Pacific Culture Term Paper

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Sing with the Pigs is Human

According to the dictionary, 'anthropology' is the social science that studies the origins and social relationships of human beings. The Kaulong peoples of Papua New Guinea devote their lives to moving from the lowest status to political "big men" and "big women," by displaying their accumulation of knowledge at all-night singing competitions ending in pig sacrifice and feasting. In the course of her fieldwork with the Kaulong, who live on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea, Jane Goodale discovered and catalogued that everything of importance to them - every event, relationship, and transaction - was rooted in their constant quest for recognition as human beings. Goodale takes considerable time to determine both the Kaulong definition of 'human' and catalogue the tribal rituals and relationships that build into the Kaulong definition.

Her book is the result of her field work, living with the Kaulong for over 10 years. She addresses questions central to Kaulong society: What is it that makes an individual human? How is humanity, or personhood, achieved and maintained? In their consuming concern with their status as human beings, the Kaulong mark progress on a continuum from nonhuman (animal-like) to the most respected level of humanity - the political "big men" and "big women." Knowledge is the key to movement along the continuum, and acquiring, displaying, and defending knowledge are at the heart of social interaction. At all-night "singsings," individuals compete through song in their knowledge of people, places, and many other aspects of their forested world. The sacrifice of pigs and distribution of pork to guests completes the ceremonial display and defense of knowledge and personhood.

In her work, Goodale identifies that which the Kaulong held as important to their identity as human. As every culture and society has its own scale by which to measure the worth of a human being, the Kaulong are no different. Existing in the jungles of New Britain with little to no contact with modern society, the Kaulong social system evolved into its current structure by meeting the challenges of the environment, and overcoming the obstacles to provide for themselves in the same way any people group would develop. Goodale's work begins without any presumption, or comparison to the 'outside world.' She brings no prejudice to her study, or comparison between the Kaulong and 'modern' culture. She begins with the central question of 'Within this culture, what is the identity these people use to determine their own self-worth, and their own position within the tribe." Once determining what is important to the Kaulong, Goodale is able to catalogue the methods, ceremonies, and traditions within the group that build on these beliefs.

Goodale's desire was to identify, catalogue and study group life habits without disturbing them with outside influences, so she lived among the Kaulong people for a significant time during her field research. She walked, ate, slept, and became a part of the community. Early in her work, Goodale writes that gathering cross cultural information is a process that required work on both end of the information exchange. The people whom she studied needed to trust her, and desire to communicate with her as if she belonged to the group. In return for their willingness to 'take the risk of communication', Goodale had to reach out and learn the tribes methods and language in order to be able to communicate. This proved an early challenge. She writes candidly about the first successful communication, how it brought joy to both herself, and the women with which she spoke. Throughout the book, Goodale introduces the reader to different words and phrases used by the people. Common words for houses, plants, family members and ceremonies are described in her work, and some will be included in this paper.

The Benefit of Goodale's Research

The benefit, of stated goal of anthropology is two fold. Researchers like Goodale desire to discover and learn about other people groups through their work, and Goodale's book provides a provocative look into the Kaulong peoples. The second goal of her work is to learn more about ourselves by evaluating the similarities between the study's subjects / findings and our own lifestyles. Between the Kaulong and 'civilized' peoples there are many similarities, which will be discussed throughout this paper also. Without outside religious influence, the Kaulong arrive at a tri-une nature of many which is similar to Christianity's perspective that a man is made up of Body, soul and Spirit, and Freud's concept of id, ego, and superego. The Kaulong struggle with surrendering to the elements of nature which they cannot control, and live within a developed, intricate belief system which tries to give meaning to things large than themselves, and gain influence over their world.

The West's economic system is built on the transfer of valued materials, such as money, oil, gold, property, from one person to another. This transfer of labor for valued materials, and in turn valued materials for desired possessions is no different in the New Guinea bush. The Kaulong trade gold lipped pearl shells with one another. These shells are the basis for their economic system, and are used as 'cash' in transactions for food, property, and marriage transactions.

During her field research, Goodale identified a number of distinct facets of the Kaulong tribal identity. Each of these categories is functions of the whole, subsets of the complex social order among the Kaulong tribes. This paper will break down Goodale's into the following identities:

Knowledge management within the tribe

Identity of Self

Kinship and Family

Community politics and social order


Sorcery and magic

Courtship and marriage

Sexuality and gender

Culturally important ceremonies


The social order among the Kaulong does not exist in strictly defined categories, but by breaking down the different aspects of the Kaulong's lives into these manageable chunks, we can discuss each, and begin to understand these indigenous people, their culture, and what the Kaulong use as a basis to identify self, self-worth, and their own place in the tribe.

Over all these individual aspects of Kaulong life, and affecting the rituals which have evolved is the unrelenting rainforest environment. The Kaulong do not have the ability to build weather proof dwellings. They have no modern appliances with which to overcome the natural temperature gradients. They are literally at the mercy of the weather patterns. So their culture has evolved with beliefs, practices and traditions which bow to their helplessness. As will be seen, they do not worship the weather, nor have they created a belief system which includes deities with dominion over different weather patterns, as the American Indians. Their lives are lived in submission and surrender to the inevitability of the weather pattern. Having no expectation of control over their surrounding, the Kaulong belief system, and identity of self has evolved from those pieces of personhood over which they do have control, knowledge, knowledge management within the tribe, and their individual level of attained knowledge as compared to the other tribal members. This paper will first examine the environment because it dictates much of the tribal activities, and then will move to a discussion of the social and anthropological issues.

The Environment

The Kaulong live in an unforgiving jungle terrain. The presence of natural dangers combined with unrelenting weather patterns have forced the Kaulong into a submissive symbiotic relationship with the both. The island's rain forest has few natural animal predators, but the forest is filled with other dangers. The constant moisture and shallowly rooted vegetation creates conditions that easily give way to landslides. The trees, also living on shallow roots, can fall unexpectedly, endangering the Kaulong who live there.

The trails walked by the villagers contain high clay content, and are slippery and often dangerous. Under the slippery trails are underground rivers, and caverns. Villagers have lost their lives unexpectedly while walking through the forests, having the ground literally collapse from underneath them. The constant jungle growth much be fought back in order to create garden, homes, or villages. The people's lives, in short, are dominated the jungle which they call home.

The Island has three seasons. From June to Sept is the rainy season, which is called the taim bilong by the Kaulong. The monsoons are unrelenting, often dropping over 150 inched of rain during the four-month period, and more than 280 inches of rain during a calendar year. During this time, the people travel little because of the dangers created in the jungles by the increasing rainfall. The risk of falling trees, landslides, and flash floods make travel for the Kaulong almost impossible. This period is treated like hibernation. The tribes sleep beside warm fires, rising only to take care of bodily functions and eat. Most of the village homes are built on stilts, over 6 feet off the ground to place them safely out of reach of the torrents and floods created during the rainy season.

The next season, from Oct to January, is called tiam…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Goodale, Jane. To Sing with the Pigs is Human. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1995

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