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Buying Women But Not Selling Them: Gift and Commodity Exchange in Huaulu Alliance

Valerio Valeri
Man
New Series, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 1-26
DOI: 10.2307/2803508
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803508
Page Count: 26
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Buying Women But Not Selling Them: Gift and Commodity Exchange in Huaulu Alliance
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Abstract

The Juaulu peple of Seram (Eastern Indonesia) say that they 'buy' their wives and that these have a 'price' and are 'costly'. Yet they do not say that they 'sell' their sisters or daughters to other men. On the contrary, they imply that they give them away as gifts. References to the idiom of commodity exchange, however imcomplete, cannot be explained away as 'metaphoric', since an equivalent of the 'price' given for the woman must be returned to the wife-takers by the wife-givers in order to sustain their claim that she is given as a gift rather than sold. The argument of the article, then, is that marriage exchanges have a dialectical structure: they begin as commodity trasactions (rights in a woman are exchanged for their equivalents in valuables) but end as gifts by negating the initial payment with an equivalent counterpayment. They cannot, therefore, be defined as either 'gift' or 'commodity' exchanges in an absolute, detemporalized sense. Their reference to two opposed forms of give-and-take is ultimately explained by the coexistence of the contradictory characters of 'otherness' (paradigmatically associated with commodity exchange) and 'non-otherness' (paradigmatically associated with the gift) in alliance.

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