Making up People in Papua

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Abstract

This article focuses on a frequently reported but poorly analysed aspect of colonial and post-colonial relations in Melanesia, the episodic jettisoning of social practices. Under what conditions does this occur and what forms does it take? It is argued here that such changes are part of the process of ‘making up people’. Making up people in Melanesia is where ‘human kinds’ are created through the ‘looping effects’ of government, mission and capitalist, and local, discourses and coercions. These processes are analysed among the Fuyuge of highland Papua, where since the 1940s there has emerged a transformed relation between homicide and head-dress adornments. The Fuyuge actively changed aspects of their appearance as part of the means of becoming people who know the ‘law’, becoming people of a specific kind. The article draws comparisons with analogous Melanesian materials, including the well-known examples of ‘cargo cults’.

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