadora
Sinuous Objects: Revaluing Women's Wealth in the Contemporary Pacific, edited by Anna-Karina Hermkens and Katherine Lepani. Acton, act: Australian National University Press, 2017. isbn paper, 978-176046-133-1, e-book 978-1-76046-134-8; xxix + 292 pages, images, references, abbreviations, glossary. Paper, a$58.00; e-book free download.

Sinuous Objects: Revaluing Women's Wealth in the Contemporary Pacific debates ideas about women's wealth, value, and exchange of textiles in the Pacific. Edited by Anna-Karina Hermkens and Katherine Lepani, the constituent chapters draw on ethnographic [End Page 564] material from the Trobriand Islands and Oro Province in Papua New Guinea, from Tonga, and from diasporic Tongans and Cook Islanders living in Aotearoa/New Zealand, focusing on issues of colonization, conversion to Christianity, and local economic dynamics and the globalization of capital flows. According to the editors, they "aim for a critical intervention into anthropological theories of value, exchange, and local economies by exploring and comparing local gendered processes of production and consumption, and the value attributed to women's work" (17). The authors discuss the insights of previous anthropologists, such as Annette Weiner's idea of universal "womanness" in her 1976 study of female contribution to kula traditions in Trobriand Islands (Women of Value, Men of Renown) and Marilyn Strathern's 1981 study of net bags in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea ("Culture in a Net Bag" [Man 16:665–688]), which argues that the bags were neither exclusively female nor male objects but "conjoint products" and "gendered relationally" (264). The contributing authors revisit these earlier works that inspired researchers to focus on the gendered dimension of materiality, productivity, and exchange.

The volume is organized into three clusters of essays. In the first cluster, focused on Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, Katherine Lepani and Michelle MacCarthy look at doba (bundles of dried banana leaves and banana fiber skirts) made by Trobriand women for sagali (mortuary distributions) with questions about sustainability, changing values, and new materiality. The second cluster of essays focuses on Collingwood Bay, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea, with Anna-Karina Hermkens, Elizabeth Bonshek, and Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone each looking at the concept of "wealth" in relation to gift and commodity economies. The third cluster, consisting of the final three chapters in the collection explores the endurance and efficacy of cultural values in Tonga and among the Pacific diaspora in Aotearoa/New Zealand with essays by Fanny Wonu Veys, Ping-Ann Addo, and Jane Horan. The chapters are interspersed with three poems by Katherine Lepani, Tessa Miller, and Emelihter Kihleng. In the epilogue, Margaret Jolly offers a brief history of Weiner's and Strathern's debates on gender studies in Papua New Guinea, inserting the eight chapters of this volume into a larger conversation regarding studies of gender and value in the Pacific.

The clustered essays offer thought-provoking juxtapositions and understandings of material culture. The essays by McCarthy and Lepani highlight the changes in material forms of doba in the sagali mourning ceremonies. Lepani stresses that doba (now including both Indigenous and introduced cloth) must be seen as "fresh" and thus must not be hoarded or reused, which she says requires never-ending work (72). While Lepani argues that in relation to Christian values, doba and sagali remain culturally vital for maternity and matrilineal regeneration and in the wider Trobriand economy, McCarthy focuses her analysis on villages that have been "doing away with doba" for the last two decades. Together the pairing of these essays [End Page 565] shows the complexities of negotiating traditions and modernity but also how individual Trobrianders see sagali traditions as either complementary or anti thetical to their Christian values.

Similarly, the juxtaposition of Hermkens's and Bonshek's studies presents an interesting comparative study about the commodification of Maisin bark cloth and Wanigela pots in Oro. Hermkens discusses how Maisin bark cloth has become a global commodity and ethnic art form in the international market, where it was first circulated and popularized by missionaries in the 1930s and then by Greenpeace workers in the 1990s...


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