Culture, secrets, and Ömie history: a consideration of the politics of cultural identity



A major transformation in cultural self-presentation, signaled by the abandonment of the practice of sex affiliation, between the Ömie of the self-government period and those of the postindependence period, is documented. The causes of this transformation are illuminated by an understanding of the relationship between the informants of the community under study and the researcher, viewed in comparative perspective at these two points in time. In considering the change in this relationship, I suggest that the elicitation of the secret knowledge that ethnographers have traditionally used to represent the uniqueness of the cultures they have studied is mirrored in the disclosure of control over unique knowledge and practices, displayed in public enactments of pasin bilong ol tumbuna by various communities in the present. Such a view links the practice of ethnographic research with current demonstrations of cultural uniqueness and suggests that variable economic and political marginalization in Papua New Guinean ethnic groups today is linked to the retention and display of cultural secrets and uniqueness.