Author:Inna Yaneva-Toraman (University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways in which the Baining people of Papua New Guinea respond to processes of dispossession of their land, themselves, and traditional objects, by adopting and changing materialities of representation that are deemed necessary in forming a group identity.
Paper long abstract:
The Baining people of Papua New Guinea have been somewhat infamous among anthropologists not only because of their 'unstudiable culture' but also for their 'lack of rich material culture' (Bateson 1931, Fajans 1995). Indeed, apart from their enormous barkcloth masks, the Baining do not have any elaborate body decorations or jewellery, carvings or architecturally stunning houses, which have often been seen as the tropes of 'authentic indigenous culture'. In this paper I offer a critique to such imaginations or expectations of 'authenticity' and present three stories about changing materialities that are suffused with Baining notions about dispossession, indigeneity, and relationships with the land, in order to show how mutable materials and objects create new ways for people to engage with representations of themselves and form group identity. Colonial and post-colonial land development projects and labour migration into East New Britain has resulted in the forceful resettlement of many Baining communities, and limited access to their customary land from which they obtained raw materials for their masks and other objects used in kastom. In the face of these changes, the Baining, like other Melanesians, have adopted objects from European culture into their lives and practices (Sahlins 1985). By exploring stories about traditional wedding gifts of shells, use of store-bought paints in making of masks, and desire for modern clothing, this paper will show the intricate relationship of objects with the land, their significance for asserting a group identity, and how people respond to processes of dispossession and adoption of 'new things'.
Mutable Materialities of Indigenous Ways of Life