Omarakana revisited, or ‘do dual organizations exist?’ in the Trobriands

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Abstract

Omarakana is arguably the most renowned village in the Trobriand and anthropological worlds. It is the very centre and wellspring of the North Kiriwinan universe and thus a sacred site, serving as the home of the Tabalu chiefly paramountcy. For us anthropologists, it is ground zero for our field methodology, thanks to Malinowski's pioneering research, and probably Melanesia's most hierarchical polity. Ironically, though, very little is actually known ethnographically about Omarakana's spatial layout. In this article I seek to compensate for that deficiency, arguing that Omarakana's seemingly concentric contours encode transformations of indigenous symbolism involving recurrent metaphors drawn from at least three conjoined semantic contexts of wide distribution across the Austronesian sphere and beyond: the double bisection of ‘male’ versus ‘female’; the botanical imagery of ‘base’, ‘body’, ‘tip’, and ‘fruit’; and various elements of ‘canoe’ symbolism. This alternative view of Omarakana's spatio-temporal plan sheds new light on various additional dimensions of Trobriand sociality and cosmology while elaborating classic and contemporary anthropological theories of dualism.

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