American Ethnologist

Nurture and force-feeding: mortuary feasting and the construction of collective individuals in a New Ireland society

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Abstract

This article concerns the performative efficacy of mortuary feasting in constructing matrilineages as transcendent collective individuals. Melanesian mortuary symbolism commonly assimilates death and decay to forms of consumption epitomized by eating. In Tanga, giving food dialectically relates the guests and hosts of mortuary feasts as “eaters” and “noneaters,” or as consumers and agents impervious to consumption. Exchanges of cooked pigs and shell disks objectify this relative evaluation. I analyze the sequence of Tangan mortuary feasts as a process whereby agents detach attributes of “partible” persons and ideally complement each other in the project of creating matrilineal continuity. [mortuary symbolism and ritual, feasting, exchange, matriliny, Melanesia]

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