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War and Society in Sepik New Guinea

Paul B. Roscoe
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Vol. 2, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 645-666
DOI: 10.2307/3034301
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3034301
Page Count: 22
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War and Society in Sepik New Guinea
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Abstract

Recently, several students of Melanesian society have charged that Western theories of human sociality and violence are biased by the legitimizing ideologies of the state societies that produced them, and so distor our analyses of Melanesian communities. Harrison has argued that notions of personhood in the Sepik region are very different from Western conceptions and engender quite different attitudes to sociality and war. Sepik personhood casts men into a net of primordial obligation to others, and Sepik villages, constituted through war, are a means of denying this accountability. In this article, however, I suggest that Western conceptions are not entirely inappropriate for analysing Sepik war and society. Sepik villages, and some ritual dimensions of Sepik war, are products as much of a military logic of defence as of a symbolic logic of personhood.

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