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Circulation Of Gifts In The Trobriand Islands

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Discuss about the Circulation of Gifts for the Establishment plus Maintenance of Social Relations in Trobriand Island.



Circulation of gifts plus commodity exchange is an essential part of the political, social as well as business life of the people of Trobriand Islands. By exchanging and giving of goods and gifts, relations are established and made stronger, needs are met, plus circulation of gifts ensures that the people of Trobriand Islands in Papua Guinea can indeed depend on one another. This essay will discuss the importance of reciprocity as well as the “circulation of gifts for the establishment plus maintenance of social relations in Trobriand Island” with reference to Wiener’s (1988) ethnography plus other sources that mention the community of the residents of Trobriand Islands.

The Body

Weiner describes caring as well as the generosity of reciprocity of gifts as an effort to control other people through establishing the debt (1988).  Such an act of giving presents not only expresses the sense of caring but also shows the intention sweetening or turning the mind of the receiver. For example, yams are highly valued among the Trobriand Islands and are seen not only as food but also as a source of power, wealth and sometimes as gifts (Malinowski, 2002). However, when a villager presents another a yam, he/she cannot ask for something in return but wait to receive more.

Eriksen (2001) addresses the debate regarding the difference between the circulation of gifts plus commodity exchange. He argues that the need is that gift distribution is the gift provided by an individual or group of people to another person or group of individuals who are seen as friends or relatives and have an obligation to reciprocate the gift of the same value or even of greater value.  Presenting a gift entails imparting the giver's personality onto the recipient. Also, the recipient of the gift holds a debt of friendship as well as social connection.  Gift circulation is when the goods exchanged are of lesser personal nature, as well as where there’s no debt attached such as the social debt. Gift circulation is more of a business transaction of essential goods. Residents of Trobriand Islands give similar produce. Also, males and females do crafted products that are delivered as gifts or even traded as goods for the social, personal, and political as well as survival needs. Women have very significant roles in the Trobriand Islands matrilineal society.

 The residents of Trobriand Islands acknowledge kinship via a maternal lineage of decent. On the other hand, Trobriand Island males work tirelessly to become powerful, as well as hold good positions in respect to the social power and their wealth. Through marriage, men could grow and store their yams whilst the woman’s male relatives work to grow as well as supply yams. This is because stocks of yams represent their wealthy. However, female’s wealth comprises of piles of banana leaves plus skirts made from banana leaves fiber. According to Weiner (1988) women make plus control the distribution of their wealth.  Weiner also wrote about the distribution of women’s wealth immediately a man dies in the society. Some people of the man’s family, as well as kinship, were laborers in the mourning process whereas closer relatives were the mourners. Besides, a woman wealth is expressed in the amount allotted for the supply of a pile of banana leaves as well as a skirt as payments to the people mourning plus payment to everyone who had been connected to the deceased socially. The act of mourning as well as circulation of gifts is also of high paramount, especially when showing to other people that they were not connected to the cause of death of the deceased. This is because they believe that the death is as a result of sorcery works by a person with evil intentions. Other gifts plus produce are exchanged for different reasons.

Weiner (1988) holds betel nuts are presented to a “would be lover” so as to seduce their partner. Such gift has an expectation of return in favor. However, men’s who move from their native island to another do so in search of women who they can influence by presenting the gifts of their produce or even their crafting such as pandanus mats, woven baskets, and stone axes to do “Kula” with.  Performing “Kula” has in-depth traditional roots as well continues through time plus diverse phase of transformation. According to the Trobriand island people, Kula exchange makes a man more powerful even among people who do not know him. Presenting a necklace or an adorned shell to a trusted partner bears the trust for the partner to pass the gift, in a timely manner as well to a more trusted partner. This is done until the “Kula gift” is returned to the original owner, and then goes around again and again


However, Trobriand Island men compete with one another so as to win individual partners living on different islands, “who engage in series of relationships with each other” as well ensure a path of travel of the shell gift.  Ideally, an experienced “Kula person” has an understanding in the ways of ascertaining the right track by which their special treasures will be moved to generate popularity and honor which raises the man’s political ambitions in the community. The shell product bears the original owner's name alongside the names of people who have held it temporarily. As the shell necklace passes from one person to another, it becomes more famous and valuable.

Kula necklace exchange operates on the “principle of equivalence” where the practice is to match the value and size one shell product to the other.  The Kula arm bands each cut from the cross section of a ‘corn shell’ plus decorated with the ‘egg cowry shells,' pass from one partner to the other in a counterclockwise movement, and are perceived to be a woman. These necklaces are made from “red disk beads from Chama shells” travel clockwise and are seen to be males. However, the necklaces and wristbands are categorized on color, polish, size, and the particular histories. According to Lee (2011), the rule of 'opposite flow' ascertains that continuing relations are complimentary. The giving as well as receiving of shell produce is linked with magic practices, myths, and rituals.  On the same note, sea traveling Trobriander males also go with items for exchange that are different from the Kula work. Item circulation might entail taking items that are in excess in one region to another locality where they do not exist at all. The circulation can be for something that is unavailable plus helps bring different as well as necessary items into the people of Trobriand Islands.

Lees (2011) argues that “a gift is a primary component used to invest in the social relations.” However, kinship relationships in the Trobriand Islands appear to be a bit pronounced by their unique products. For instance, cooked 'taro' is presented between brother plus sister, skirts and banana leaves presented to women of diverse matrilines and uncooked small yams presented between the wife’s brother and her sister’s husband. According to Weiner (1988) “bundles of dried banana leaves, long yams, plus strings of polished red shell discs all hold a deep plus meaningful place in the life of Trobriand Islands people.”  Food, pigs plus trade store items can be exchanged for dried banana leaves despite the fact that women make wealth out of them (Weiner, 1988). The presentation of yams occurs on a different avenue of great significance among the Trobriander residents, yet they should be eaten before they go bad. According to Weiner (1988), person’s social enhancement starts at the early childhood by gifts that their father bestows upon them and is continued in the entire father’s lineage. However, through growth in associates not from the same matrilineal line, political and social potential grows. In the Trobrianders quest for power as well as personal recognition, there are multiple forces which thwart his efforts. Since social linkage and kinship bind people together, there’s also the ability to create alienation, rejection and even death.  Besides, their life is a long quest for greater effort to establish as well as circulate gifts and items for social standing plus necessities (Weiner, 1998).

To sum it up, the social structure of the Trobriand Islands is hierarchical. This implies that chiefs have total authority, wealth, power and privilege and are served and made rich by the commoners. As it’s known, a person is born in the area of opportunity, can either obtain goods or lose all of them. Although the community of Trobriand Islands is free of commerce that the western communities have, their ancestry as well as social ties plus laws make a complicated society basing on the exchange of gifts plus commodities. However, there’s pressure to be given in respect to what‘s expected, as well as to match in value in return for whatever might be given.



Eriksen, T. H. (2001). Small Places, Large Issues-: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropolog. Pluto Press.

Goode, S., Shailer, G., Wilson, M., & Jankowski, J. (2014). Gifting and status in virtual worlds. Journal of Management Information Systems, 31(2), 171-210.

Gregory, C. A. (1997). Savage money: the anthropology and politics of commodity exchange (Vol. 21). Taylor & Francis.

Hann, C. (2006). The gift and reciprocity: perspectives from economic anthropology. Handbook of the economics of giving, altruism and reciprocity, 1, 207-223.

Leach, J. W., & Leach, E. (1983). The Kula: new perspectives on Massim exchange. CUP Archive.

Lee, J. (2011). Kula and relation capital: Rational reinterpretation of primitive gift institution. Rationality and Society, 23(4), 475-512.

Malinowski, B. I922. Argonauts of the western Pacific. An account of Native Enterprise and.

Mittone, L., & Danese, G. (2008). Reciprocity, Exchange and Redistribution: An Experimental Investigation Inspired by Karl Polanyi's' The Economy as Instituted Process'.

Munn, N. D. (1992). The fame of Gawa: A symbolic study of value transformation in a Massim (Papua New Guinea) society. Duke University Press.

Rus, A. (2008). 'Gift vs. commodity'debate revisited. Anthropological Notebooks, 14(1).

Weiner, A. B. (1994). Cultural difference and the density of objects. American Ethnologist, 21(2), 391-403.

Weiner, A. B. (1980). Reproduction: a replacement for reciprocity. American Ethnologist, 7(1), 71-85.

Weiner, A. B. (1988). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Wadsworth Publishing Company.


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