Anthropological Knowledge, Secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New GuineaExchanging Skin

Anthropological Knowledge, Secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New GuineaExchanging Skin

Tony Crook

Print publication date: 2012

ISBN: 9780197264003

Publisher: British Academy


What is the nature of knowledge? Anthropology imagines it possible to divide or separate social and analytical relations, whereby knowledge travels between persons as a thing. And yet, Bolivip imagines knowledge as the bodily resources or parts of a person that can be extended or combined with others. This methodological exchange is modelled on a moment from Bolivip – an exchange of skin whereby knowledge is returned in respect of prior nurture and care given, and two people become encompassed by one skin. The Min area of Papua New Guinea has proven to be one of the most enigmatic cultures in anthropological experience. But rather than accept this resistance to analysis as a problem of Melanesian secrecy, this book suggests that archaic notions of anthropological knowledge have been the problem all along. Taking up the ‘Min problem’ head on, it suggests a solution to the impasse. The argument works through alternating chapters: an imagistic ethnography of Bolivip describes how arboreal and horticultural metaphors motivate the growth of persons and plants by circulating bodily resources through others. Knowledge here comes from those who contribute to conception, and is withheld until a person is capable of bearing it. These images are used to provide new readings of classic Melanesianist texts – Mead, Bateson, and Fortune – substituting theoretical ideas for intimate relations; Weiner and Strathern's own experiments with anthropology modelled on Melanesia; and Barth's reading of secrecy amongst the Min.