The Trobrianders

Located in the south pacific ocean, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, is the collection of islands known
today as the Trobriand Islands. Named in the late 1700's after a french Lieutenant, Denis de Trobriand.
These islands were left unsettled by outsiders until close to the nineteenth century. The collection contains
one large island, Kiriwina, with a population of approximately 12,000 and over 60 villages. The other smaller
islands, Kitava, Vakuta, and Kaileuna, aren't as heavily populated with population in the low hundreds and
fewer than eight villages on any one island. Surrounding these four main islands are hundreds of small
uninhabited islands (p11). All of the Trobrianders speak some version of the language Kilivila (there are five
different dialects in total). Our mother tongue, English, is taught by missionaries, but only few natives can
actually speak it. Since the location of the islands is in the south pacific, the climate is hot and humid, with
an immense amount of rain.

In the Trobrianders culture there economic standing revolves around yams. Yams are a way of life for the
Trobrianders they have value like money in there tribe . The brides parents provide the yams for the
wedding which the couple eat in order to declare there marage as well as there future in yams growing. The
yams given to the couple at there wedding have strong indication of there future in the village. Because of
the high dependency in yams the bond of the couple is ever growing.

The yam gardens are made for the women of the village. Who makes the gardens depends on how many
years she has been married and if she has a brother. After her first year of marraige her father will start a
garden for her. From there she will be helped by her brother if he is old enough to be of assistance. If she
doesnít have a brother she will give a title of a brother to someone in the community.

When the family is in need of supplies such as food, rope, and other material they trade with yams not
money. The suppliers of these goods trade for yams most of the time because that is what is most
important. This way they can use these yams to their advantage. The yams play a roll in everything that
money would usually be associated with. Although this is the case there are times when yams canít help in
status. This is evedent in the Trobrianders coming of age through sexuality.


The youth of the Trobriander tribe are called "small boys" or "small girls". Their coming of age or being
considered an adult in the village is not really a sudden change with age. It really isn't an age matter at all. To
be considered an adult you must be married, have children, contribute and be committed to the economic
and political matters within the village. The strategies for influencing others are strictly developed during
adolescent years. At this age they can not use yams or other material wealth so they do so with their
sexuality. Spells, magic, flowers and coconut oil are used to enhance sexuality. Magic and spells are highly
used and respected in this culture. Youth must learn parts of spell from their elders. They can only learn parts
at a time, so often spells can be lost in part or in hole if there is a death within the family. Sexual encounters
occur very early for the youth of the Trobrianer tribe. "By the time children are seven or eight years old, they
begin playing erotic games with each other and imitating adult sexual attitudes." (The Trobrianders of
Papua New Guinea Pg. 66) By the age of 11 or 12 the youth begin having sexual partners. They switch and
change partners often and do not have dating relationships like we have in our culture. They have short
meetings on the beach that are arranged by sexual messages during the day. The meetings get longer and
more serious with age. During these years of the youths lives they no longer live in there family home. They
live in a small house next to or close by there childhood home. This gives them the freedom they need to
come and go with there partners. Death and dying

As a death occurs in the village every on in the tribe is greatly effected by that persons death. In the article is
says that, "There is no village sound more chilling than the shrill, poignant cries announcing a death." The
death of a tribe member affects everyone for long periods of time. Unlike in our society, where you morn the
lose of an individual it last only a couple of days, or a couple of weeks. In the village life has been altered
dramatically, each person now has a role to play that will change the direction of their lives for the next six
months. A death puts all joyful activities on hold, which time will now be used to morn and remember that
person life and what they had contributed to the community.

When the tribe member is being prepared for burial, many preparations must be made. The deceased is
washed and dressed in his traditional "white pandanus penis covering." His/here skin is rubbed with
coconut oil; face paint is applied, which is black and white. These colors are now only worn at death.
Seashell are placed in numerous parts of the body, the shell represent the mans seductiveness and fame
that that person had in his life.

Relatives of the deceased from other tribes are designated jobs for the mourning and funeral service. These
men are usually performing such task as, signing, cooking and caring the dead. Those who take part in
these jobs see this as an honor and dedication to the dead. When those who are caring the dead must
remove the shells, before burning the body, because the shells are to valuable to burn. Before the tribe
member is buried the woman that were closest to the individual cutes his/here hair and fingernails. The
mails and hair will be put in a shell and worn by many women for seven years. For example, the daughter,
wives and granddaughter will wear the shells. All the deceased are buried face down to prevent the spirits
from escaping the grave. After the burial the widow or widowers remain in the house behind a curtains for
months at a time, depending on the importance of the individual that has dies. As the spouse is in morning
she must resist all good food such as ham or fish. She is not permitted to do any work during this time, she
is hand feed by other members of the tribe, because work is considered taboo. After the months of morning
are completed the spouse must re-enter the tribe, never forgetting the individual that has passed.