Among the Ankave of Papua New Guinea, the important moments in men's and women's lives (birth, initiation, marriage and death) are marked by rituals and exchanges. Analysis of these moments reveals four major principles that organize how the Ankave think about human existence and its continuity: (1) a radical asymmetry between men and women in how they reach physical and reproductive maturity; (2) symbolic proximity between bodily substances and certain plants and minerals; (3) the power of life and death that maternal kin have over their nephews and nieces on account of their shared blood; and (4) the distance between the agent of an action and the action's beneficiary (‘action for another’). This article explores the registers in which these principles operate in order to grasp the Ankave understanding of life. The register of substances predominates in Ankave discourse about good health and growth, while the register of daily activities dominates when it comes to marking gender distinctions during infancy and childhood. The register of transformations and relations is dominant during male initiations – it is during these rituals that relations between novices and specific categories of kinswomen are transformed – and in discourse about what happens to boys’ bodies during these rituals. Analyses of Ankave discourse on life and on the rituals and exchanges that accompany life‐cycles show how these four principles operate concretely and how the registers of substances, activities, transformations and relations are articulated to form a specific way of understanding human existence and its continuity.
Oceania – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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