Crawford House Publishing
Dobu Ethics of Exchange on Dobu Island/Papua New Guinea

This book is an ethnography of Dobu, a Massim society of Papua New Guinea, which has been renowned in social anthropology since Fortune’s Sorcerers of Dobu (1932). Focussing on exchange and its underlying ethics, The Name of the Gift explores the concept of the person in the Dobu world-view.

To avoid undue precategorisation of exchange forms, objects and events, the book is structured according to vernacular terms and concepts. ‘Names of gifts’ serve as keys to the analysis of contemporary exchanges as exemplifications of human agency in interaction. Persons are conceptualised as both individual and ‘dividual’, as enmeshed within a network of relationships, contour and density of which depend on individual qualities. These qualities are tied to the system of morals and become visible in exchanges.

The book examines major aspects of exchange such as labour, mutual support, apologetic gifts, revenge and punishment, kula exchange, and mortuary gifts. It discusses in detail the characteristics of small gifts (such as betel nuts), Big Gifts (kula valuables, pigs and large yams) and money as they appear in exchange contexts.

The ethnography begins with an analysis of the construct of the Dobu person, and sets out to examine everyday practices and values. The belief system (incorporating witches, sorcerers, and a Christian God) is shown to have a powerful influence on individual conduct due to its panoptic character. The institutions that link Dobu with the outside world are examined in terms of the ideology concerning money: the Church receives offerings for God; the difficulties faced by trade-store owners evince conflicting notions concerning monetary wealth.

The last two chapters delve into lived experience in two major domains of Dobu exchange. Kula is presented in the narrative of the journey to Duau, exploring the knowledge that matters for kula traders and the experiential sensations that are a motivational factor for engaging in kula. The final chapter, based on the narrative of a sagali feast, examines the ideology of fatherhood in the light of Dobu concepts of love and duty. The caricature that was Fortune’s ‘Dobuan’ is finally laid to rest.


Susanne Kühling


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20 photographs, maps


Portrait; softcover; c. 300 pages


204 x 135 mm



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