Category Archives: Culture and Heritage

Stories about the arts, cultural projects, festivals, costumes, exhibitions, intangible skills

Marie Claire Features Women Fighting to Preserve Native Culture

Thank you Oscar for sharing this feature. As indigenous people of this world, we must fight to protect our culture. Once the culture leaves us, it is gone forever. Museums and books will not and cannot re-capture nor save the culture for our future generations.


The Garma Festival

I missed the Garma Festival last week from August 1-4.

Garma is one of the most colourful and vibrant festivals in the world. I cannot explain Garma better than what I found on their website.

The ancient sound of the Yidaki (didjeridu) is a call to all people to come together in unity; to gather for the sharing of knowledge and culture; to learn from and listen to one another. Each August, the Yidaki call announces the start of Garma, the largest and most vibrant annual celebration of Yolngu (Aboriginal people of north east Arnhem Land) culture.


Garma is Australia’s most significant Indigenous event, and a model for self-determination, reconciliation, Indigenous knowledge sharing, transfer and exchange. Garma  is a colourful event with a greater, deeper purpose. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians experience and are directly involved in a spectacular yet substantive display of cultural practice and cross-cultural learning.
Garma incorporates visual art, ancient storytelling, dance – including the famous nightly Bunggul – and music, as well as other important forums and education and training programs relevant to cultural tourism, craft, governance and youth leadership.
It aims:

  • To provide contemporary environments and programs for the practice, preservation, maintenance and presentation of traditional knowledge systems and cultural traditions and practices, especially Bunggul (traditional dance), Manikay (song), Miny’ tji (art) and ceremony.
  • To share knowledge and culture, thereby fostering greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
  • To develop economic opportunities for Yolngu through education, training, employment, enterprise and remote Indigenous community development.

Garma is presented by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, a not-for-profit Aboriginal corporation with tax- deductible status, and all Garma entry fees and other revenues go to the programs and projects of the Foundation.

Mine Affected Get Control of Assets


Like many indigenous people, we in PNG are totally dependent on our land and our environment. In the picture on the top left, the women make sago. Most of their livelihood including fishing and other staple food such as sago is dependent on their rivers.  On the right (above) I sit with women leaders who gathered at Puka Duka Village to discuss the craft and capacity building workshop I run.

I wanted to re-blog this post (below) on PNG Mine Watch because I work with women in the mine affected areas in Western Province. Much of these mine affected areas have been in the news in Papua New Guinea lately. Earlier in this blog, I posted personal stories about women and violence. Some of the women I have worked with in these areas were in those stories. Under the project I am working with, there are a total of 64 villages. These women are very hard workers and they are also producers of some of the most beautiful and intricate arts and crafts in Papua New Guinea.

The project I work in is part of the Mine Closure and mine affected projects run by Ok Tedi Development Fund and PNG Sustainable Development with a contribution from the Women’s Association. The story below shows the “big picture” of what we are dealing with right now in these areas – the mine affected areas. I have watched the news keenly with a heavy heart that there are some good things happening in the affected areas and they should continue.

My role here was to research and find crafts (conducting cultural mapping) and run workshops to develop these crafts with the women craft makers so that the crafts are suitable for the export market. This job is not easy. Most of the creators of the crafts are traditional craft makers and they randomly produce items such as baskets, mats and other small crafts they use themselves. Sometimes they make some for the markets. However, markets being so far away, like a day to two days trip in the dinghy or half a day in a small aircraft. They women in the mine affected areas have very little access to – EVERYTHING!

By setting up goals and small steps we could take, I take the participants through a training where we set up a network to produce the crafts, plant raw materials, teach intangible skills (such as weaving) to younger generation and record and keep techniques that may die as part of a sustainable approach. One of the things I discovered was that many traditional raw materials were destroyed by the tailings but the women have moved seedlings and planted in new locations. We also looked for and brought back many traditional pigments which are no longer used. Instead, Western and Chinese dyes have been used to colour some of their baskets. After our last workshop in Eniyawa Village, South Fly, I can proudly say that some of the women are finding, using the old dyes and also re-planting them for the future. Once we sort out the materials, production and the preservation part; we then develop the product itself for the world market.

The recent concerns have been that many projects such as craft development may be stopped as a result of the dispute between all parties concerned – Landowners, Government of PNG, Ok Tedi, PNG Sustainable Development, and Mine Affacted Communities.

It is bad enough being far from all basic services but when the environment is also destroyed, your food, your water, your livelihood and even your art is destroyed. You become dependent on outside help.

Recent developments and court actions against the OK Tedi Mine and the PNG Sustainable Development has brought a lot into light about the people that live in these places. Now we can talk about the people, not just nameless, faceless humans whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the tailings. Here is the ABC Radio interview posted earlier by the PNG Mine Watch. I am very happy to hear that the people can now access more money and help.  This need for development and improvement to the livelihood of this area and the province as a whole has been long over-due.


ABC Radio Australia

The people affected by Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi mine have gained direct control of key assets created by the mine’s wealth, for the first time.

On Friday, Sir Mekere Morauta, Chairman of the PNG Sustainable Development Program handed over million’s of dollars worth assets to mine affected communities and to the government of Western Province.

It is part of the continuing fall-out from the PNG government decision to take over the Ok Tedi mine.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Martyn Namorong, Western Province Blogger who has worked for both Ok Tedi Mining Ltd and the PNG Sustainable Development Program

GARRETT: When the PNG government took control of the giant Ok Tedi copper mine in it starved the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program, until then Ok Tedi’s biggest shareholder, of income.

PNGSDP was forced to shed the vast majority of its close to 80 staff.

Now, unable to continue its work as a development agency working on behalf of the people of Western Province, it has been forced to handover its assets.

PNGSDP still has legal action pending challenging the government takeover but in a statement Chairman Sir Mekere Morauta said he was aware of the desperate need for development to continue in Western Province and so wanted to gift the assets to the people in an orderly and planned way so they do not go to waste.

The mine area communties take control of almost 6 million dollars worth of housing in the Star mountains town of Tabubil.

PNGSDP’s 25 per cent share in the Ok Tedi Developoment Foundation goes to the wider group affected by the mine – more than 100,000 people living in 156 villages.

PNG blogger Martyn Namorong who is from Western province applauds the move.

NAMORONG: It was the right thing to do. Those assets in the end belong to the people of western province and had to be transferred over otherwise they deteriorate without funding coming to PNGSDP.

GARRETT: Martyn Namorong says the community control of the 25 per cent stake or one share in the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (or OTDF), is particularly significant.

NAMORONG: It will mean communities will have direct board representation on OTDF whereas previously they only had associated directors on the board of the Ok Tedi Development Foundation. That will also have an impact on decisions that are being made on development programs throughout the Fly River communities.

GARRETT: Do the communities have the resources they need to get the advice they need to run these institutions effectively?

NAMORONG: Yes, they do have money in their trust funds. They can get the right people. The interesting thing has been the transfer of one share in OTDF, which means the communities will now have a director on OTDF and have a direct say in the application of their resources. They do have the financial capacity to get the experts that are necessary to run those projects. So if it is done properly it should work out well for those communities.

GARRETT: Control over the biggest asset PNGSDP’s 100 per cent equity in Western Power – which provides mobile phone and television transmission, as well as electricty – was given to the Western Province government.

In recent months blackouts have become more frequent and and Western Power’s ambitious expansion plans have been on hold.

In his acceptance speech, Western Province Governor Ati Wobiro promised to use the company to extend electricity supplies across the province.

Sir Mekere Morauta says there is ample income from the Ok Tedi mine for all the projects PNGSDP to continue but that may not happen, especially with the Western Province government short on staff and expertise.

Five million dollars has been spent by PNGSDP on design and equipment for a water and sewerage system for the people on Daru Isalnd and piles have been laid for the Tawao’o Point wharf.

Martyn Namorong says the continuation of the water and sewerage project is particularly important.

There is money in the Western province dividend trust fund, there is hundreds of millions there that the provincial government can apply for the benefit of the people of Western province.

GARRETT: Why is that water and sewerage program so important?

NAMORONG: Around 2010-11 there was a cholera outbreak in Papua New Guinea and the impacts were worse around daru because at the moment there is a night-soil waste disposal system. Basically, human waste is collected in buckets and then transferred out. There is no proper sewerage. The water supply is iregularly, irregular. we have about one hour of the water being turned on on the island. People collect the water and then for the rest people don’t have water going to the island. So it creates a huge public health risk. That is a very vital project that needs to get off the ground to improve the quality of life of the people of Daru island.

A Different Perspective on the Kula Trade

One of my earlier posts was about Sopikarin, a Kula Trading canoe from the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. This canoe was acquired by the South Australian Museum. In this story I gave some insight into the Kula Trade and what it means. While researching other work tonight, I found this article which I thought some of you may find interesting as it offers a different perspective on the reasons behind the Kula Trade.

The article was written by Anthropologist Mike Reid on Mises Daily.

Kula canoe

Anticapitalists like to use examples of supposedly selfless gift exchanges in “primitive” societies to contrast with the greedy behavior of modern markets. But a closer look at one famous exotic gift exchange, the Trobriand Islanders’ Kula, actually reinforces libertarians’ claims about the universal power of the profit motive.

In the elaborate Kula trade among the islands off the eastern tip of New Guinea, men sailed for many miles to receive ceremonial gifts of shell jewellery, apparently for the sole purpose of giving those gifts away again within a year or two.

Such a journey was both costly and dangerous. Men hired craftsmen to build special seagoing canoes sturdy and swift enough for the task. And the Trobrianders’ Kula journeys took them as far as the home of the Dobuans, who lived on an island 60 miles away, spoke a different language, and were regarded as cannibals.

When the visitors arrived, if all went well, their hosts greeted them with ceremonial gifts, “dirty, greasy, and insignificant looking native trinkets,” as one anthropologist jokingly called them.[1] The most coveted of these were shell necklaces and armbands, which belonged to the special category of valuables called vaygu’a.

But despite having come all that way to acquire these trinkets, the visitors did not plan to keep them for very long. Instead, the Trobrianders intended to give all the vaygu’a away within a year or two when they acted as hosts in turn to their own visitors from other islands.

In fact, men who held on to vaygu’a for much longer than that were “universally recognised as reprehensible and discreditable,” and called “slow” or “hard in the Kula.”[2]

Can all that risk and effort really have been undertaken just for the joy of giving the grimy baubles away again?

“Obvious Pointlessness”?

The socialist economist Karl Polanyi seems to have believed just that. And he admired the islanders for it. Polanyi praised the Kula exchange as “a gain-less and market-less economy … one of the most elaborate trading transactions known to man,” in which “no profit is involved, either in money or in kind.”[3]

In an informal memo, Murray Rothbard ridiculed the Kula and Polanyi’s love of it:

He is apparently enchanted by the “Kula trade.” … What Polanyi especially likes about this is its lack of true mutual gain — or is it its obvious pointlessness?[4]

“Gainless”? “Marketless”? Obviously pointless? What was really happening in the Kula trade?

When anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski travelled to the Trobriands in the 1910s, he found that the Kula was the consuming passion of men’s everyday life. Gaining vaygu’a was proof of a man’s “luck, daring, and enterprise.”[5]


the temporary ownership allows him to draw a great deal of renown, to exhibit his article, to tell how he obtained it, and to plan to whom he is going to give it. And all this forms one of the favorite subjects of tribal conversation and gossip, in which the feats and the glory in Kula of chiefs or commoners are constantly discussed.

These “dirty, greasy” bits of shell were in fact prestige goods, just as valuable and just as arbitrary as Rolex watches, luxury cars, and sports trophies. Such goods attract attention and advertise your achievements. They say, “I am powerful enough to have this.”

In North America, when a team in the National Hockey League wins the Stanley Cup, it brings the team members enormous fame (at least in Canada). But instead of making a new cup each year, the NHL uses the same trophy over and over; so the winning team holds the Stanley Cup only until the next team wins it away. The cup is a storied artifact that brings fame to any man who possesses it, even though no man can possess it forever.

The vaygu’a were the same. The point was not to have them permanently, but to get them for a time.

Giving to Receive

Within the Kula, each act of generosity was in fact a careful investment. Whomever you gave a vaygu’a to was obligated to repay you later with a “counter-gift” of a different artifact he owned. So a man planned out whom to give things to in order to control whom he would get things from. In this way, a patient and clever giver of vaygu’a could maneuver the most famous artifacts into his own hands.

The Kula was not pointless (contra Rothbard) and definitely not gainless (contra Polanyi). It was an organized search for personal profit. True, the profit was reputational, not strictly material. But ultimately, every “profit” — whether in fiat dollars, or NHL trophies, or shell necklaces — is a mental phenomenon, a fulfillment of our subjective whims greater than the costs we paid to achieve it. The remarkable thing about free exchanges like the Kula is that in every exchange both parties make a profit.

But what about Polanyi’s claim that the Kula was “marketless”? In one sense, he is right: the Kula itself was just an elaborate gift exchange, not a market.

Yet the Kula also protected and encouraged extensive barter between the Trobrianders, the Dobuans, the Amphlett Islanders, and the several other cultures who took part in it. In each Kula journey, the visitors’ canoes came packed full of food, or pottery, or artwork — whatever goods their community made best. And after the initial gift-giving ceremony on the hosts’ beach, the visitors remained for several days of bartering over this stuff with their hosts.

As in much of Melanesia, the islands off the east coast of New Guinea were rife with the danger of warfare, which certainly threatened to disrupt trade and force each village into economic isolation. But the Kula mitigated this threat by providing a kind of “peace-making ceremony” between men of different communities and cultures.[6]

A good Kula partnership between two men could provide a steady flow of vaygu’a through numerous gifts and counter-gifts over decades; the relationship could even be passed down as an inheritance to a son. Each man thus had good reason to protect his partners against theft or violence when they came to visit his island.

In short, the decentralized network of Kula gift exchanges provided the social scaffolding for international trade protected from robbery and warfare. No state required.

The Power of Profits

Western socialists like Polanyi are often eager to use a romantic interpretation of traditional cultures to attack markets or profits as unnecessary or unnatural. The rhetorical strategy is to cast the “primitives” in the role of generous, uncalculating tropical pixies, and then compare us very real, selfish, scheming apes unfavorably to them.

Caught in this rhetorical battle, Rothbard can hardly be blamed for hastily dismissing the Kula as “obvious pointlessness.” Indeed, if Polanyi’s nonsensical account of a profitless Kula were accurate, Rothbard’s characterization would be perfectly correct.

But the truth is this: every human in every culture chooses the best means he can imagine to achieve the ends he desires. Each participant in the Kula carried it on because he expected to make some kind of profit. And the net result of the Kula, like that of all systems of truly voluntary exchange, was mutual gain and international peace through private profit.

Comment on this article.

Mike Reid is primus inter pares at Invisible Order, a libertarian publishing-solutions company. He also teaches anthropology at the University of Winnipeg. Send him mail. Follow him on Twitter. See Mike Reid’s article archives.

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Copyright © 2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.


[1] Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London: Routledge, 1922) p. 351.

[2] Malinowski, pp. 360, 94.

[3] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001) p. 52.

[4] Murray N. Rothbard, “Down with Primitivism: A Thorough Critique of Polanyi,” 1961. Republished in 2004 onMises Daily.

[5] Malinowski, p. 352.

[6] Reo Fortune, Sorcerors of Dobu (London: Routledge, 1932) p. 209.

Sopikarin’s New Journey


It is going up to 5pm here in Brisbane and I am almost feeling better after my old girl (computer) crashed this morning. Thank you Gary Hall for having the “puri puri”, (magic) of conducting a tech recovery process without being present. I still don;t get it Gary, but anyway, my old girl is up and running and groaning less so I am grateful. I had promised an article I wrote about the Kula canoe, Sopikarin. South Australia Museum has now purchased this canoe which sat in their museum lobby for a few years. Pictured above, it is an exquisite piece of history, all kept in one piece. It represents the amazing Kula Ring as shown in the map, a trading area and a highly organised system that lasted for many generations and the Milne Bay people in Papua New Guinea should be very very proud of this canoe and their rich heritage. Sopikarin carries with it, all it’s ornaments and markings of your ancestors and many stories, many untold can only be imagined by many people from many cultures and tribes around the world.

I have always loved the stories behind canoes and in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island countries, it was our only transportation for many centuries – for trade and as a means of getting from one place to another. Each canoe is build from a unique tree and often there are several rituals associated with the preparation and launching to ensure that our ancestors protect us while we travel. We have always been seafarers long before the western ships and boats came.

I wrote the article about Sopikarin, the last Kula trading canoe as part of my research for my Masters in Museum studies at University of Queensland. There may be other ‘last ones’ out there and I hope I can here from you, the Masawa people. This article has been published in the Paradise Magazine (Air Niugini In-flight Magazine) and I would like to thank Dr Barry Craig and SAM – the South Australia Museum for the contribution to my research and the story.

Following the ppublication in Paradise Dr Harry Beran wrote this email to Dr Craig about the name of the canoe. I would be grateful for any Masawa people in Milne Bay Province to contribute to the discussion on what is the true meaning of the name “Sopikarin.

Email from Dr Beran: 
I’ve just seen the article on the masawa canoe on display at the SAM. Nice piece.

I have a copy of a typescript by Kiriwinans and ralph lawton which gives the terminology of the components of a masawa canoe. I can send you a copy if you don’t have one already.

I find the reason for its name implausible. Would Trobrianders use a wood that doesn’t float for the hull? I do know that the wood called meku in Kiriwina and kwila in tok pisin doesn’t float but would they use this for canoes? (I think it’s used for the tables made for sale) Nor can I see why the log the hull is carved from would end up in the water before it was carved into the hull. Nor why the water near the land would be so deep that divers bled from ears and nose. Anyhow Peter Hallinans’ notes on Sopikarin make it clear that the explanation of the canoe’s name is part of a legend and legends don’t have to make sense.

If you look at Hallinan’s notes, at the end of the explanation of the name, there is a much more plausible explanation. apprentice carvers drink water over which magic has been performed. sopi = water. One could ask ralph whether he knows what karin(a) means; it’s not in his dictionary of 2002



Harry Beran (Dr)
6 The Square

Please click on the link below to read my  story about Sopikarin’s new journey – to Australia.

76-82 Paradise Vol. 5, 2013