Valuables, vegetables and fish : an analysis of Trobriand inequality as revealed through myth


Depew, Robert Charles




Anthropologists have studied many aspects of Trobriand culture. However, systematic analysis of Trobriand myths and their social ramifications have largely been ignored. In this paper, an attempt is made to analyze a selected corpus of myths and to examine its implications for an understanding of the nature of social inequality in Trobriand society. Aspects of social organization, ritual behavior and ecology are presented, and the structure and meanings of the myths are discussed and compared. The properties of social inequality are presented in terms of ascribed and achieved components and then examined through a critique of previous statements on the nature of Trobriand social inequality. A position is developed which views Trobriand origin myths as attempting to resolve inherent contradictions, suggested by differences in social - ecological locations, within Trobriand society. In order to accomplish this, the myths express propositions which relate factors of social order and disorder to elements of rank separation.


Trobriand Islands (Papua New Guinea) -- Social life and customs
Folklore -- Papua New Guinea




Carleton University

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