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Kwaio (see fig. 4-I ).
ASAO Monograph# 17
Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15261,
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Money and modernity: state and local currencies in Melanesia
edited by David Akin and Joel Robbins.
p. c:m. - (ASAO monograph ; 1 7)
Papc"rs presented at the 1996 meetings of the Association for Social
Anthropology in Oceania, in Kona. Hawaii.
Includes bibliographical references :md index.
JSBN o-8.z..z.9-'4087-6 (acid-free paper)
ISBN o-8.z..z.9-5689-6 (pbk. : add-free paper)
t. Money-Melanesia. 1. Akin, David, 19 5 s- 11. Robbins. Joel,
1961- 111. Association for Soci&1l Anthropology in Occani;.1. 1"\cetings
( 1996: Kciilua Kona. Hawaii) 1v. Series.
HG1480.9 .M66 1999
  .

 
A. CIP   record for this hook is a\·ailmble from the 8ritish Uhrary.
CONTENTS
Acknowledgments vii
An Introduction to Melanesian Currencies
Agency, Identity, and Social Reproduction
Joel Robbins and David Akin
1. Magical Money
CommoditiZ3tion and the Linkage of Makt•t.si ( .. l\farkct .. ) and
Kar1gakar1ga ( .. Custom") in Contemporary North Ml•kco
Mark S. Mosko
i. Meaning, Contingency, and Colonialism
Reflections on a Papua New Guinea Shell Gift
Doug Dalton
3. This Is Our Money
  Regionalism, and Oual Currencies in Urnpmin
Joel Robbins
4. Cash and Shell Money in Kwnio, Solomon Islands
Dat-'id Aki11
5. Pecuniary Schismogenesis in the Massim
John I.iep
6. Money and the Morality of Exchange Among the K wanga,
East Scpik Province., Papua New Guinea
Karen Brison
•P
8.z.
10_,
qr
I
,., Co11te11t.s
; . Rebtionships. l\kanings
  in Currt'ncit>s in ?\lount H.1gt·n. Papua New (;uinca
Andreu· Struthenr mid Hm1ela _/. Stt•u.•art 16
4
S. The Meaning of Money in the Age of Modernity
Eduurd UP11mu 192.
9. In God \Ve Trust? The Legitimacy of Melanesian Currencies
Robert}. Foster 214
10. Comparisons and Equivalencies in Africa and Melanesia
Jane I. Guyer
2
3
2
Notes i.47
Bibliography 2. 5 5
Notes on Contributors 273
Index 2.77
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Versions of most of these chapters were presented at the session .. Melane-
sian Currencies" during the 1996 meetings of the Association for Social
Anthropology in Oceania, in Kona, Hawai 'i. We would like to express our
appreciation to the following people for their help in puning this volume
together: Terre Fisher, Robert Foster, Dan Jorgensen, Janet Rensd .. l.iz
Waters, Pamela Stewart, Andrew Strathern, and an anonymous rn·icwcr:.
We are grateful also to the authors for working so hard to ~ tht= man"·
deadlines along the way. We also thank the dean's officr and rh<- Anthn>pol-
ogy Department at Reed College, and in particular Oran Linda !\t.antd and
Professor Robert Brightman, for pro\'iding funding that helped in   ~ pre-p.a-
ration of this volume. Andrew Graan has proved an exemplar}· assistant
during the editorial process. We arc grateful for his editorial contributions
and for his remarkable success at keeping a sometimes complC'x task under
good control. The order of ouC' names on the volume and the introduction
do nor reflect relative contributions of work or ideas; this was a full)· collab-
orative effort at every turn.
AN INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN
CURRENCIES
Agency, Identity, and Social Reproduction
Joel Robbins and David Akin
Why Melanesia?
The most striking aspect of the introduction of state currencies (hereafter
referred to as "money") into Melanesian societies is by now widely known:
while Mclanesians often welcomed money into their lives with open arms,
in many cases it did not replace the traditional currencies found throughout
much of the region. Widespread social scientific expectations that global
capitalist expansion would quickly overwhelm traditional Melanesian
economies have been confounded by the latter's dynamism and resilience.
Indeed, many local systems of exchange appear to have flourished rather
than withered from linkage with the world economy (Gregory 1982; A.
Strathern 1979), and state currencies and imported goods mingle within
formal exchange systems fundamental to social reproduction. Far from the
advent of money having consigned indigenous currencies to irrelevance, the
two instruments of exchange are clearly in dialogue throughout Melanesia.
Often enough, the content of this dialogue concerns matters of social
change. While the roles played by different currencies vary across societies,
all of the Melanesian groups examined in this volume consider currencies to
be extremely important in their efforts to shape meaningful futures for
themselves.
i. Joel Robbins and David Akin
Melanesians have seen a procession of state currencies come and go with
the arrival and departure of successive colonial and occupying administra-
tions, and with the establishment of postcolonial governments (sec Phillips
1972). That these monies have been welcomed and that so many indigenous
currencies have survived their arrival have both been amply documented.
Yet rich ethnographic accounts of the state of play between currencies, on
one hand, and considerations of their role in processes of social transforma-
tion, on the other, have been rare in recent decades. This absence is particu-
larly noteworthy when we consider that Melanesian societies provide un-
matched opportunities for studying the early effects of money's integration
into social life. This volume answers the need for such accounts by provid-
ing detailed studies of contemporary currency use in eight different Melane-
sian communities.
In this introduction we discuss some of the themes found in the chapters
and develop an approach to examining the play of currencies in Melanesian
life. We discuss why currencies are so meaningful for Mclanesians and con-
sider why they provide such fertile ground for analyzing change in the re-
gion. At the heart of our argument is the theoretically grounded assertion
that currencies, both indigenous and state, have important instrumental
qualities that distinguish them from other kinds of objects and allow them
to exercise a powerful force in shaping and reshaping social life.
Why Currencies?
At first glance our concentration on currencies may seem out of step with
recent trends in economic anthropology that work toward destabilizing es-
sentialist constructions of such key concepts as commodities, gifts, value
(Appadurai T 986a; Bourdieu I 977; Thomas 1991 ), consumption (Douglas
and Isherwood 1981; Miller 1995; Philibert 1989) and money itself (Bloch
and Parry 1989). What these studies share is their assumption that the
meanings of objects arc highly mutable, contextual, and culturally con-
structed. They argue that past analytical preoccupations with objects have
caused us to ignore the importance of social relationships and context in
generating the meanings of exchange. From sm:h a perspective, one might
critique our focus by arguing that any object can be "currency" (or not be
currency, for that matter), and hence we should not study "currency,,, but
rather the social relations that create it and allow for its use.
One of the strongest such critiques of essentialist, object-centered analy-
ses in economic anthropology has, in fact, been directed at studies of mon-
ey. Its targets are the widespread social scientific portrayals of general pur-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 3
pose money as having intrinsic qualities that make it a destructive and ho-
mogenizing force wherever it appears, an acid that dissolves everything
from social relationships to categories of exchange. Such analyses have
been bolstered by similarly negative conceptions of money in many non-
Western societies, where it is sometimes seen as socially harmful and even
magically dangerous (see Bohannan 1955, 1959; Clark 1993; Shipton
1989; Taussig r980). In Bloch and Parry's stimulating introduction to the
volume Money and the Morality of Exchange (1989) they argue that such
theories reflect distinctively Western notions about money, and that money
has in reality exhibited no such intrinsic powers or universal impact. West-
ern anthropologists have unwittingly transferred these Western biases to
their studies of other cultures and have thereby distorted their analyses.
Bloch and Parry assert that when these preconceptions arc set aside we dis-
cover that ideas about money vary widely both cross-culturally and intra-
culturally, and that they often contradict those held in the West. Bloch and
Parry admit that there are regularities but they claim that these cannot be
understood in terms of money's intrinsic qualities. Rather, they reflect
cross-cultural patterns in how societies articulate two '"'transactional or-
ders" that allow the realization of the short-term interests of their individ-
ual members, on the one hand, and the interests of the enduring social or-
der, on the other.
We follow Bloch and Parry in insisting that understanding money's var-
ied effects always demands cultural and historical analyses. We also find
their model of transactional orders a useful one, and tensions between short-
term individual and long-term social interests are unmistakable in several
chapters in the present collection. Finally, we appreciate their point (of par-
ticular relevance to this volume) that many "traditional" cultures had cur-
rencies before the introduction of Western moneys. Some of these were quite
general purpose in nature and it is a mistake to assume that state currencies
arc always a revolutionary new technology in the societies to which they arc
introduced.
However, Bloch and Parry do not fully address some conspicuous pat-
terns in ideas and behavior concerning money across cultures. They do not
explain, for example, patterns in money's place within the transactional or-
ders they have identified, including widespread perceptions that money
threatens them. At the end of their chapter, they briefly acknowledge that
such patterns do exist but merely credit them to "'instrumental uses to which
money lends itself" ( 1989:19). Here we must ask, "lends itself" in what
sense? This sounds like a recognition that money docs, after all, have quali·
4 Joel Robbins and David Akin
ties that make it different from other kinds of exchange objects, but Bloch
and Parry do not pursue this possibility.
We would like to take a different tack. First of all, rather than focusing
- only on state moneys, we will examine the broader category of "curren-
cies," including within it indigenous Melanesian exchange media that would
not fall under many formal definitions of "money." As an anthropological
reductio ad absurdum, the argument that currencies are a matter of cultural
· definition and have no "essence" is of course trivially true. But we want to
argue that analytic gains can be made by pointing to the special features
possessed by all currencies (H. Moore 1997). Once a people create or accept
a currency, certain predictable issues are raised regarding its function in so-
ciety, as the chapters here demonstrate. Regarding state moneys more
specifically, we believe that questions of how uses of money affect social re-
lations and how social relations affect uses of money are inseparable-but
this interrelationship is only of interest if we allow money to exist as more
than just a marker of specific kinds of social relationships. In what follows
we examine special characteristics of currencies, including moneys, and ex-
plore how these have caused them to interact in certain patterned ways with
various historical and cultural milieus in Melanesia.
We can distinguish several qualities that currencies possess to varying de-
. grees, such as liquidity, divisibility, transportability, and concealability,
which are relevant to how Melanesians think about them. Some of these are
addressed below and in the chapters that follow, but here we want to focus
on two special qualities that are shared both by money and by the indige-
nous currencies described in this volume. The first of these is that they can-
not be consumed. This is a point we take from Simmel ( 1990) who argues,
in the terminology of his own theoretical system, that money cannot be "en-
joyed." People must pass money on, converting it into something else, if they
are to consume it--they cannot consume money but only its fruit. And this
fruit only matures when money is put into circulation. It is true that Melane-
sians often display their currencies in public events, and we might be tempt-
ed to regard this as a kind of consumption. Below in the section on agency
we deal with some of the complexities that arise when we compare the use
of currencies in exchange and in display. Here, however, we need only point
out that currenq• displayed is not consumed but, rather, remains available
for exchange. Money is not "used up" (consumed) except in exchange.
The second trait of currencies follows from the first. Because they cannot
be consumed, currencies act most importantly as a means of exchange. Sim-
mel makes this point as well, and famously, when he states that money rep-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES S
resents pure exchangeability. But Melanesians make this point coo, as we
demonstrate later in the section below on the reproductive symbolism of in-
digenous currencies. Unable to come to rest in consumption, currencies
move continuously in exchange. This makes them panicularly imponant in
Melanesia, where social relationships are so often constituted through ex-
change. However, the flow of currencies always threatens to exceed the con-
trolling boundaries set up through these same social relationships. The
movement of currencies tends, in fact, to be impeded by fewer barriers than
that of other kinds of objects (Crump 1990:92). This is so precisely because
people are compelled to circulate them and because their use as a general
medium of exchange makes them widely desirable.
Indigenous currencies manifest both of these traits, and hence Melane-
sians are well accustomed to the socially constructive and the socially de-
structive possibilities presented by such highly mobile mediums. Yet it is
also true that the introduction of state moneys-currencies that are more
widely available, have the ability to move even further afield. and can be ex-
changed for a far wider array of objects-has radically complicated the
place of currencies in Melanesian life. Throughout Melanesia, the destabi-
lization of previous currency regimes has given rise to widespread anxieties
about Western money and the social impact it has had and will have on the
exchange-based structuring of social relations. At the same time. received
patterns of societal reproduction arc being transformed and c.:ontested as
never before. People everywhere recognize that money will be a powerful
factor in their futures, and they seek to control it themselves. In Melanesia,
we argue, money is the subject of both widespread apprehension and desire:.
The idea that Mdanesians do not have control over state moneys, or arc
anxious that their flow might erase important social divisions, might seem
to be contradicted by the fact that many groups have eagerly incorporated
money into their local economics and even "tamed" it as a valuable for for-
mal exchange. But, as we discuss below in relation to reproduction, the "'do-
mestication" of money can both hasten and conceal the demise of older so-
cial orders, a fact that Melanesians themselves are well aware of. In the
words of Appadurai, attempts to enclave money, to confine its flow toes-
tablished channels., "far from being a guarantor of systemic stability, may
constitute the Trojan horse of change" ( 1986a::z.6). Once money begins to
overflow these well-worn channels, apprehension and anxiety can join ex-
citement in shaping the Melanesian response to its presence.
Melanesian responses to money present special difficulties to anthropo-
logical understanding by the way they exhibit both embrace and anxiety.
6 Joel Robbins and David Akin
This is illuscraced in a particularly poinced manner by a curious pair of arti-
cles wriccen by David and Dorochy Counts. In the firsc, published in 1970,
the Countses described the use of an indigenous currency known as the vu/a
among rhe Kaliai. The main goal of the paper is to counter George Dalcon's
(
1
967) claim that the kinds of money used in non-marker sociecics cannot
be equated with "modern" general purpose currency. The vula, they claim,
had always functioned very much like .. modern" money. In fact, the
Countses assert, not only is the vula a general purpose currency that ap-
pears in all kinds of transactions, it is also "interchangeable with Australian
currency" ( 1970:9 r, 98). Because the vu la is in so many ways similar to
general purpose state currencies, they argue, the Kaliai have been able to
smoothly integrate Australian money into their society. Casting the argu-
ment in general terms, they put it thus: "The existence of a commercial mon-
ey in a primitive community may smooth the process of economic change;
for example, dollars may be introduced into the society without social and
economic disruption" ( 1970:91 ). The Counrses' description of the Kaliai
situation squares well with those presented in several chapters in this vol-
ume. Among the Kwaio, the Rossel Islanders, and the Urapmin there are
contexts in which shells appear to act like something approaching a general
purpose currency. Furthermore, as the Kaliai did, all of the groups repre-
sented here welcomed money quite openly upon its first introduction. The
picture begins to look like one in which people who were quite used to hav-
ing traditional valuables move against all kinds of goods were willing to
welcome money as just another such valuable.
This interpretation is given the lie, however, not only by a close reading of
the chapters in this volume, but also by the Countses' second article, pub-
lished in 1977. The situation they describe in this article spectacularly fails
to confirm the sunny impression of ongoing Kaliai social stability with which
the first article (oddly not cited in the second one) leaves readers. Instead, we
learn that by the mid-197os the Kaliai were apprehensive about what they
called the coming "rule of money," a time ushered in by independence in
which people "would require cash to acquire the goods and services previ-
ously available through trade or through the traditional system of sharing
and reciprocity" (1977:32). Acting on their fears about the coming of this
monetized era, the Kaliai largely brought it about on their own: in a scram-
ble to accumulate the currency that would be needed to survive in the com-
ing era, people began to charge even their kin and their friends for food, to-
bacco, and other small goods (1977:33). This was in spite of the fact that
"even as recently as 1971, Kaliai did not sell food to one another"' (34). As
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 7
the Countses note in their conclusion, "'the Kaliai's expectation that inde-
pendence would usher in the rule of money has led people to behave in such
a way as to make this expectation a reality" (39). And the reality turned out
to be one the Kaliai were not at all happy with: .. people who once looked
forward eagerly to the promise of the law of money no longer find the
prospect attractive" (39). Money has now become a necessity, one must have
it even to get what one once got for ... free." The article ends with the lament
of one Kaliai mother who wonders in fear what will become of the Kaliai
children, who when they grow up will have to "'buy everything" (39).
How is it that people so used to the movements of a general purpose cur-
rency can come to find themselves so disturbed by the flow of money in such
a short space of time? In order to fully understand both the desire and the
apprehension that characterize Melanesian responses to m o n   y ~ we must ex-
amine more closely the nature of Melanesian society. We do this in the next
section. Then, having discussed some widely shared features of the cultural
background against which money has been received in Melanesia, we pro-
ceed in the remainder of the introduction to show how money has wrought
changes in ideas about reproduction, agency, and identity that constitute
important aspects of that background.
Anxiety, Spheres of Exchange, and the Construction
of Sociality in Melanesia
The Kaliai both welcomed money and came to fear its consequences. If
in fact the vula was a "general purpose currency" in all respects similar to
Australian money, then it is difficult to understand how the latter could
come to disturb the Kaliai so greatly. It seems that we cannot understand
the effects of money simply by noting its significant qualities-that, like the
vula, it resists consumption and finds its meaning in circulation. In addition
to recognizing these qualities, we also have to attend to certain important
aspects of the way Melanesian societies are constructed and reproduced. In
particular, we have to recognize that Melanesian anxieties about money are
grounded in the important role that controlling the flows of objects has tra-
ditionally had in the societies of the region.
Beneath the surface of any well-ordered Melanesian economy there al-
ways lurks the possibility that objects will begin to consort promiscuously,
erasing in the shuffle the many boundaries between kinds of persons and
kinds of relationships that people have worked hard to create through their
exchange. Writing about kin relationships, Wagner ( 1977) argues that for
the Daribi there exists a realm of undifferentiated relatedness in which all
8 Joel Robbins and David Akin
relationships are alike. Distinct kin connections have to be constructed out
of, but also against, the flow of this homogenizing relatedness. The Daribi
differentiate kin primarily by manipulating the flow of various exchange
objects (including intcractional objects such as talk) in particular ways.
With some people, such as a man's mother-in-law, all interaction/exchange
is interdicted. Short of such complete interdiction, the Daribi also channel
flows and create distinct relationships by distinguishing those with whom
one can share from those with whom one must exchange (sec also Wagner
1967), or those who give durable goods in bridcwcalth transactions from
those who give foodstuffs. The crucial point in this analysis is that differen-
tiation-of exchanges, relationships, and objects-is an indigenous project;
distinctions are not to be taken for granted but are instead co be created
by human action that most often takes the form of exchange (Wagner
I 977).
If Melanesians regularly work to differentiate kinds of exchanges, kinds
of relationships, and kinds of objects, then it is not surprising that despite
their quick adoption of money they continue co worry about its power co
breach the transactional boundaries they have erected. Indeed. it is clear
that even with their own currencies-all of which threaten, like Kwaio ko(tt
currency, to inch toward general purpose usc-Mclanesians have had to
worry about the collapse of distinctions between kinds of objects, relations,
and exchanges. Staking so much of their identity on highly valued practices
of trade, exchange, and sharing, they have themselves thematized the dialec-
tic between the differentiations of .. culture'' and the homogenization of ex-
change that Kopytoff ( 1986) has identified. Consequently, the erection of
barriers to exchange with both money and traditional currencies is an im-
portant theme in all of the chapters in this volume.
The Melanesian concern to avoid the homogenization of objects and of
relations of exchange clearly creates a situation in which Bohannan's idea of
discrete, ranked spheres of exchange should find some kind of purchase.
However, just what kind of purchase it might find in Melanesia is still some-
what unclear even now, forty years after Bohannan 's initial formulation. On
one hand (as we might expect and as Piot (1991:405] notes), the model has
received wider and more productive use in Melanesia than it has in the
African context in which Bohannan first developed it. Yet, on the other
hand, few would disagree with Douglas Dalton's (1996b:90) argument that
MeJanesianists have applied Bohannan 's model onl}' inconsistently, with no
agreement about the meanings of the model's key terms or assertions; the
model is, as Dalton puts it, "arbitrarily applied to almost any ranking of ex-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 9
change items."' In their effons to apply Bohannan·s model, Melanesianist.oi;
have struggled with it until it has largely lost the well-delineated shape that
made it such an appealing model in the first place.
We argue that those Mclancsianists who alluded to Bohannan's model of
exchange spheres but did not apply it rigorously were in fact on to some-
thing: as Bohannan laid out that model, it does not quite fit Melanesian re-
alities. Yet it is also true that Melanesians obviously care deeply about mak-
ing and enforcing the kinds of distinctions the model is designed to capture.
Bohannan's model does not need to be scrapped, but, to be useful in
Melanesia it does need significant modification. The chapters in this vol-
ume, along with some other recent work in Melanesia and Africa, indicate
quite clearly the kinds of modifications that must be made.
Strathern and Stewart (this volume) begin their chapter by noting about
the spheres of exchange model that "starting with the category of 'objects•
as tangible, material things, it moved secondarily to the consideration of so-
cial relationships." \Vhile most Melanesian applications of the model do
bring data about social relationships inco their accounts, Bohannan 's origi-
nal study largely ignored them. Africanists have recently begun to highlight
this lacuna in Bohannan's formulation: Hutchinson ( 1996:90) notes that
she has had trouble applying the model to the Nuer material because .. it is
premised on the idea that •things in themselves; rather than the social rela-
tions through which they flow, differentiate •spheres of exchange,'" while
Piot ( 1991 :409) has noted that "little of the discussion surrounding ex-
change spheres in Africa has focused on the social relationships engendered
through the exchanges of items included therein." Taking Strathern and
Stewart's account of how the idea of exchange spheres has developed, and
combining it with these recent voices from Africanist anthropology, one
missing dimension of Bohannan 's model is dear: the important role of the
relationship between the transactors in determining what kinds of ex-
changes are morally neutral conveyances, and what are transformative,
morally fraught conversions.
A second missing dimension concerns what we can call the "modality"
of exchange. Not all transactions are of the same kind, and most cultures
differentiate at least minimally between sharing, buying, and delayed-return
exchanges. Many Melanesian groups also add to this taxonomy the ex-
change of exact equivalents (Robbins 1994). For an exchange to be a moral-
ly neutral conveyance, not only must people in the right kind of relationship
(or potentially in such a relationship) be transacting with the right kind of
they must also be doing so in the right way. In many   for
10 Joel Robbins and David Akin
example, close relatives can exchange food, but only in the modality of shar-
ing. Quite often in Melanesia, distantly related or enemy groups also ex-
change food, but they must do so in the modality of equivalent or competi-
tive exchange. Bohannan himself looked only at one modality-equivalent
exchange in the market-and hence his object-ccntcrcd model cannot cap-
ture these kinds of distinctions. In Melanesia, where object and modality to-
gether often create and differentiate kinds of relationships, this limitation in
Bohannan's model represents a serious flaw.
What is required in essence is a synthesis of Bohannan's original model
with one akin to that laid out in Sahlins's 1965 article, "On the Sociology of
Primitive Exchange." Given that this article is one of the few pieces that has
been as influential as Bohannan's article to the formation of substantiv1st
economic anthropology, it is odd that the two articles have so rarely been
read together in a productive way. A rather counterproductive division of
labor has seemingly dictated that Bohannan can take care of the objects by
himself, leaving Sahlins to handle social relations and modalities of ex-
change alone. In any event, it is clear that Sahlins's points about how social
distance (taken here as one measure of kinds of relationship) affects the
modality of exchange (sharing, reciprocity, and negative reciprocity in his
formulation) are useful here. They provide the kind of formal model of the
way relationships arc related to rypes of exchange that can be fruitfully com-
bined with Bohannan's spheres model. Effecting a synthesis of the two mod-
els not only allows the notion of a sphere to include relationships, but also
allows for a consideration of modality of exchange as well.
In this enlarged concept of spheres, each sphere specifies three things: a
relationship, a modality of exchange, and the objects exchanged. Following
Bohannan's original model, if each aspect of the sphere is as it should be,
the exchange effected is a conveyance, morally neutral or uniformly positive
for both parties involved. If substitution is made at any of these points, the
transaction either becomes a new kind and enters a different sphere, or it
represents a morally questionable conveyance. For example, in the Kwaio
case discussed by Akin in this volume, it is appropriate for mountain Kwaio
to exchange among themselves (relationship) strands of kofu shell currency
for Western-style store goods (objects) in transactions reckoned to be equiv-
alent (modality). If the relationship and the modality arc held constant but
the store goods are replaced with Solomon Islands dollars, the exchange be-
comes a negatively evaluated conversion. If instead we vary both the ex-
change media (replacing kofu with money), and the relationship of the
transactors (making one of them someone other than a mountain Kwaio),
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 11
we enter another sphere in which exchanges of this sort (money for goods)
arc reckoned as conveyances.
This enlarged notion of spheres raises many questions, some of which we
take up below. Before we do so, however, we want to point our how it helps
us to serrle one of the more frustrating problems in the study of Melanesian
currencies. This problem arises from the tendency for many indigenous cur-
rencies to appear in so many rradirionally understood spheres of exchange
that there appear ro be no spheres at all: Since shells move against almost
everything, how arc we ro avoid the conclusion that Mclancsians had a gen-
eral purpose money before state money was inrroduced? And if this was so,
why has the introduction of that money so disturbed them?
We return here, of course, to the problem raised by the Countses' discus-
sion of the Kalia1. As readers will recall, the Kaliai vula functioned before
contact as a general purpose currency, moving against all sorts of other ob-
jects. This fact, accordmg to the Countses. allowed the Kaliai to adopt Aus-
tralian currency enthusiastically and without difficulty. In a later study, how-
ever, the Countscs describe how the Kaliai had come to fear the coming rule
of money. Making use of our expanded notion of spheres of exchange, we
can now analyzc in more detail the processes that led the Kaliai to become
apprehensive about money.
In their initial article, David and Dorothy Counts note that the vula func-
tions not only as a general purpose currency, but also as a .. valuable" to
.. express kin or affinal relationships" in the course of marriage, initiation,
and mortuary ceremonies, and as a .. social-jural token" in compensation
payments when the rights of persons have been violated ( 1970:98, 91 ). They
point out that it is only "in certain situations" that vula functions as a \•alu-
able, while the .. same vula may be used in other situations" as a general
purpose currency (90; emphasis added). What is missing here is some way
of rigorously analyzing the nature of these different .. situations ... Since the
vula appears in all of them, a traditional object-ccntered spheres model is of
no help in this regard, and that is surely why the Counts largely ignore it,
only putting it to impressionistic use ( 104 ).
From the perspective of the expanded spheres model, however, we can go
beyond the rather unspecified use of terms like situation to point out that
the Kaliai had a highly structured economy in the past, even in spite of the
tendency for vula shells to appear in all sorts of exchanges. This was an
economy where, for example, food could not change hands among kin for
money, and where the fruits of the hunt were exchanged with kin and
friends only in the modalities of sharing and (generalized?) reciprocity
r 2 Joel Robbins and David Akin
(Counts and Counts 1970:97-98 and 1977:34, 36). furthermore, their
economy was one in which the general purpose nature of vula could be real-
ized only in specific spheres, such as when non-kin invested vula in a cere-
mony in order to receive a return of double rhe amount the next day. From
the sponsor's lineage mates and affines, rhe same ceremony demanded a free
gift of vula, while consanguines could give a gift for which they expected to
receive an equivalent return on demand ( 1970:99). These arc just a few ex-
amples meant to show thar the Kaliai economy was a highly structured one
rhat featured a variety of exchange spheres.
It was when the boundaries between these spheres finally started to give
way that the Kaliai began to worry over the rule of money; it was the whole-
sale corruption of these spheres that eventually led the Kaliai to dread the
future. When the media and modality of food exchange between kin
changed so that money and immediate equivalent exchange were allowed, a
crucial, high-volume sphere was significantly transformed. This case is simi-
lar to that where kin must rent productive resources from one another, as
was the case with shotguns among the Kaliai. Once we recognize the prior
existence of exchange spheres in Kaliai, it is not difficult to perceive how
money transformed them. Pace Bohannan (1959), what is crucial is not that
money can move against any other object, or that it provides a single stan-
dard of value-as a general purpose currency, vula could do something akin
to that all along. What makes the rule of money unique is that money can
move against anything in any kind of exchange between people who stand
in any kind of relationship to each other. It is this opening up of all three di-
mensions of a sphere that makes the new reign of money so threatening.
Strathcrn and Stewarr (this volume) point to a similar situation in their con-
clusion, where the possibility that land may be transferred across new sets
of social relations through new exchange modalities provides an experien-
tial anchor for the sense that changes brought about by money are leading
the way to a new millennium. As both they and LiPuma (this volume) point
out, it is when the boundaries between spheres collapse that those who have
imbued money with a variety of benevolent magical properties suddenly be-
gin to sec it as an ambiguous or evil power. This is of course true for the
Kaliai as well; once excited about the possibilities money opened up, the
Kaliai came to fear its power in the face of the dissolution of their spheres of
exchange.
Thus far we have demonstrated that an expanded notion of spheres al-
lows us to recognize that Melanesians do seek to structure their exchanges
even as they often allow specific indigenous items to change hands in many
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 13
spheres and take on the appearance of a general purpose currency. Having
solved the problem of how to use a spheres model in situations where cc-r-
tain objects appear in multiple spheres, we are immediately faced wich a dif-
ferent problem: how arc we to prevent our three-dimensional model of
spheres from becoming so discriminating char it makes every kind of ex-
change its own sphere? This would leave us noc with a model buc merely a
cumbersome descriptive device whose only purpose would be to specify
what sorts of data one should collect on every kind of exchange. While it
would in fact be useful to have comparable data on exchanges all over
Melanesia, this device would not allow us to account for the structure that
exists in the Melanesian material and is threatened by the spread of money.
Our use of the model begins to rnkc on a descriptive, every-exchange-its-
own-flavor cast in our description of Kaliai exchanges above. The sorts of
exchange formulae we presented there arc the bread and butter of Melane-
sian ethnography. \Vhat docs the spheres model add? How can we use it to
capturc--in the way Bohannan's model once seemed to, for Africa-a sense
of the structure of the economy and the society it describes?
Here we can take our cue from Melanesian cultures themselves, includ-
ing those represented in this volume. One thing that emerges dearly is that
Melanesians regularly make distinctions that collect a variety of transac-
tions under single categories within a set of broadly defined spheres of the
type we have been discussing. In an earlier paper, Dalton ( 1996b) argues,
"Rawa exchange spheres arc apparent because of the distinction made be-
tween 'buying' and 'sharing'" and notes-referring to the work of Wagner
that we discussed earlier as well as a host of other Melanesian ethnogra-
phics-that many of the cultures in the region "discriminate social cate-
gories according to the criterion of internal sharing versus external ex-
change .. (90). And while the distinction between sharing and exchange
delineates what is probably the most widespread set of spheres in the re-
gion, it is far from the only one. The Urapmin, for example, distinguish be-
tween exchanges in which replicas of the same item arc exchanged from
those in which people "buy" a different item in return for the one they give
(Robbins, this volume). This is an interesting case, because it crosscuts an
anthropological distinction between ceremonial and "'market" exchange:
bridewealth, certain kinds of dispute resolution, and the purchase of goods
all coming under the category of "'buying," while trade friendships. mortu-
ary exchanges, and other kinds of dispute resolution payments are all based
on the exchange of replicas. Hence, the distinction made on the basis of
modality (buying versus .. equivalent exchange") is supplemented by infor-
14 Joel Robbi11s and David Akin
mation on other dimensions of the transaction (relationship and good) to
generate different spheres. But cultural attention in this case, as m the case
of sharing versus exchange, is focused on the exchange modality. If we ex-
tend our notion of modality of exchange to include the transfer of
influences, then the Mekeo distinction between clean and dirty sorcery/mag-
ic is clearly a similar kind of division (sec Mosko, this volume).
What all these Melanesian differentiations between spheres of exchange
suggest is that modality is the most fundamental of the three elements of
each sphere; that is to say, Melanesians most forcefully resist attempts co
transform the modality of a sphere while the relationships and/or objects in-
volved remain constant. A familiar example of this is the way people refuse
to engage in the modality of purchase with their relatives who own trade-
stores. Instead, they insist on receiving "credit" and in effect change the
transaction to one of generalized sharing previously maintained berwcen
such kin. The fact that Mclanesians tend to focus on modality 1s also evi-
denced by their tendency (discussed above) to draw strong distinctions be-
tween modalities such as sharing and exchange, and then co use these dis-
tinctions to shape the structure of their social lives. The ultimate horror for
the Kaliai, as for many other Melanesians, follows from this focus on
modality and concerns the possibility that one mode may come co predomi-
nate at the expense of all others-the market bringing everything into what
Westerners used to call the cash nexus (all things changing hands only in
equivalent exchanges involving money).
In theory, any one of the three dimensions of a sphere may be the most
critical in defining that sphere, and there is no shortage of cases in which the
obicct or the relationship takes on this definitional burden. For example,
certain kinds of ceremonial exchange on Rossel Island can only occur when
ndap shells are included among the objects   (Liep, this volume).
But it remains true that for Melanesians modality seems to take on the
definitive role most often. The reason this is so brings us back to the argu-
ment with which we began this section: Mclanesians often use different
modalities of exchange to create different kinds of relationships (Wagner
1977; Schicffelin 1976). Hence, it is the modalities of exchange that create
the structure of society itself. This is why distinctions between sharing and
exchange are so productive for Mclanesians. It also follows that if, for ex-
ample, sharing creates relatives, then sharing rather than the fact of a close
relationship is the most fundamental aspect of those spheres that regulate
the flow of objects between kin. As the tradestore example illustrates, kin-
ship cannot be premised on immediate differential return. When people buy
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES ''
from each other, they risk losing their connection as kin. And where rela-
tions with trading partners arc built upon delayed exchange, mere is • simi-
lar resistance to immediate differential transactions. It is against the
ing homogenization of modalities, then, that Mdanesians mosr nrugglc.
This struggle takes the form of a refusal to discard the use of spheres in
differentiating kinds of relationships. One very robust conclusion wr can
take from our essays is that Melanesians do not, as Bohannan (19J9) fa-
mously predicted people would, give up all hope of creating sphaes at all
(nor do Westerners, really; see Damon 1993). Instead, they work to dnelop
new ones that will allow them to channel money in such a war that its flow
elicits the distinctions that create their social life, much as rhe Row of rradi-
rional currencies had done in the past. Hence, the sphere of external •ex-
changen becomes a sphere of buying for the Rawa. Or the Mdpa and MaJ-..
ing differentiate modern and traditional exchange. Elsewhere. as Fosttt
( 199 5 a) has discussed, people oppose a bisnis (business) to a ltastmn (cus-
tom) sphere. In all of these coses, people are working to protrct specific
spheres by maintaining a strong link berwttn a specific modality and rhe tt-
lations it creates or instantiates. Money can flow across these spheres el·
most all Melanesian societies now nllow money o role in •custom• ex-
changes, and in very many places one can buy shell currenc..-y for money. But
the modalities by which money chongcs honds change" ns it movn bcrwcen
spheres-sometimes used in purchARe, in other spheres it is ah.arm, or put
foreword in delayed exchange, or even exchanged for its own exact equiva-
lent (Robbins 1996). As long os the distinction between modalirin remains
robust, the flow of money, like the flow of traditional currcncin before it,
does not undermine the construction of sociality. Money can aptted
throughout the system without "shattering it.• If money doea not changr
hands between clo1c kin except in the modality of aharing, for e-xampl&-,
then it does not threaten the sphere of kinship. It it only once kin do
to buy from and .ell to one another, aa they did in the Kaliai case. that lb'UC-
tural change occurs.
The SCl19e of threat that many Melanesian• begin to feel aftrt tJOtnC con·
tact with state money and the capitalier economy (Strathrm end Stewart.
this volume) come. about when people 1C11R that they can no longer differ-
entiate modalities, or even relations and objects, for uee in ettat:ing rhc
spheres of exchange that generate IOdality. When thd lack of diffettn-
tiation occun, aU modn, ob;«ts. and relariona come to IOi>k · alilce--e 11a11r
often rept aeoted meronymicaHy in Melannia by rhe lffta8C of tampot bat-
ing and seUing of everytbifta amona both kin and   To racb dw
16 Joel Robbins a11d David Akin
horrifying state where differentiation has ceased, it is not enough that mon.
ey permeate a society, which has long since happened across Melanesia.
Money docs not, then, immediately or by itself create this state. But by mak-
ing itself a part of almost every sphere of local exchange, while simultane-
ously creating a link between local people and the global capitalist econo-
my, it does lay the groundwork for wholesale homogenization.
Many readers will no doubt associate the notion of spheres of exchange
with the substantivist polemic of the 1960s. However, we have no interest in
revisiting the formalist-substantivist debate. Rather, our concern is with bet-
ter understanding Melanesian ideas about exchange. Our use of a spheres
model is grounded in the fact that Melanesians themselves clearly distin-
guish different spheres of exchange and view their construction and mainte-
nance as a moral project. We employ spheres theoretically to understand
how Melanesians use and understand such differentiations in practice. In
doing so, we have disengaged Bohannan 's model from his broader substan-
tivist argument and have significantly reformulated it to include dimensions
of exchange that he did not consider. Indeed, once the spheres model is
amended to include dimensions of rclat10nship and modality, it becomes
easier to appreciate its usefulness for understanding exchange in market-
dominated as well as non-market economies. While we, like Bohannan,
highlight the cultural meanings of currencies, our contention that they dis-
play important properties across cultures challenges the substantivists' nom-
inalist position that, in George Oalton's words, "money has no definable
essence apart from the uses money objecrs serve, and these depend upon the
transactional modes that characterize each economy" (Dalton 1967:28 1 ).
Throughout this section we have discussed the way exchange creates so-
cial structure in Melanesia and have used this as a basis from which to con-
sider exchange spheres (in the enlarged sense) in that region. In the chapters
collected here, it is clear that Melanesian exchange spheres are crucial in the
construction of three cultural ;.lreas in particular; these areas arc social re-
production, agency, and the creation and expression of identity. It follows
that struggles to preserve exchange spheres and worries that money may
scramble them have their greatest impa..:t in these areas. In rhc remainder of
this imroduction we look at how these three areas have been shaped by the
flow of indigenous currencies and money.
Currencies, Reproduction, and Responses to Money
\Vic have asscned that in Melanesia, as in other pares of the world, there
are conspicuous patterns in the use and meanings of currencies, including
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 17
introduced srate moneys. We believe that, as Bloch and Parry ( 1989) sug-
gest, social reproduction is at the hcan of the matter where currencies are
concerned, and our aim in this section is to berter undersrand how curren-
cies and social reproducrion are related. We diverge from Bloch and Parry,
however, in our claim rhat rhe prominence of currencies in matters of repro-
duction of social orders is partly because of propcnies unique to currencies
themselves. We continue to pursue this argument here.
Anthropologists often use the term rcproductio11 without specifying
whether they mean by it regeneration in a biological or social sense. This
conflation is perhaps called for by the fact that in so many cultures these do-
mains arc conceptualized as inextricably intertwaned. This is rhc case in
most Melanesian societies, where we often find rhe symbolism of currencies
and their exchange employed as a mediator of different of reproduc-
tion. Currencies arc parricularly suited for this role by virtue of their ex-
traordinary ability to embody both social stability and social flow, the rwo
most basic elements of the cyclical models of reprodm:tion found through-
out much of the region.
\Vic rake up first the way currencies model aspecrs of biological rcproduc-
rion in their symbolism. Melanesian exchange valuables have hcen widely
imbued wirh meanings of sexuality and fertility, &llld several authors have
analyzed the symbolic embodiment of these meanings in shells, p•trticularly
pcarlshclls in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Wagner ( 1986b:58-59) c.-x·
plores the Daribi .. procreative mct&tphor" of peurlshdls through their
ceptual links with bird eggs, human embryos, and the sun and moon (see
also J. Weiner 1988:86). Clark ( 1991) argues that the initial im:orporation
of these shells into Highlands ceremonial exchange was inspired hy their
symbolic and aesthetic connections ro rcproductiVl" processes, rathl"r rhan
simply by their scarcity. In the present volume, Strathcrn and Stewart sug-
gest that, for Melpa, the calciferous pcarlshclls and the rcJ ochre applied to
them arc symbolic of paternal bone and maternal blood, re!ipcctively, the
two elements Melpa believe combine to form a child (scl· al\o .J. Weiner
1988: 1 i.o). Douglas Dalron (this volume), in a related view, explores how
the aesthetic elements of Rawa kunawo valuables symholize "vitality,
scrength, and fecundity and the fundamental or tclos and illeals of
Rawa culture to socially reproduce."
More than simply pointing to binh   mcaningr.; commonly
embod)· conceptions uf reproduction as an eternal cycle in which death and
degeneration are vital elements (see Bloch and Parry 1981). Thus
reports here that when a man dies among the Urapmin, his rotting corpK i\
1 8 Joel Robbins and David Akin
eaten by a spirit who then vomits up his old putrefied flesh as nassa shells.
In a Mountain-Ok myth, Umoim-brother of the ancestress Afek who
founded the Telefol world-returns from establishing the Land of the Dead
with his body in decay, and the maggots eating his corpse are the shells used
in mortuary and marriage payments (Brumbaugh 1990:6 5-66; Jorgensen
199oa:157). Even the most money-like of currencies can be used in ways
that express such regenerative ideas. For example, in both New Britain and
Kwaio, shell currency beads are placed in the facial orifices of corpses, in
the latter case, at least, explicitly to generate reproductive powers and
wealth for the future (Danks 1888a:3 54-5 5; sec also Malinowski
1961:512.-13).
The reproductive significance of shells becomes more explicit through
their centrality within key events of social reproduction, particularly mortu-
ary and marriage exchanges. Two fundamental qualities of currencies allow
them ro elegantly express symbolic themes central to such exchanges, par-
ticularly conceptions of stability and movement as the complementary bases
of reproductive cycles. First, currencies have a special ability to evoke per-
manence and continuity. Economic theorists have long recognized that the
meanings of even Western moneys are grounded in their relationship to time
and their ability to act as a bond against its vagaries. Economist Keynes
wrote that, "The importance of money essentially flows from its being a
link between the present and the future" (1936, qtd. Crump 1990:99; see
also Douglas 1970:86). With their durability and perpetual circulation, cur-
rencies join the past, presenr, and future in an unending flow of repayment
and future reciprocation. Annette Weiner ( 198oa:76) has argued that, from
the perspective of social reproduction, the significance of exchange resides
in the way "the objects themselves contain the messages of intent" to com-
mit to future social engagement (see also Copper 198 i ). Such commitment
is sometimes made more openly, as in Kwaio mortuary exchanges when half
of each valuable received is qukkly returned to the giver co pledge future re-
ciprocation, and in recognition of the relationship's pcrpecuity. The corpore-
al qualitics of the objects themselves may once again be significant here:
Healey suggests th;lt the durability of shells itself has aesthetic force hy sym·
bolizing the longevity or permanence of relationships constituted by their
exchange. Pearlshclls •He durable "both physico.1lly and metaphorically ..
( 1990:3 r .z.; st:c also Foster, this volume, and 1995a:170-78; Wagner
19H6b: 56-61 ). Such temporal messages are, of course, only heightened
when the objects cxch.mgl·d arc heirlooms with hisroril"s of their own.
The second, rdatcd, quality of currencies that makes them central to
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 19
Melanesian thinking about reproduction is their ability and tendency to
flow, not only through time but berwecn individuals and groups. Douglas
( 1967: 119) summarizes the nmeteenth-ccntury economist Menger's ( 1891)
argument that money is .. essennally something which permeates and flows."
Because currencies are not consumed, their meanings must be expressed
through their movement and circulation. The significance of shell flows to
social reproduct10n in Melanesia has often been stressed. Wagner writes
that ... Shells ... have no source, for they pass ideally from person to person
in a never-ending rhythm of human marriage and procreation .. ( 1978:69 ),
and James Weiner draws from Foi myths that the very essence or .. he.in"' of
pearlshclls is their continual movement (1988:275-83; hut sec Clark
1991:333-34; and Battaglia 1990:119-35). Shells may also. of course, ex-
press agency through their stationary possession and display. pamcularly as
personal ornaments (sec below). Sometimes particular shells are withdrawn
from circulanon and cease to he currencies altogether. But, as Malinowski
wrote of Trobrianders, ''to possess is to be great .... But the important
pomt is that with them to possess is to Aive" ( 1961 :97; sec also A. Weiner
1988: 149-57). Indeed, there arc often significant social pressures to circu-
late currencies. even if only within a limited or elite group. While   a
shell brings prestige, refusing to do so may bring stigmatization akin to the
selfish consumption of foodstuffs (Clark 1 991:_,1 5; Dubbcl<lam 19h4:z.9M:
Malinowski 1961 :94; Munn 1986).
The proclivity of currencies to flow has other aspects. They a..:-t. to \'ary-
ing degrees. as agreed standards of value that allow unlike things to be ex-
changed according to a common scale. This ability to hridgc value differ-
ences facilitates their movement across cultural borders that mherwisc are
difficult to penetrate (Crump 1 990:91). This docs not mean, of course, that
their values remain uniform in the process, or, contra Kopywff ( 1 986), that
they necessarily homogenize values. Rather, with no essential use value or
consumption value of their own. currencies display a conspicuous ahility to
take on diverse culturally grounded meanings (sec LiPuma. this volume;
Bloch and Parry 1989; Parry and 1989).
The ahility of shells to flow across hordcrs is central to their meaning in
many Melanesian cultures. The Kwaio (Akin, this volume) arc unusual in
manufacturing their own primary currency from lm:al shdl!ll. and even they
also use currencies imported from elsewhere. Melanesian big-men have typ-
ically demonstrated their prowess hy "pulling .. in foreign,
.. wild" shells that are deemed essential ro local social reproduction. and by
controlling the networks along which they travel (Licp, l.iPuma, Robbin,.
2.o Joel Robbins and David Akin
Strathern and Stewart, thas volume; A. Strathern r 979: 5 3 4; Gewertz
1983:189-90). Some formal exchanges require that shells be imported
specifically for the occasion (liep, this volume). The need for foreign shells
to accomplish local reproduction can present a troublesome contradiction
in societies where autonomy is highly valued, and this is the focus of Rob-
bins's chapter here. The chapters by LiPuma and by Strathern and Stewart
make the related point that the ability of shells to encompass both sameness
and difference, the exotic and the indigenous, is key to thcar meaning for
Highlanders. "Pulling" foreign wealth for local reproduction has continued
to be important in relation to state currencies, to which we now turn.
Through what processes have state moneys been adopted within Melane-
sian societies? Today, there arc few places where indigenous currencies still
dominate. In many areas they continue to be used in exchange, but in many
other areas dollars or kina have fully replaced them and shells have been
relegated to purely symbolic roles, sold to Europeans, or irreverently
crushed into lime for betel chewing (O'Hanlon 1993:63). It is overly sim-
plistic to say that those cultures with indigenous currencies were "pre-
adapted" to the use of money. Indeed, those Melanesians with the most
money-like currencies have sometimes displayed the greatest resistance to
penetration by state moneys (sec Akin, this volume; Errington and Gewertz
r995a:49-76), while others for whom currencies were previously unimpor-
tant have eagerly adopted money (Brison, this volume). The transition to
money use has been as diverse as Melanesian culcurcs themselves, reflecting
complex cultural, historical, and geographical variables. To further compli-
cate marters, uses and perceptions of money are changing through time.
Mosko (this volume), for example, describes how the Mekeo remained cash
poor for decades before a coincidence of events suddenly brought them
great wealth and made money and "money things" the most potent force in
their lives. Strathern and Stewart (this volume) recount the ever-changing
place of money in Mount Hagen, including (as discussed earlier in relation
to Kaliai) a growing perception there that money itself is a cause of emerg-
ing social problems (sec also Akin, Dalton, LiPuma, this volume; Foster
1995a:247-48). One striking consistency across Melanesia, notable in the
chapters here, is that money's role in local societies is in tremendous flux.
The use of currencies prior to the introduction of state moneys did some-
times predispose people to think about money in certain ways. The repro-
ductive symbolism of shells just discussed has been transferred to money in
some places (Nihill 1989; Strnthern and Stewart, this volume), and money is
often credited with the kinds of reproductive agency formerly found in shells
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 21
(see below). Nevertheless, these continuities, and the substitution of money
for shells in reproductive exchanges, cannot be seen as a simple replacement
of one currency by another. Clearly, coins and notes do not typically possess
the aesthetic properties of shells, although they can be decorated or
arranged like shells, and thear form and designs ma)' be granted extraordi-
nary significance (Nihill 1989; O'Hanlon 1993:32; Strathcrn and Stewart,
this volume). More important here, in many areas shells were ver)' rare pri-
or to European arrival and had very different modes of circulation from
money (liPuma, Strathern and Stewart, this volume; Clark 1991:310-11;
Connoll)' and Anderson 1987:250-52; O'Hanlon 1989:.u).
The adoption of money, sometimes in replacement of shells. has often oc-
curred through dual processes whereby shell valuables become more mon-
ey-like, and simultaneously or subsequently, moneys come to he employed
in the manner of local currencies. The first change, which Strathern and
Stewart here call .. precursion," takes place as indigenous valuahles arc
drawn into commodity exchange, often for the first time, thereby the
way for huer monetization. Prccursion in the past W<lS often brought o.1bom
when Europeans. with their greater mobility and desire to exploit local
scarcities in trade, transported enormous quantities of formerly rare shells
to barter for goods and labor. Ian Hughes ( 1978:3 1 6) has estinrnted that
Europeans imported 5-1 o million shells into the Highlands alone in tht.•
decade prior to World War II. Even where European entrepreneurs were
few, the flow of shells often dramatically increased when the cessation of
fighting and increased mobility allowed regional trade to intensify. These
processes typically produced intlation and sometimes instability. and
LiPuma (this volume) describes how, in Maring, shells lost their former  
ity to signify "'extraordinary relationships" as they grew in number. In many
places shells shifted from being coupons of power, controlled and ratmncd
by powerful men, to being currencies used within other exchange relation-
ships and modalities, accessible to ordinary men, and even women (see Dou-
glas 1967; Dubbeldam 1964:301-02; Hughes r 987; Liep, this volume; Ni-
hill 1991; A. Weiner 1988:142-47). As the economic scene changed, even
non-shell, women's wealth such as bundled banana leaves sometimes be-
came more money-like (A. Weiner 1976:78-79).
Most of the chapters in this volume describe the other side of this process
whereby communities absorb money into ccrc.amonial and gift exchanges
and grant it lcx:al meanings that are qualitatively different from those typi-
cal of market currencies (see also Gregory 1982; Healey 1985; Nihill 1989,
1991; O'Hanlon 1993:38-39; Salisbury 196z.:126-30). It is easy to sec such
u Joel Robbins and David Akin
absorpcion of moneys into craditional circuits of exchange as their being
"earned" or "domescicaced," or as instances of local resistance co commodi-
tizacion, with moneys being c3gerly taken in but only on the condition that
they ace like indigenous currencies. However, at the same time as these prac-
tices socialize money into Melanesian society they simultaneously open
those sociecics up to the destabilizing influences so often set in play by the
wide-ranging flow of money. Even if exchange modalities and relationships
arc not inicially disturbed, those seeking important roles in community ex-
change must, if they are able, become more heavily engaged in the cash
economy, into which the community's resources will increasingly be drawn
(Kulick 199z.:47; Rambo 1985; LiPuma, Strathern and Stewart, this vol-
ume). Social exchanges aimed at social reproduction can, paradoxically, be-
come a threat co the reproduction of existing social orders.
Marriage, mortuary, and other formal exchanges arc, of course, prime
contexts for the reproduction and transformation of social relationships, in-
cluding relationships of dominance and inequality. Several chapters in this
\'Olume address means that local-level leaders have employed to maintain or
extend their control over reproductive processes in the face of increasing
money use. In the remainder of this section we wane to briefly examine some
patterns in chese responses. Mosko's chapter about the Mekeo demonstrates
clearly how money and commoditization can undermine hierarchical sys-
tems, even those chat are not based on expansive, competitive exchange.
Foster has elsewhere ( 199 5a:246-48) suggested that .. replicative.., reproduc-
tive S)'Stems like chat in Mekeo, implemented through non-competitive and
non-expansive exchange, may in face be more vulnerable to disruption by
introduced money because they are less able to harness and channel its
agency. However, to the degree that relationships of dominance must be
continuously \'alidated chrough competitive exchange, they, coo, arc vulner-
able to disruption by money, particularly in the longer term.
In our discussion of spheres we noted some of the ways money has
prm·ed destabilizing to Melanesian exchange systems, particularly its ex-
traordinary ability to disrupt formerly discreet categories of exchange by
means of which social relations are structured. Money, with its wide usage
and state backing, is a potent conductant of power, conveying more of ic
over greater discanccs than shells ever could. Most Melanesians are pro-
foundly aware thar chey live at the margins of the world economy, and that
they are even farther from the founts of cash wealth than they once were
from shell sources. Yet money is the primary means available to them for
"pulling" in wealth and agency across that distance. Money's facility for
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 2.3
crossing cultural borders is particularly important here, because one need
not be well educated or particularly sophisticated in foreign ways to acquire
some of it. Money is all the more compelling because it is issued by the state.,
which clearly has more ... pull" than anyone else, as evidenced by its broker-
age of development moneys and other foreign wealth. For Melanesians.
moneys have become key markers of state power (see Gregory 1997:ch. 7).
A further attraction of money for many is that it also flows through
boundaries of status. People who formerly had little or no access to shells or
other mediums of power now often find they can earn money without the
help or even approval of local leaders. In some ways the challenge of money
resembles that of indigenous currencies in the past: to draw in outside
wealth for the reproduction of local society. But the scale of social  
and the distances from which wealth must be pulled to display significant
agency, have changed; what was formerly wild and foreign is now domesti-
cated and even parochial. LiPuma describes how even pearlshclls have for
the Maring now come to symbolize the local. Shell currencies once high-
lighted the social borders they traversed, and with them the agency and
renown of the big-men who lured them across. Now, in many places, mon-
ey's uncontrolled flow is sweeping away the old borders and with them the
power of the men who controlled them.
Local leaders face the challenge of maintaining their status in the face of
money's destabilizing effects. The crux of the matter is not simply who will
control new forms of wealth and agency, but also what will he the relation-
ship of these to prior indigenous forms of agency and to the future repro-
duction of society. We will delve further into the relationship hetwecn
agency and money in the next section. Here let us examine how local lead-
ers have responded to their precarious situation. In many places old politi-
cal hierarchies have collapsed in the face of commoditization. Mosko (this
volume) presents a dramatic example of this, describing how a lucrative be-
tel-marketing trade left Mekeo senior men and their ritual power hase (itself
a product of earlier colonial forces) completely displaced hy .. money peo-
ple" and their superior money agency. But elsewhere leaders have fared bet-
ter, through diverse approaches that have allowed them to maintain some of
their power, and, in certain cases, even augment it. It is important to empha-
size here that most local leaders in Melanesia arc highly respected individu-
als. Although they are, not surprisingly, often the most conspicuous figures
in attempts to perpetuate or insulate systems of reproductive exchange, it is
a mistake to view their actions in purely Machiavellian terms. There is often
broad community support for their positions, reflecting shared local con-
14 Joel Robbins a11d David Akin
cern over the erosion of political, economic. and moral orders. As we dis-
cussed in relation to spheres, these strategies must be seen as attempts at
maintaining crucial links between specific modalities of exchange and the
relationships that they generate and validate. In our discussion of identity
we will address how systems of exchange and the relationships they gener-
ate are being openly contested. Here we concentrate on responses to mone-
tization that arc intended to maintain aspects of the status quo.
We c•m group several different responses together under the term enclav-
ing. the erection of barriers to protect reproductive institutions from disrup-
tion by money and commoditization (see Appadurai 1986a). The most rad-
ical form of enclaving, described here in Akin's chapter on the K waio, is the
exclusion of money from general local use. In the Kwaio mountains, money
is explicitly barred onl)· from mortuary and marriage payments, but because
getting shell currency for such payments is the goal of most non-subsistence
economic activity, money is effectively excluded from other exchanges as
well. This has been successful partly because formal shell exchanges have
been opened up ro younger men and to women, and because marketing of
foreign commodities for shell currency is permitted. These allowances, and
the paucity of opportunities to earn or invest money locally, have helped
mitigare the sorts of pressures seen elsewhere to adopt money as an alterna-
rive or replacement currency.
Few Melanesian communities could or would want to exclude money
from local economic life in the way that Kwaio have. Less comprehensive
enclaving can entail granting certain things or kinds of things special status
as non-commodities, a process that Kopytoff ( 1986) has called "singulariza-
tion." We use the term here to indicate the shielding from commoditi1..ation
of things that are believed key to social reproduction. The most widespread
form of this in Melanesia has been the protection of land from individual
ownership and sale. Strathcrn and Stewart here stress the importance of
land in maintaining community life and clan identities in Mount Hagen,
and the same could be said for most Melanesian communities (see Gregory
1981). Melanesians themselves are acutely aware of this, and many people's
greatest fear is thar they will lose control of their land. It is no surprise, then,
that land management is the realm where many local leaders have retained
their most significant control over social reproduction.
Currencies and other exchange objects are often singularized by insulat-
ing them from the commodity renlm and highlighting them as a necessary
part of proper marriage or monuary exchange. I.iep presents a striking   ­
ample of this from the Rossel Islands. During the r 9 1 os Rossel hig·men de.
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 1S
dared that the highest-ranking ndap shell valuables would henceforth be in-
alienable from their owners, the big-men themselves. Today Rossel marriage
exchanges must still include the display and temporary transfer of one of
these valuables to be considered legitimate. The shells can only be obtained
for this purpose through the cooperation of the network of big-men who
control them, and this requires that they also authorize and manage the
events themselves. By cementing their control over these shells in the 191 os.,
the big-men secured a dominance over reproductive matters that continues
today.
Singularization-both of classes of shells and individual shells-is., of
course, not a new concept in Melanesia and is found where there is no per-
ception of monetary threat. For example., in Urapmin (Robbins, this vol-
ume), where money is seen as benign, bo11ang nassa shells are, like the
Rossel ndap, indispensable for marriage exchanges, and a big-man's help is
required to get the necessary shells. Urapmin may exchange ban.mg for oth-
er items (including money, today) with outsiders. But cmmng Urapmin thnn-
selves the shells change hands only within equivalent exch:omges anJ bridt"-
price presentations. This contcxnml singularization is significant
Urapmin big-men have superior external trade partnerships. Such premoney
singularizations can persevere in modern contexts of commo<litiz:ouion and
take on new significance as forms of cnch1vcmcnt. A singularize<l dass of
valuables might historically have been first cornmodirize<l through a prn:ur·
sion-like process, as discussed above, nnd later rcsingularizcJ as n form of
enclavement (Kopytoff 1986:7 3; for an cxnmplc, sec Duhheldam 1964:
300-02).
Singularizations of these various kinds typi<.:ally occur in aKsociation with
another sort of cndaving in which aspects of community life arc conceptu·
ally divided into different domaim;, one or more of which are from
commoditization. Foster ( 1995a) has recently analyzcd how TanKa    
generated such a panition when local big·mcn were no longcr able to main-
tain their privileged control over the commodity economy. A nt"w di1tinc-
tion emerged between bisnis, the realm of household and money
transactions. and lt.astam (= kastom), which cncompaun the ttproduction
of matrilincages as a whole and is controlled by big-men. Kastam par excc:l-
lence is mortuary feasting and shell and pig exchanges through which lin-
eages reproduce themselves.
As we noted earlier, foster ( 199 sa) has that Mclannian IK>cittin
based upon replicative sysrems of tacial reproduction arr more prone ru dia.-
ruption by commoditization processes than arc sucietia based upon multi-
z.6 Joel Robbins and David Akin
plicative systems that highlight competitive, expansive exchange. The latter
can more easily incorporate money and commodities into their exchange
practices, and .. commodity relations are put in the service of the indigenous
mode of producing sociality" (Foster i995a:247). This is more difficult for
societies with replicative systems, Foster says, and they arc more likely to re-
sort to enclaving of the sort found in Tanga, developing and enacting con-
ceptual distinctions such as that between bisnis and kastom. Foster's model
is contradicted or muddled by a number of contrary cases, including several
in this volume (Akin, Brison, Mosko, Robbins), and clearly, as Foster ac-
knowledges, a range of other variables can complicate matters. But it is un-
deniable that expansive exchange systems have demonstrated an ability to
absorb money and commodities and further grow as a result.
Big-men cried early on in many areas to manage relations with Europeans
and employ their goods in exchange. For instance, during the nincteenth-
cenrury labor trade in island Melanesia, "harbor masters" and other senior
men controlled who from their communities enlisted. They also received
from recruiters large "beach payments" of goods or weapons for each man
signed. These items (especially weapons) quickly found their way into for-
mal exchanges, and some coastal leaders expanded their powers to unprece-
dented levels (see also Salisbury 1962:115). Even in places with linle or no
direct contact with Europeans, money and commodities have sometimes
flowed along the same routes as indigenous valuables, facilitating their con-
trol by men who already dominate trade (see Robbins, this volume).
Often big-men have taken money and commodities into exchange not
merely to harness the new wealth but also to forestall the threat it poses ro
their own dominance. They intercept its power by drawing it into preexist-
ing exchange categories already symbolically and operationally within their
reproductive domains (see Rodman 1987). In a classic case, Andrew Strath-
ern ( 1979) described how, during the r96os, Mount Hagen big-men were
anxious about women's increasing money wealth from cash cropping. Be-
fore this, men had managed to appropriate women's labor by harnessing its
output into their moka exchanges of pigs and pearlshells. They countered
the new challenge by completely dropping pcarlshclls from moka exchanges
and replacing the shells with money. They thereby encompassed women's
labor and newfound wealth within a male-dominated realm (cf. Sexton
1986).
In the longer term, however, such strategies can have dire unintended
consequences for the reproductive systems involved. The influx of money
ushers in new kinds of exchange, social relationships, and conflicts that can
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 2.7
eventually disrupt the old social order. Strathern and Stewan describe here
how Mount Hagen big-men now find their positions precarious. Previously,
younger and lower-status men were willing to support big-men in order to
stave off the common threat of women controlling money (A. Strathcrn
1979 ). Bur now there are growing intergenerational and intraclan tensions
due to elders' control over money-making resources, particularly land for
growing coffee and other cash crops. This has intensified pressure to com-
moditize and alienate land, which threatens the foundation of the entire
clan system. Elsewhere, Gregory has argued that cash cropping itself gener-
ates intensified gift exchange as an attempt "'to neutralize the corrosive ef-
fects of commodity production on indigenous land tenure" (1981:191-92.).
If so, the adoption of money into such exchanges may initiate a process
whereby flourishing money exchanges bring about more cash cropping,
which in turn generates further intensification of exchanges in a spiral of
continuing escalation.
Gewertz (1983:175-95) analyze<l a different scenario in the Sepik area.
Before the 197os the Chambri had successfully incorporated money and
store-bought food into affinal exchanges and thcrchy perpetuated associat-
ed relations of dominance and subordination. So long as the money was
earned outside of Chambri, these exchanges and dominance relationships
were preserved. But when money-making ventures entered Chambri itself
new relationships of inequality emerged,   those between em-
ployers and employees. These, in turn, contradicted and undermined rhe pn-
tron-dient relations that had anchored the affinal exchange system.
We do not, of course, present these cases to argue that absorption of
money into reproductive exchanges, by itself, brings ahout commoditiza-
tion, bur it can hasten penetration by the cash economy. Furthermore, it can
leave older social orders more vulnerable to disruption by new social rela-
tionships that are also grounded in money. In the longer term, endavcment
may be a more sustainable response to commoditization than attempts to
"domesticate" money.
Similar scenarios are unfolding throughout Melanesia. In many areas new
kinds of big-men, such as business men and politicians, both transcend and
engage local systems of reproduction with their unprecedented access to
money and power. Political leaders, in particulai; often resemble the harbor
masters of old, brokering the development and other moneys they are able
to "pull" into their local areas. We shall return to the emergence of new so-
cial roles in our discussion of identity, but first let us look more closely at the
relationship between currencies and changing Melanesian notions of agency.
Currency and Agency
In a stimulating recent article, Graeber ( 1996) examines rhc relationship
between money and articles of adornment, to explain why rhc larrer so of.
ten functions as the former. Because so many indigenous Melanesian curren-
cies have also served as important items of sartorial display, it is worrh pur-
suing Graebcr's discussion here. Central to his argument 1s the daim that
both money and adornment arc related to forms of social power-this pro-
vides the basis for the link between them. Yet the kinds of social power to
which they relate differ. Items of display index (or, in Graeber's term,
"reflect") powerful actions completed in the past, and they make a claim on
those who see them to treat their bearer as the kind of person who ha!.
wielded such power. Money, in contrast, points co an open capacity to act in
various ways in the future. Furrhcrmore, unlike adornment, money is quin-
tessentially a hidden thing and as such it comes to represent all of the un-
seen, internal capacities of persons. If articles of display represent and en-
hance something on the order of charisma, a power ultimately lodged in
others, then money represents and enhances agency, an actor's personal abil-
ity co get things done. By displaying money (and thus conflating adornment
and currency), one at once indexes past success and points to one's potential
for future action.
Perhaps the distinction between the power conferred by money and that
represented by adornment stands out more clearly when one considers that
although people can ignore items of adornment, or judge them to be poorly
constructed or displayed (O'Hanlon 1989), it is one of the characteristics of
money that when one produces it in institutionally appropriate settings
(such as shopping, hiring wage labor, and so on), one almost without fail
gets what one wants. Adornment can succeed or fail in its mission to body
forth evidence of past efficacy, but in stable economies these evaluative
terms cannot be applied to money (cf. Guyer 199 5 ). Given the ability of
money so predictably co realize its holders' intentions, it is little wonder chat
Westerners have come to think about freedom in terms of their ability to use
their money as they want (Bauman 1988; see also Simmel 1990). Money is
one of the prime vehicles of the potent agency such freedom is supposed to
allow the individual. For many Melanesians, this model of individual free-
dom has only recently begun to cake shape (see below), but few people have
failed to make a strong connection between money and the kind of inner,
personal agency upon which that notion of freedom is based.
Among the contributions to this volume, Mosko's chapter most striking-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 19
ly illustrates the way Melanesians can draw on indigenous models of agency
in formulating an understanding of money. Rather than think about money
in the terms used to understand exchange goods, the North Mekeo have
embedded it within the symbolism of hot, cold, and invisible efficacies that
underlie their models of magic and ritual sorcery. The ... practical logic" that
underlies North Mekeo use of money is also that which they draw on in
performing clean magic and sorcery in order to change the minds of others.
Like these other forms of action, people ... practice" money in order to real-
ize their intentions. In many parts of Melanesia, magic and sorcery repre-
sent the epitome of individual, hidden power that society finds difficult to
control (Munn J 986 on sorcery, for example; see also Graeber J 996). By as-
similating money to these kinds of extreme agency, the North Mekco seem
almost to assert that money is something that has to do only with personal
agency, and nor with the social structural relations of debt and dependence
that other objects create through their flow.
The North Mekco case is singular in the extent to which money is assim-
ilated to individualized forms of agency such as magic and sorcery. In other
cases, such as that of the Urapmin, people explicitly understand money as
something akin to traditional currency (Robbins, Akin, this volume;
Thomas r 991 ). Local currencies, of course, were also understood in terms
of ideas about agency, as Strathcrn and Stewart demonstrate in their chapter
on Mount Hagen. This is as much the agency of display, social exchange,
and charisma, however, as it is the agency of hidden, personal power. To be
sure, the big-men who arc the paradigmatic holders of traditional currencies
are understood to possess increased and special powers of personal agency,
but as has been clear at least since Sahlins's ( 1963) seminal article, hig-mcn
are also profoundly constrained in their use of shell currencies and other
forms of wealth. Try as they might to put forth the image of hidden power
free of social constraints by concealing their wealth (Strathern and Stewart,
Robbins, Akin, this volume) and producing it only on the most important
occasions (Liep, Robbins, this volume) big-men's agency is of necessity
caught up in the larger social projects on which their power depends. The
traditional wealth of big-men confers on them capacities of a different kind
from those personal, asocial ones they in some places gain by virtue of the
magic or sorcery powers they possess.
To the extent that people understand money as akin to traditional cur-
rencies, then, there are limits to its ability to foster the kind of hidden, per-
sonal agency that it confers on the North Mekeo. This raises an interesting
question. Melanesianists have ohen observed that money, once it has been
30 Joel Robbins and David Akin
introduced, is much more widely distributed throughout society than arc
traditional currencies. Despite efforts of older men to control its flow, mon-
ey finds its way into the hands of women and younger men who previous!
lacked and often continue to lack opportunities to possess indigenous cu:
rencies. Where money is understood as something akin ro indigenous cur-
rencies, docs its wider distribution then result in a democratization of
agency, making the kinds of socially productive agency wielded by big-men
available to all? The struggles over changes in the process of reproduction
recounted in the last section and the next are aimed at establishing the an-
swer to precisely this question, but we can offer a few pertinent examples
here as well. In Rossel Island society, no matter how much money young
men or women have, only big-men possess the high-ranking shells that ren-
der their agency necessary to the completion of socially important ex-
changes (Liep, this volume). The situation is similar in Urapmin (Robbins,
this volume).
Efforts to control money's ability to confer agency often do succeed in
differentiating it from indigenous currencies and maintaining some version
of a traditional distribution of agency. They may also have somewhat sur-
prising outcomes, however. For to the extent that money is kept out of so-
cially important exchanges, people are compelled to use it to increase per-
sonal consumption. The Kwaio case is instructive here. By asserting a rigid
distinction between their traditional currency (kofu) and money and by
tabooing the use of the latter within formal exchanges, Kwaio have denied
money the abilicy to confer the powers of agency traditionally conferred by
kofu. As a resulr, people who leave home to work have had to find ways to
com·ert money into kofu if they want to be able to act effectively at home.
They have done this by expending money on a whole range of personal con-
sumer goods that chey can later sell for kofu in Kwaio. Kwaio have succeed-
ed in limiting the power of money only by developing an elaborate con-
sumer market at home in which kofu accords its holders the kinds of
personal agency usually enacted b)· those with money. In general, as in the
Kwaio case, where money does not confer public, social agency, it will make
opportunities for its holders to increase their hidden, personal power. Many
Melanesian societies do allow money to have a role in important social ex-
changes, and thus they less forcefully push money toward use in personal
consumption. But to the extent that these same groups also refuse to aJlo, ... ·
money to grant people the kind of power over important social exchanges
wielded by people with traditional currency, they too encourage people to
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES JI
see money at least in part as a way of enhancing personal choice rather than
social influence.
If Melanesians cannot fail to notice that what is new about money is the
possibilities it offers to expand powers of personal choice and consumption,
we then have to ask whether it also gives rise to a growing sense of individ-
ualism (Simmel 1990). LiPuma notes that "'the infiltration of the Western
money form, by transforming the ground of people's beliefs, desires, and
judgments, gradually and imperceptibly helps to shape the conditions for
the production of intentionality and agency . ., Brison argues that for the
Kwanga, money produces ideas about agency that are markedly individual-
istic-based on ideas of choice and on the novel notion that one can en-
hance the self without engaging the collectivity. Like LiPuma, and like Sim-
mel (1990), she attributes some transformative power to the money form
itself.
The foregoing discussion does not invalidate such an argument, but it
does serve to contextualize the perhaps universal process whereby mone)'
gives rise to individualism in terms that arc particularly Melanesian. As we
have noted, Melanesians have long been familiar with individual, asocial,
consumption-oriented fonns of agency in the guise of some kinds of person-
al magic and especially in the form of sorcery (Munn 1986; Stephen 1996).
As the North Mekeo example makes abundantly clear, money creates
Melanesian forms of individualism by holstering already existing kinds of
individualist power at the expense of other, more socially constructive kinds
of agency. Individualist forms of agency arc not entirely novel, then, but
money strengthens them and allows them a wider sphere of influence.
A final point to make about agency in relation to money involves the
question of fetishism. Following Marx, let us take fetishism to mean the at-
tribution to an object of powers of action that in fact belong only to people.
It is abundantly dear that most indigenous currencies were profoundly
fetishized in these terms; Mount Hagen pearlshells could "pull" other shells
toward themselves (Strathern and Stewart, this volume), Urapmin shells
could find their way home to the brothers of the men whose skins they once
were (Robbins, this volume), and the discussion of currency symbolism in
the previous section provides many other examples. In Melanesia  
too, seems to be endowed with powers of its own. Certainly the North
Mekeo see money as powerful in itself, and the Mount Hageners believe it
has the power to heal. Yet if we look at these phenomena in Melanesian
  the question of fetishism immediately appears as one that can only be
3 2 Joel Robbins and David Akin
asked from within an individualise culture (see Dumont 1 977 on Marx's in-
dividualism): it is only from the point of view of an ontology in which indi-
viduals are the sole actors that the attribution of power co objects appears
to be a mistake. As individualism grows within Melanesia, it will be inter-
esting to sec if fetishism thus fades rather than grows alongside the increas-
ing use of money.
Currencies and Changing Identities
Given the centrality of reproduction, agency, and exchange in Melane-
sian conceptions of self and community it comes as no surprise that curren-
cies are also prominent in the formulation and display of individual and
group identities. Like other traits of Melanesian currencies highlighted in
this introduction, this connection to identity is also displayed by currencies
more globally. Crump writes that .. The most distinctive characteristic of
money is ... that it circulates among a recognized class of transactors," and
in doing so, it defines that class ( 1990:94); and Foster (this volume) refers to
"the natural foundations of money" as being "the social relations of trust
and confidence, hence authority, mediated and evinced by money's circula-
tion." Melanesian currencies have long defined identities by confirming
common affiliation through their mutual acceptance, and by highlighting
difference through their exchange and differential use across group bound-
aries. For example, in precolonial times a single Malaitan mine in Langalan-
ga supplied shell currencies for the entire southeastern Solomons, producing
for each area the specific bead colors, sizes, and configurations preferred
there. In parts of Malaita even small kin groups sometimes gifted distinc-
tive, emblematic beaded valuables chat recipients could then disassemble
and rearrange in their own manner for further prestations. In this way a sin-
gle currency could mark both a group's totality and its divisions. Currencies
have also served to mark individual identities and several of our chapters
describe how social statuses continue to be distinguished by their possession
and presentation. The subject of Melanesian identities is a vast one from
any perspective, and in this section we will confine ourselves to making a
few points about the roles local currencies and state moneys are playing in
the formation of new collective and individual identities.
We have touched on some of the ways that indigenous Melanesian cur-
rencies arc taking on new meanings as symbols of tradition and kascom. Of
the societies represented in this volume this is clearest in Kwaio (Akin, this
volume), where the local shell currency epitomizes pagan autonomy from
the market economy, the government, and Christianity. Kwaio pagans por-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 33
tray themselves as setting an example of "proper kastom" for their more
modernist compatriots, particularly by their continuing use of shells.
Melanesian kastom ideologies are often highly oppositional, contrasting
idealized local institutions to modern or foreign ones in a series of essenrial-
ized antitheses. Within such models shell currencies and their exchange have
found especially potent counterparts in money and business. This pecuniary
contrast is commonly employed to juxtapose broader Melanesian social val-
ues, manifest in sharing and social exchange, with the absence of those same
values and modalities among Europeans. This is often accomplished within
historical narratives of economic exploitation and alienation (sec also Gre-
gory 1997:ch. 7). In our discussion of reproduction we explored the
metaphorical connections between Melanesian currencies and the themes of
continuity and permanence in social reproduction. When these meanings
are linked with historically constituted oppositional ones, what emerges is a
powerful cultural-political symbol.
Such views of shells and money as being in conflict arc not confined to
ultraconservative enclaves like Kwaio. Errington and Gewertz ( 199 5a:
49-76) write about the situation in East New Britain where Tolai and Duke
of York people have been active participants in the cash economy since the
late nineteenth century. The authors describe how the area's shell currency
over this period has continually "dueled" with money and intrusive eco-
nomic forces and today remains a vital symbol of identity and autonomy.
This even though local people also arc enthusiastic money users. It is sig-
nificant that both Kwaio and the New Britain cultures have experienced
long and sometimes brutal histories of engagement with the global econo-
my, and also that both have general purpose currencies with proven ability
to successfully compete with state moneys in local market exchange.
Just as continued use of indigenous currencies can be a dramatic critique
of the overall money economy, the wholesale adoption of money can pro-
claim rejection of kastom or traditional ways and the taking on of alterna-
tive identities. For instance, many Solomon Islands Christians point to their
abandonment of shells for state money as evidence of their devotion to Jesus
and repudiation of all that is "heathen" (itini), and among the Mekeo
(Mosko, this volume), money has served as the basis for abandonment of
their former leadership system, even though that system was not grc':Jnded
in the control of currencies. Many others have embraced money not as a
radical critique of the past so much as a means of pursuing new forms of
wealth, power, and modernist identities for the future. Thus, for example,
Philibert and Jourdan ( 1996:66-67) write of periurban Erakor villagers on
34 Joel Robbins and David Akin
Efate having become aggressive modernists who see themselves as "'showing
the way of the future" for less progressive ni-Vanuatu, most notably
through the conspicuous "overconsumption" of money and the store goods
they purchase with cash wages.
Most Melanesians, of course, fall well between the extremes of Kwaio
and Erakor. People seek money as their most promising link to the global
economic system, but they also recognize their vulnerability within that sys-
tem and attempt to preserve valued aspects of tradition and local autonomy.
We have seen this here in strategies of selective enclavement and in wide-
spread efforts to channel money's power into existing modalities and rela-
tionships of exchange. The issue has become, not whether money will be
sought after and used, but rather how it should be used and toward what
goals. The tensions this can generate are illustrated in Brison's description of
how social relations have changed among the Kwanga in the eastern Sepik
region. All Kwanga agreed that money's introduction was desirable and
beneficial, and also that they should continue to pursue the prior objective
of "displaying communal potency," something previously accomplished
through group food exchanges. As time went on, however, people came to
disagree over how money's agency ought to be employed toward that goal.
Some Kwanga believed money should continue to.,be invested in food ex-
changes, while others saw these as a waste of community resources that di-
verted their money to the tradestores of other communities. Like many oth-
er Melanesians today, the latter group feared becoming identified as poor
"hush kanakas" surrounded by cash-wealthy, potent neighbors once their
equals (see Schieffelin 1997; Filer 1997). They advocated that money be
used, nor for feasting but, rather, for investment by individual entrepreneurs
who would strengthen the village by making their money "grow" and by
bringing in development. Both stances were initially framed in terms of
maximizing communal potency. But rime saw a fading of the moral discrim-
ination between rhc cooperative empowerment of community and the pur-
suit of personal efficacy and consumption. Concerns with village agency
have given way to the quest for individual and family prosperity; communi-
ty production to domestic household produl"tion.
The linkage between individual and community interests has also become
more ambiguous and abstract at broader levels of identity. Foster ( 199 'b,
199 5c) has analyzed emerging modernist representations of Papua New
Guinea as a nation based on commodity consumption, an imagined com-
munity to which individuals belong by virtue of being unrestrained con-
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 3S
sumers who use money and commodities to declare who they are or want to
be. This capitalist perspective on community resembles that emerging in
Kwanga where people are seen to strengthen the collectivity precisely by
acting independently as individuals.
As we noted earlier. and as Brison emphasizes in her analysis., one key to
these changes has been the expansion of choices available to individuals re-
garding how they acquire and utilize resources. The proliferation of money
and of other aspects of capitalist relations has afforded people unprecedent-
ed opportunity for building personal wealth and power outside group cn-
deavors. While in some places., like Kwanga., these changes are occurring
with minimal overt conflict, this has not been the case everywhere. Melane-
sian societies have always maintained a balance, albeit sometimes a tense
one, between individual and group interests. As Bloch and Parry ( 1989)
posit for non-capitalist societies more generally, pursuit of individual inter-
ests is unproblematic so long as it does not threaten the reproduction of the
greater social order. But this model can become problematic when, as in
contemporary Melanesia, the question of what the larger social order
should be is itself highly and openly contested. Communities can be divided
when the same social transformations feared and denounced by some mem-
bers arc eagerly anticipated and promoted by others. Individuals can easily
find themselves caught up in multiple identities within conflicting value sys-
tems espoused by business, churches, governments, or traditionalists.
Obviously, ideological models that urge individualistic identities and
agency can be antagonistic to older Melanesian social orders and especially
to conceptions of persons as relational, socially constituted entities. Given
the widespread destabilizing impacts that money and commoditization Are
having on social relations. and given that Mclanesians recognize these .. it ~
puzzling that concepts of "biner money"-money earned through 3ntisodal
means and believed therefore to be barren or magically dangerou5-havc
thus far made few appearances in Melanesia (Shipton 1989: Taussig 1980;
O'Hanlon 1993:38-39; sec Akin 1996: 1 s9-61, Clark 1993. and Kwa·aoloa
and Burt 1997: 1 1 2 for some exceptions). h is true that. like hitter money in
societies with that concept, money in Mclaner.ian communities mu!t sornc·
times be socially "purified" by conversion into indigenou!I currencies ( s e   ~
Akin, this volume; A. Weiner 1976:78-79) or by prncntation in formal ex-
change (see Healey 199o:z.oo-oz.; Nihill 1989: 1 B ). But this seems more a
matter of bestowing social meanings than exorcising evil. Even when
Melanesians disparage money (as distinct from its social or antisocial u1n)
1
3 6 Joel Robbi11s and David Akin
it is not typically portrayed as evil or dangerous in itself, but rather as otiose,
""easy" (Akin, this volume) or .. light" (Errington and Gcwertz T 99 5a: 5 8 ), as
asocial rather than antisocial.
To understand this, it is helpful to return to our discussion of exchange
spheres and their three dimensions of objects, modalities, and relationships.
We noted that Melanesians have generally seemed less concerned with ob-
jects per sc than with the modalities through which they are exchanged
within important relationships. We described how money has replaced in-
digenous currencies in many exchange systems without immediately cor-
rupting them. Once money is accepted as an exchange object, particularly
within formal reproductive exchanges, concerns arc focused not on money
itself, which nearly everyone desires and pursues, but rather on directing its
flow into proper modes of exchange. It is when this becomes impossible that
negative conceptions of money itself may emerge (sec above).
If we look at the other two sphere dimensions-modalities and relation-
ships-we sec that they are quite different from each other (and from ob-
jects). Modality is a relatively straightforward and elegant means of catego-
rizing exchanges. Tremendously diverse sets of transactions (in terms of
objects and relationships) can be, and usually arc, categorized according to
an elementary set of modalities (such as buying, sharing, and delayed re-
turn). This is an important reason that modality is so often the most defini-
tive clement of Melanesian spherical classifications. Social relationships, by
contrast (as anthropologists know so well), are often imprecise, gradational,
multifaceted, contextual, or ambiguous. As a means of classifying ex-
changes, relationships are as complex as modalities are simple, and they are
more often defined by exchanges than are exchanges by them. In contempo-
rary Melanesia this complexity is intensified and confused by the erosion or
disappearance of many previously important relationships, and the rise of a
plethora of new ones, especially those grounded in the acquisition and con-
trol of money. Many of the latter have no analogues in prior social relations
and can therefore be difficult to encompass within existing sphere models. It
is with regard to relationships that Melanesian exchange spheres arc most
clearly in disarray.
Given this, it is not surprising that what Melanesians do have are well-
developed conceptions of what we might call "bitter people," persons who
are identified as socially sterile or dangerous due to their refusal, despite
their material wealth, to properly engage in exchange (see, for example,
Errington and Gewertz 1995a:135-55). As we noted earlier, individualistic,
asocial, or consumptive varieties of agency are not new to Melanesians, as
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 37
evidenced by conceptions of sorcerers or witches. Likewise, unwillingness
or inability to engage adequately in exchange is widespread among those
identified as "rubbish people." But the modern identity of bitter person dif-
fers from these. Unlike the sorcerer or witch, the bitter person's agency is
manifest, not in destructive acts, but in material wealth. Bitter people ap-
pear to many Melanesians as a grotesque melding of big-men and rubbish
men; displaying a big-man's agency in their ability to pull wealth, either
from abroad or from community resources, but like a rubbish man refusing
to deploy it in social exchange. Indeed, in most Melanesian societies the
"bitter person" is an identity that could only emerge now with engagement
in the cash economy-when, unlike the past, it is possible to accumulate
great wealth without extensive engagement in widespread community ex-
change. As with the identity of sorcerer or witch, whether or not someone is
identified as bitter is often a matter of perspective, reflecting not only rhe
observer's social relation to the person, but also thear views of change taking
place in their society. The same person who appears selfish to some can for
others be a pillar of the community in irs transition to modernity. Contem-
porary Melanesian identities, like modernity itself, can he highly con-
tentious.
The double aspect of the new-style entrepreneur or businessman, at once
a bitter person and a modern hero, in fact evidences in particularly pointed
terms the nature of modernity as it is apprehended locally in many parts of
Melanesia. Like the state currencies that arc for so many people its most po-
tent representative, modernity is something that Melanesians both embrace
and fear. Eager for the changes it might bring, they also recognize the chaos
it may well set loose. Taken from the point of view of money, we have seen
rhe ambivalence this stance generates, nor only in regard to identity but also
in relation to the modern possibilities for expanding reproduction and
agency as well.
Gregory has recently argued that ever since Nixon undid the knot tying
U.S. currency to its gold reserves on August 1 5, 1971, we have lived in the
era of "savage money" (1997:1, 2.65-96). The era of savage money is
defined by a "decline in the power of the State to tame the forces of the mar-
ket and a growing distrust among citizens of the world in the capacity of the
State to act morally" ( 1 ). Perhaps the analogy ought not to be drawn too
closely, but it is nevenheless clear that current Western modernities, on Gre-
gory's analysis, face issues remarkably similar to those arising in Melanesia.
Debates about fundamentalism, various forms of communalism, welfare,
and social security (in the United States), and the threat presented by global-
J 8 Joel Robbins and David Akin
ization to those who value the possibility of autonomous reproduction all
evidence how the unregulated flow of savage money opens up questions
about identity, agency, and social reproduction-in the West as well as in
Melanesia. While this is not the place to develop a theory of global moder-
nity, we would like to point out here the role that a comparative study of
the meanings and uses of state currencies might play in the construction of
such a theory. (Foster's contribution to this volume also touches on issues
that are relevant here.)
Conclusion
The people of Kwao gro1111d enough shell beads to string into forty large
t'aluables, and they named them Root of Kwao. They thought that the forty
valuables laid end to end wo11/d reach from Kwao down to the sea, but they
only read1cd to Irifou, and their ends remained dry. So they took thctr valuables
back to Kwao, and they made forty more so that they were long enough to reach
the sea, and they named those Flow of Kwao.
From .. The Origi11 of Kwaio Shell Mone)'" told by Bita Saetana, r981
Radiant Demeter, a goddess, and Iasion, a hero, coupled with passion on a
field plowed three times, in the rich soil of Crete; their child Plo11tos ("Wealth")
wa11ders everywhere on land and broad-backed sea and grants the bliss that
comes from great wealth when he comes into the hands of those he meets.
Hesiod, Theogorry
Currency 1. The fact or condition of flowing.
O:cford English Dictionary, 1986
We began by arguing that, despite the present anthropological emphasis
on the mutability of exchange objects, one category of such objects, curren-
cy, exhibits a unique combination of properties that sets it apart as worthy
of special analytical attention. Most important, because currencies are first
and foremost objects of exchange (and not consumption) their meanings lie
in their circulation. Because of this, we have maintained, currencies show
singular abilities ro permeate and flow along social networks, and to cross
social, cultural, and temporal boundaries. These abilities, we have shown,
give the currencies special significance within Melanesian conceptions of so-
cial reproduction, agency, and identity. Many of these same concepts-such
as cyclical models of social reproduction, the significance of display and
concealment to notions of agency, and the prominence of exchange in gen-
erating identities-are far from unique to Melanesia. We would be sur-
prised, therefore, if currencies did not play analogous roles in these domains
INTRODUCTION TO MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 39
cross-culturally. We have been struck by the fact that these same qualities of
currencies that arc so important to Melanesians have also been highlighted
by Western scholars in their studies of money in market economies, suggest-
ing affinities between traditional currencies and state moneys that are typi-
cally ignored or denied. All of these factors
7
we believe
7
bolster our argu-
ment that currencies deserve further study in their own right.
It has been our goal in this introduction not only to consider some of the
general characteristics of currencies
7
but also to sketch some of the com-
monalties among Melanesian cultures that allow us to account for regulari-
ties that exist in the way they both handle indigenous currencies and con-
front the spread of state moneys. Fundamental to our account of the nature
of Melanesian societies is the claim that they are distinctive in broad com-
parative terms for the extent to which they make exchange the engine not
merely of social life but also of social structure. Because Melanesians use ex-
change to structure their socictics
7
the qualities of continual and easy circu-
lation that mark all currencies have presented them with both striking op-
portunities for social creativity and power
7
and with the threatening
possibility that spheres of exchange they work to maintain might well be
corrupted. It is this Melanesian reliance on exchange as a mode of social
production that contextualizes the generic properties of currencies discussed
above and makes of them something particularly Melanesian. We ha\·e fol-
lowed the interaction between the generic qualities of currency and the
specific character of Melanesian societies as it has developed in the realms
of social rcproduction7 agcncy
7
and identity. As the chapters in this volume
demonstrate7 it is in these areas that Melanesian projects and the nature of
currencies come in for particularly pointed negotiation.
It is worth pausing in conclusion to ask how such a regionally focused
study of currencies might contribute to broader anthropological under-
standings of their nature and role in social life. The last major contribution
to the study of currencies was Parry and Bloch's ( 1989) collection of articles
that focused on various parts of the world. Throughout our introduction,
we have been drawing on the influential introduction to that volume while
at the same time critiquing the suggestion contained therein that money has
no intrinsic qualities of its own. Perhaps it is the broadness of their areal fo-
cus that has led Bloch and Parry into taking this view. Because so many
Melanesian societies had or have indigenous currencies that are very much
like money7 and because Melanesians themselves are often quick to make a
connection between traditional and state currencies, scholars of the region
are forced to modify the usual anthropological arguments about the plastic-
40 Joel Robbins and David Akin
ity of phenomena such as money in order to consider what properties might
belong to e't-erything that we would want to call a currency: thus, ironically,
our willingness to entertain .. essentialist" ideas (at least at a definitional IC\'.
el, for we do not dispute that people can use physical currency in all sons of
non-monetary wa)"S) in fact follows from our narrowed areal focus. At tht
same time, such a regional focus allows for a detailed consideration of a
limited set of ethnographic issues. It is our hope that t   i ~ volume will thui
add to the literature on currencies nor only a set of careful case studies of
the functioning of various kinds of currency in society, bur also a chance to
rd1ect in more general terms on the nature of currencies.
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS
Historical Switches in Currencies in
Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea
Andrew Strathern and
Pamela J. Stewart
Introduction: Spheres of Exchange
The theory of spheres of exchange was first developed in economic an-
thropology as a means of understanding the rules supposedly governing rhe
exchange of objects and controls on the convertibility of objects from one
sphere into the other. We can call such an approach "object-cenrered."
Starting with the category of "objects" as tangible material things, the rheo-
ry of spheres moved secondarily to the consideration of social rdarionships.
For example, in Paul Bohannan's classic formulation, the sphere in which
women were seen as being transacted against iron rods in marriage was seen
as the sphere of highest value, so that the spheres expressed hierarchies of
social value (Bohannan 19 5 5 ). This scheme then became a stepping srone to
understanding social change as a result of monetization: money collapsed
the spheres by making all .. things" exchangeable against itself, thus desrroy-
ing the hierarchically structured social order.
This was perceived as a neat and correct way of looking at the data ar rhe
time. But as is the way with theories the scheme faltered when faced wirh
negative cases and complications. Clearly bounded spheres were not always
found, for example, and money did not always cause a collapse of local so-
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 16s
cial systems, particularly when it was itself incorporated into local S)'Stems
of meanings. Gregory ( 1997:241-42), using the work of Dorward (1976)
points out that the model did not properly apply to the case of the Tiv peo-
ple of Nigeria, on which it was based. Further, in the reconceprualization of
exchange itself there was shift from objects to persons and relationships as ·
che primary focus. Even in relation to apparently object-centercd topics such
3S barter, it was argued that social relations are significant (Humphrey and
Hugh-Jones 1992), just as they were recognized to be in the cacegory of .. gift
exchange."
State-introduced money was further perceived to be adopted into local
systems of meaning so that it also played a role in the creation and repro-
duction of social relationships. A relationship-centcred approach was at
least in one instance in Melanesian ethnography combined with an object·
centered approach by Mervyn Meggitt, writing on the Mae Enga people.
Meggitt argued for a hierarchy of items (which he called commodities) with
pigs and cassowaries at the top, shells and other goods in between, and \'eg-
erable foods at the bottom. Combinations of these items were seen as ap-
propriate for use in prestations involving different levels of groups, from the
phratry down to the individual, and higher group levels were said to have
precedence over lower ones in terms of their claims on the appropriate re-
sourtes (Meggitt 1977: 122). This was not a "spheres of exchange" model .
but it was a "hierarchy of values" one, and it matched objects against the
relationships they could express in prcstations.
If one were to ask where money would fit inco such a scheme, it is not
immediately clear. Money might appear at all levels and create inrcrconvcrt-
ibility of goods, or it might be slotted in at only some levels, depending on
the historical choices of the Mac Enga themselves. In the case of the Mounr
Hageners, eastern ncighbors of the Enga, the people's own historical percep-.
tion was that state-introduced money replaced shells in their prestations.
This replacement was massive. Money took the place of shells from the mid·
1960s onward., for example, among the Kawelka people in the northern
Melpa area and the last observed transactions with shells occurred in a ritu-
al context in late 197 3. This transition was also accompanied by a heighten-
ing of interest in money marked by the Red Box cult of 1968, in which
stones and pieces of metal were stored in boxes within special houses by
cultists in the hope that they would be turned into cash (A. Strathern
1979-80; see also below).
Money clearly acquired a high value as an object desired by the Mount
Hageners just as it was becoming more available as a result of cash crop-
166 Andrew Strathern and Pmnela j. Stewart
ping through the planting of coffee. But its insertion into the local system of
prestations calls for further explanations. Some answers have been given
previously (sec A. Strathcrn 1979 ), but in this chapter a broader review is
attempted, in the light of current interest in the themes of agency, identity,
and social reproduction as they relate to "indigenous currencies." The
switch from shells to money is taken as a focus for a wider discussion on
changes in historical consciousness in Hagen. Shells themselves have to be
seen in their own historical and geographical contexts as foci of values and
meanings in order to understand how the switch was made and what its fur-
ther implications have been. The choice to incorporate money into presta-
tions rather than to insulate these by sticking to indigenous currencies fur-
ther gives us a means of exploring comparisons. The Mount Hagcners'
choice was unlike that of the Kwaio, for example (Akin, this volume), and
we can ask why this was so.
Pigs, Shells, and Locality
During one of his to-camera soliloquies in the film Ongka's Big Moka
(Granada TV 1974) the leader Ongka explains to the uninitiated that "pigs
· are our strong thing," the basic form of wealth in Mount Hagen society,
needed to pay for bodies, brides, insults, and injuries. Ongka's explanatory
schema in this speech was that pigs are original, they were reared and used
as wealth long before the white people came to his area. He does not men-
tion pearlshells, hut he notes that the white people brought their own mon-
ey with them, and we know that their currency replaced the pearlshells thar
were a hallmark of the prestige economy in Hagen in the years following
the incursion of the white outsiders and up to the 196os, when money was
first introduced into moka exchanges. Implicitly Ongka is bracketing shells
and money together and suggesting this as a reason why shells, rather than
pigs, were replaced in exchanges. Why should this be so?
Two answers can be given, both of a historical kind. One is that pearl-
shells were themselves associated with the incomers, since they were
brought into Mount Hagen in the 1930s in large numbers to pay for food.
labor, and the use of land. They had entered Hagen from the south prior to
the arrival of the Europeans, each shell tending to have its own name and
history of passage between exchange partners. In this regard, pearlshells
had been seen as exotic but indigenous, coming from the fringes o f t ~
known world and carrying with them a magical aura of beauty, p o w   ~ and
mystery. Subsequent constructions of their provenance and meaning de-
pended on an alteration in the geographical perceptions of the Mount Ha-
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 167  
geners. When they first traveled to the northern and southern coasu and
learned that shells came from the sea, and that white people in a sense also
belonged there, they made a historical reinterpretation, backed by their ex· "
perience of shells being freighted in by aeroplane, that these wealth items
rruly were a part of the white man's world as then understood. They were
kewa me/ ("foreign things") where the word kewa also applied to those peo-
ple living beyond the Hagen language area to its south, and to a class of
cannibalistic demons akin to sky-beings (Tei wamb nui wamb). Europeans, ·
roo, were known as kewa and were held initially to be cannibalistic spirits.
Whatever wealth they used was connected closely to them and their per:
ceived power. Hence pearlshells came to represent, in a sense, both the aanc .
of indigenous values and the power of exotic, introduced values.
The second answer, which follows from the first, is that shells were not
produced locally, as pigs were. There was no way to make them increase
other than by magic or exchanges, and the magic itself was directed toward ·
attracting shells to a men's house door, like parrakeets attracted to the fruia
and blossoms of a resin-bearing tree whose sap was used as a mounting for
the shells themselves (nde kilt, nde elua) (see figures 7-1 and 7-1; also below
for further discussion of the symbolism of this reddish resin and the mount-
ing of the shells). The shells are imaged as mobile, flashing with color. and .
able to choose one men's house and ceremonial ground rather than another
to make themselves available.
This image of agency and mobility essentially represents the shells' char·
actcr as objects of pure exchange, counterbalanced by a second image, also
invoked in magic, of single large pearlshells, wrapped carefully in bark-cloth
binding and stored in the back recesses of men's houses, that would them-
selves "pull" other shells to them (cf. j. Weiner 1988:70-71 and 1993). The
large shell is in this case like the big-man who lives in the hoUJC, and it
stands as his symbolic equivalent: the big-man who has a firm base but i1
also highly mobile is in fact like both kinds of shells, the ones that move and ·
the ones that stay in the house. The overall point here is that shells were apr
to be compared with introduced forms of currency since they already reprr-
sented in essence both forms of personhood and exchange values in the same
way as European money does, albeit in contexts of restricted rather thaA
unlimited exchange.
If, then, shells and especially pearlshells, in Hagen embodied inter alia
hmds of free-floating power, and therefore were closely tied with big-man-
ship, it is evident that there is a difference between shella and pip, for pip
are produced on home territories, if not on one's own tenitory tb.m on
I f(,l:fn :-1. .\l.111 l.n111g out ,1 °'l'I of pl'.Hlo.,hl'll-. l11r 111ok.111111untrd 1111 h1urJ,
prep.irnJ from lrec rt''>lll. Thr..,c .irt· hl'1ng pl.lLt'd on top ot .1 l111l' of krn li:.nc'
r ~   -
i:1,r1·.._r
2. .\ lirll' <d lll<Jlllll< (
,, •1l 1·.
l II
l
lli! 11!1 t 'I l pt·.1r 1-. It '
r70 Andrew Strathern and Pamela]. Stewart
neighboring ones, and are the mixed products of the tabor of the sexes (be-
ing more strongly associated with female senses of personhood and their
productive/reproductive powers) and of the fertility of the land and its
crops, tied to specific localities and ancestral connections. Their capacity di-
rectly to represent the idea of the local group (even if individual pigs have
been "financed in" from elsewhere) is what gives them, then, their special
continuing place in the arena of exchange practices. Obviously, as many
writers have pointed out (see Rappaport 1984; Modjeska 1982, for exam-
ple), their role as sacrifices to ancestral or local spirits reinforces this nexll\
of meanings in relation to locality. It is interesting to note further the divi-
sion of use between pearlshells and pork in the major fertility cult, the Arnb
Kor or Female Spirit cult. Cult performers were especially expected to carry
pearlshells in their hands, held on outstretched arms, as emblems of the Spir-
it (Strathern and Stewart 1997a and 1998a; see also below). These shells
were not given away to recipients, they were markers of wealth and fenility,
and thus of the Spirit, but were in this instance retained by their users (or
simply returned to those from whom they had been borrowed). Pork, how-
ever, steamed in long earth ovens in the sacred enclosures of the cult, was
distributed widely to recipients, both on a group basis and individually.
Shells were here a marker of fertility, pigs its product, made available for
consumption. The fact that these two categories belonged to the same
sphere of exchange in a formal sense, because they could be brought into
correlative exchanges against each other, does not alter this symbolic differ-
ence between them, one that is therefore repeated in the contemporary in-
terplay of money and pigs. Pigs, as Ongka has told us, remain a basic form
of wealth because of their connection with locality and therefore with local
representative identities. They are thus an indispensable component of com-
pensation payments for deaths and injuries between individuals and groups.
Money has become perhaps the dominant element in these events, but in no
case so far (up to 1997) has it taken over from pigs. Money and pigs go to-
gether as did shells and pigs previously. By association with pigs and
through its handling in these contexts, money also, we may argue, acquires
a representational capacity, but it cannot stand alone in such a context.
Shells and Economic Change
If we look back again at some historical contexts in Hagen we can give
this argument further specificity. Prior to early contact in the 1930s with
Australian prospectors, pearlshells were rare in Hagen and possession of
them was a marker of outstanding big-manship. When the Australians came
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS I7I
they altered this situation dramatically, in two ways. They made shells
able wherever they explored or settled, turning upside down or randomizmg ·
pathways by which these forms of wealth had previously uaveled; they
gave shells out directly in return for vegetable foodstuffs, labor, and pigs,
thus creating an entirely new, and colonial, nexus of exchange and
cncy. Shells, therefore, were commoditized in this new context and made m-
tegral later to a capitalist mode of production in which they were handed
out as wages to workers on plantations established a few years after first ef-
fective pacification in the 1950s. Earlier they were used by the Leahy broth-
ers to pay carriers and workers at the Kuta gold mine. This commodiriza-
tion of shells was accompanied by their reabsorption into the local exchange
economy as wealth objects. The equivalent nowadays is the sale of coffee
for money, which is then ploughed back into bridewealth and compensation
payments. Shells thus looked two ways, as money docs now. Such a process.
of what we may call precursion-in which an indigenous valuable is itself
reappropriated into a new nexus of relationships and, thereby, paves the
way for a special sequel in the reception of money-gives us the clue to ex-
plaining certain aspects of the reception of money itself into previously non·
monetized contexts.
1
The commoditization of pcarlshells was accompanied by a similar
process affecting other forms of shell valuables that circulated in the Hagen
area. These included, for example, cowries and nassa shells, both traded
into Hagen from surrounding, less densely populated areas to the north and·
south. Cowries had circulated in precolonial times in exchange for amounts
of vegetable foods and tobacco. Nassa shells were rare and were sewn onto
bark-cloth backings to form headbands or nose decorations. The Aus-
tralians brought quantities of both cowrie and nassa shells with them and
distributed them in payment for tabor in mines, and later plantations,
through to the 19 50s. Mount Hageners then stitched the cowries onto long
ropes and the nassa shells onto enlarged versions of headbands that became ·
"mats" and were used in bridewealth prestations. These shells were thus
ceremonialized and dignified, turned from "loose change" and body orna- ·
ments into large objects for display and prestation. The cowrie ropes were
worn as elaborate baldrics by females for dances, as the illustrations in  
dom and Tischner ( 1943-1948:vol. 2) show. In other words, with the colo--
nial increase in their supply, these shells were re-created as a store of value
in ropes and mats and immobilized from circulation and use for other pur-
poses. They were put on a par with the pearlshells and balers that were trad-
ed in from the south and then also imponed by the Australians. A plethora
17.z. Andrew Strathem and Pamela]. Stewart
of wealth items of more than one category was thereby brought into be1ng
and placed into the nexus of bridewealth and moka.
This creative-transfonnative process played itself out among the Kawel-
ka and Tipuka in two mm
1
ements. First, in the 19 50s, the Kawelka, who
had boch traded and also worked for the nassa shells, gave large quantitin
of these and the cowrie ropes in a moka gift that had developed out of pou-
pacification compensation/reparation payments. The supply of   t ~ shell\
was by that rime diminishing, and in the 196os plantation owners were
switching to the use of Australian dollars as payment for labor. Meanwhile,
pearlshells had accumulated in the northern Melpa area where the Kawelka
and lipuka lived, passed on in moka from groups close to their new source
of supply around Hagen township. Shells were also brought back as pay by
workers who migrated elsewhere in the Highlands, to Goroka, for example.
The accumulated pearlshells were then given in moka by the Tipuka to the
Kawelka in 1965 (A. Strathem 1971b).
When the Kawelka came to make returns to the Tipuka in 1974 no shelli;
· were given, and money was given instead. We cannot say that debt-equiva-
lences were calculated and the values of cowries and nassa first commuted
into pearlshells and these then into money, because no such calculatiom
were made. The shells were just said to be "thrown away" (rok mon-
dorong). At each movement the aim was simply to "give a lot." In any case,
it is clear that the switch from pearlshells to money had been preceded by
{ the earlier switch, and shells in general had been added to the basic form of
pig and pork gifts over rime. The immediate impetus for all these changes
was an alteration in supply of shell wealth items, while the supply of pigs re-
mained relatively constant.
Shells and Identities
Before moving on to some aspects of the reception of money in Hagen
we consider further the role of shells in relation to agency and personhood.
Shells were powerful markers of gendered personhood and held aesthetic
and religious connotations. The pearlshell as a wealth item and symbol of
prestige moved through time and space as women in the society also muse
move from one group to another when they become brides. Although the
pearlshell in many respects is definitional of male personhood it also defines
aspects of female personhood in addition to symbolizing the powers of fer-
tility (see figure 7-3). In the Amb Kor festival in which the Female Spirit was
honored through a ritual sequence aimed at acquiring the power of fertility
the pearlshell was held up in the outstretched arms of the male performers
0 BJ EC T S, RE LAT I 0 SSH I I'S, AS D M f, AS IS(,\ 17}
f I c u RE 7- \'Vomcn displaying mounted pcarlshcl\s in a row  
from their hoe.lies.
during the dance at the end of the celehrauon. These shc\ls may be seen
symbolizing the female Spirit herself. The roles that women play as sister!;
and wives in society arc encompassed in the powers of the hma\c Spirit
who ensures that gardens wi\l grow wel\, women wi\l produce hca\thy and
numerous children, and social order will harmoniously continue. At a later
time, the use of the pcarlshells in the performance was substituted hy hand-
held mirrors into which the male dancers gazed while dancing. This
174 Andrew Stratbem and Pamela]. Stewart
tution might be seen as a direct one: the pearlshcll had represented the fe-
male Spirit, and likewise the image seen by the men looking at themselves at
the culmination of the performance when they were filled with the power of
the Female Spirit served as an embodied representation of her.
Pearlshells in earlier exchange transactions were carried in large net bags
associated with females, symbolizing the womb and often used as contain-
ers to carry newborn humans and piglets. The pearlshcll in a net bag is then
like a child in the womb. In one of the myths from the Mount Hagen area
described by Vicedom and Tischner we see a description of this:
The pearlshell acquires a marked religious and cultic significance through ics use m
che Female Spirit culc and in the closing scenes of a moka exchange ceremony ....
According to a myth these valuables were at one time stolen by bad people of the
Underworld. A brave woman, along with a few men, risked herself in going down to
the Underworld and brought the valuables back. This ace is represented at the end of
the moka festival. In order to display this return of the shells in a truly dramatic
manner, they were first hidden from view in large carefully prepared grass-filled net
bags, with their shiny sides exposed. At the ceremony men with distinctive decora·
tions carried the shells into the dancing place with many shouts and yells, and were
received rhere with great jubilation. Later the shells were handed to the recipients of
the moka. (1943-1948 vol. 1:120, translated from the German)
The myth to which Viccdom refers here is a bit more complex than his
exegesis might suggest. The "brave woman" who went down to the Under-
world was in fact the new wife of a polygynous man, and it was a pale-
skinned cannibal woman who stoic, not the man's pearlshells, but his rwo
sons Eklimb and Kuklup. The new wife was called Kopona Nde. She made
her way into the Underworld through a rock face and an underground lake.
She burned the cannibal woman inside her house and rescued the sons,   ~
well as other men kept captive there, and "took all her possessions, valu-
ables, cassowaries and pigs and went home." After this the two sons made
the moka shell festival (with the shells brought back in this way).
This mych gives the leading role to a woman, whose exploit is commem-
orated by hanging the shells in a net bag when they are brought into the
dancing ground. The predominantly "female" associations of the nee bag
. are thus conjoined with the "male" association of pcarlshells as wealth into
a composite symbol. Carrying objects or persons in net bags signifies their
translocation from one place or one state of being to another. The pearl·
shells are first hidden, then brought into view in a revelatory sequence chat
is like the event of birth itself. In substituting pearlshells for the two sons in
rhis summary of this myth Vicedom was perhaps unconsciously recognizing
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 175
che equivalence or substitutability of wealth and people that is a feature of
the Hagen culture (adapted from Stewart 1996:19-20).
Pearlshells stood for the human body in other ways also, as in the con-
version nexus of people to pigs to shells. When a compensation payment
has co be made for a killing, the receiving party may point toward his mouth
with his fingers, saying, "Soon we will eat" (akop no11dopa nuimin). Here
che shells are seen as a kind of substitute for pork (also given), which itself is
a substitute for the human body. Human flesh would not be eaten but pork
would substitute for it, and in a further step, pearlshells substituted for
pork. Now cash can be used in this way although the symbolism of life itself
has shifted in conjunction with a recodification of the human body.
This is a result of tentative moves to make land a transactable commodi-
ty against human life. Evidence for this proposition comes from the fact that
land became a focus of compensation payments in one case between two
Melpa groups in 199 5 (as seen in the BBC film A Death to Pay For; also sec
Scrathern and Stewart 1998b). Land, which can be seen as the ultimate lo-
cus of the embodiment of the person, has become an item that people seek
potentially to make an object of transactions, like its products (pigs, gar- ·
dens, and so on). There is a further correlation here, since the aim of trans-
acting land has emerged precisely at a historical poinr when it is becoming -
scarce and some people are unable to obtain it through primordial pra\..-rices
of inheritance by which their identity with their own land was reproduced.
Although the pcarlshell was a marker of male prestige and was kept
mostly in the male sphere, women often decorated themselves hy w c   r i n ~
the shells of their husbands, thereby sharing in the prestige of these shells
and in the expressions of agency impressed in them. Shells in fact stood for
both male and female identities at the same time.
Pearlshell Decoration and Symbolism
In precontact times when pearlshclls came into the Mclpa area they were
already cleaned of their lime ovcrcoating, shaped, and covered along their
outer lip with the resin from the Kilt tree (Rutacease ei10die/la) and sprin-
kled with red ochre powder. The concavity on the backside of the shell was
also packed with the Kilt tree resin/red ochre mixture. These shells were
processed further locally through the application of a mixture of the fruit
leaves of a vine and pig grease onto the convex surface of the shell (Vicedom
and Tischner 1943-1948 vol. 1:117). This mixture would be readily ab-
sorbed by the porous bonelike calciferous shell matrix, producing a glossy
176 A11drew Strathem and Pamela]. Stewart
lustrous surface. These decorating steps were conducted by males but the
tightly woven handles that were attached to the two points of the crescent
shell were manufactured by women. Later, when a flood of pcarlshells ar-
rived in the area along with the coming of the whites, pearlshells were re-
ceived in their unprocessed form and the local people had to develop theu
own set of techniques for making the shells ready for exchange. This in-
volved washing away the lime overcoating of the shell, and shaping the shell
into an attractive size and form. In an innovative move the shells were
mounted onto a board of Kilt tree resin that extended outward approxi-
mately 4-6 inches from the edge of the shell; this diameter being detennined
by the actual size of the shell itself. This board of resin was an elaboration
of the rim covering of resin previously applied to the pearlshells when they
were less abundant. After mounting, the shells would as in the past be cov-
ered with red ochre powder. Vicedom was told that, if this red ochre had
not been applied, it was thought that the owner of the shell would die
(ibid.:119), thus emphasizing the life-giving powers symbolized by the red
ochre. With the greater number of shells now in circulation it became im-
practical for the women to produce their tightly woven decorative handles
and thus another innovation came into force: the men produced simple han-
dles from strips of readily available and inexpensive sack cloth. (Figure N
shows a row of these mounted shells being displayed in a compensation pay-
ment.) We suggest that the use of red ochre in the decoration of the shell is
symbolic of maternal blood and the calciferous pearlshell symbolic of pater-
nal bone. In the developmental scheme of the Mclpa, bone filled with ko-
po11g ("grease") is surrounded and nurtured in the womb by maternal blood
from which a child is produced.
2
Money, Cash Cropping, and Land
In a wider comparative context, the delineation of such a pathway of
transformations explains why money was received enthusiastically into lo-
cal transactional spheres in Hagen and why such a powerful dialectic ius
been set up between local and wider economic and political processes since
that time. Money is quite often represented in certain ways as both magical
and evil in contexts where its introduction has been marked by obvious ex-
ploitation or hardship and by the erosion of indigenous social values (see
Shipton 1989; Taussig 1980, for example). In Hagen, for a long period of
time, at least 1965-1985, it tended to be seen as both magical and good.
However, while its magical or even sacred character has since then become
more marked, its resonances have also become more ambivalent, as capiral-
0 BJ ECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 177
istic relations reach further into the practices of everyday life. his to this
history that we now turn.
The history is closely tied to cash cropping, especially coffee. If we identi-
fy phases of economic history in Hagen since contact, we can distinguish the
following: ( 1) the period of early exchange of valuables for services, 19 3os-
mid-194os; (2) wage labor on coastal and local plantations, 194os-195os;
(3) smallholder cash cropping in coffee and vegetables, 196os-prcsent; (4)
larger-scale business activities, professional employment, and so on, 197or-
present. Cash cropping gave the first independent access to cash for all cate-
gories of people since smallholding plots could be and were planted by
everyone and both men and women claimed access to their products al-
though on differential terms (A. Strathcrn 1979). However, it also produced
a new anxiety, as well as a new objective situation, with regard to land as a
resource, since land for coffee was semi permanently removed from the culti·
vation cycle and thus made unavailable for subsistence use, a factor that in-
creased in significance because coffee required the more fertile land in the
first place. Coffee plantings were uneven because of differential access to
such land on the part of individuals, and succeeding generations since the
1960s have found it harder to find land on which to make new plantings.
Coffee prices have fluctuated considerably over the years, and there is heavy
dependence on this single crop. Consumption of introduced foods has r i ~ n
markedly over the years since the 1970s. rinally, large sums of monc:y are
regularly needed to pay for deaths sustained in killings, whether in warfare
or not, between political groups.
The demand for money is thus very high, and its supply rests on a base
that individuals find increasingly hard to extend. It is evident therefore that
tensions over inequality, perceived or genuine, in land resources nowadays
translate easily into quarrels and accusations between members of local
groups. By 1994, the Tok Pisin term jelas ("jealous") had entered into local
discourse as a way of describing the ordinary tenor of intraclan relation-
ships. This attribution of rivalry and competitiveness over production with·
in the clan signals a reversal of context from the past, when such ri\•alries
held sway in interclan contexts and had to do with exchange capacities. And
the rivalry or bad feelings overtly have to <lo with money, not with pigs.
Another factor has influenced this situation. Since the mid-197os it h   ~
been a practice to gather lump sums of money in order to purchase pigs that
are used in compensation payments for killings. Pigs bought in this way arr
notionally similar to those financed in through networks in the moka sy1-
tem in the past, but obtaining them necessitates an immediate outlay oJ
178 Andrew Strathern and Pamela]. Stewart
cash. These pigs also become an expression of the cash amounts needed to
secure them for an evcnc, and their significance can be seen in monetary
terms as a result of the capacity of the land to produce coffee and hence
money. This practice increases the pressure on individuals to produce coffee
and hence cash for honor-driven activities that ultimately secure the safety
of their landholdings themselves. If this were all, we might be able to argue
that ultimately interpersonal resentments were transcended by collective ac-
tivities, but the actual situation is by no means so simple.
The intergenerational context has here to be borne in mind. The attitudes
of young males in their twenties or late teens arc quite different now from
those of men in their thirties or over. These younger men see shrinking
amounts of land available for their economic activities; they arc accustomed
to visiting town and spending money there; they play darts, drink alcohol,
and enjoy gambling with cards; and they arc less interested in pig rearing
and gardening work than the generation before them. Resentment felt with·
in the clan is increasingly along generational lines, younger men feeling cut
out of opportunities because of the holdings of their seniors. It also  
strongly between lineage cousins, and especially in cases where one cousin
has prior claims to land that has been used by the other for growing coffee
without a formal payment between them.
3
Such rivalries are further exacerbated by patterns of political patronage
that have sprung up during the 1980s. Politicians use large amounts of mon·
ey allocated to them for direct distribution in their electorates to build and
maintain support among factions. These patronage networks amplify exist·
ing jealousies and tensions between persons in clan groups. Elections are
fought bitterly by candidates and lead to recriminations and violence fol.
lowing extensive practices of bribery. Subsequent killings make the  
for cash even higher (A. Strathcrn i993).
It is unsurprising, therefore, that money has begun to acquire aspects
other than that of the simple "good thing," a direct replacement for shells,
which it was seen as in the 1960s. Shells were then dismissed as .. rubbish,"
the worthless skin surrounding a creature inside that white people ace; mon·
ey was accepted as strong because it was white people's true wealth and cur·
rency (cf. Merlan and Rumsey 1991 :27). Now money is seen as itself pro·
ducing problems between people. One of the early indications of this
occurred in the context of changing bridewcalth rates.
The adoption of money as an integral element in both bridewealth and
moka transactions has had profound implications for the trajecrory of ex-
changes in Hagen. As might be expected, an earlier sharp increase in the
0 BJ EC T S , RE LAT I 0 N S H IP S, AND MEANINGS I 79
numbers of pearlshells used in bridewealth was followed by a similar rapid
rise in the size of money payments after shells became unfashionable, pari
passu with an increase in the supply of money from wage labor and cash
cropping and the continuing fact of prestige associated with high
bridewealth payments. The monetary component of bridewealth fluctuates
while the component of live pigs has tended to remain stable among the
Melpa: as we would again expect because the pig supply is itself stable. This
fact enables us to make a comparison with Guyer's materials on the Seti of
Dmeroon in West Africa (Guyer 1995b:113-32).
Guyer's materials are valuable for the span of historical time she covers,
from the early nineteenth century onward. She traces a gradual buildup in
payments of iron rods and small livestock, the pace being set by ambitious
headmen in pursuit of alliances through polygyny (reminiscent of Melpa
big-men). During early colonial times this trend was intensified, with mone-
cization in French francs. In the late 194os and early 19 50s, the clienragc
pattern between big-men and juniors was broken and marriage became a
more open "market" (Guyer 199 5 b: 114). Guyer also emphasizes complexi-
ties, as Hutchinson docs for the Nuer, resulting from new taxes, crops, mar·
kets, and currencies (Hutchinson 1996:115).
In attempting to assess the long-term stability of bridewealth payments,
Guyer plots income against central payments made to the bride's father and
concludes that bridewealth remained .. at least three times the annual dis-
posable income" ( 199 5 b: 1 20). While income may he hard to compute, a
similar conclusion is likely to apply elsewhere and to account for the need
of involvement by kinsfolk. In other words, higher bridewealth means an
expanding range of kin participation. Guyer adds for the Bcti: "there arc el-
ements now that either did not exist in the past; were token in amounts; or
only rarely given, such as a payment to the bride's sisters and a lump sum in
cash for the bride's mother" ( 122). While the payment to the father has de-
creased, these previously ancillary payments have increased. These two fea·
cures-the increase in the range of people involved and in the amount paid
to che bride's mother-find a striking parallel in data from the Duna area of
the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1991-1994, after money
had entered bridewealth payments in increased amounts.
Particularly interesting was the increment in amounts paid to the mother
of the bride, which became a leading point in negotiations. At stake was the
influence of the mother on her daughter and the fact that the mother could
keep the payment, whereas the father had to use the bulk of the items he re-
cei\·ed to repay those who had helped him raise his bridewealth a generation
180 Andrew Strathern and Pamela ]. Stewart
earlier. It is possible that similar factors underlay the processes of change
among the Seti. This particular dynamic, however, did not apply so dearly
to the Melpa, for whom bridewealth leads into ongoing exchanges and gen·
erational debts do not have to be paid (although among Mclpa also the
amounts of cash that are distributed to women have increased along with
the importance of female labor in cash cropping). Bridewealth is central to
social reproduction and a focus of intergenerational cooperation and ten-
sion. Complaints about the size of payments, especially their monetary com-
ponent, indicate also the development of inequalities between local groul'\
in terms of their access to cash. It is money, not pigs, that becomes the  
of discontent here simply because control over its acquisition is less secure
than the control over pig production.
Money as "Sacred"
What is interesting to observe, however, is that while money acquires a
"bad" aspect it also has acquired a "good" aspect in two contexts. One 15
its use in contributions to local Christian churches. Offerings and tithes that
are regularly demanded and made in both old mainstream (Catholic/Luther·
an) and newer (Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelical Alliance) churches be-
come sacred in the act of being offered to God in this way, and as happened
much earlier on the Papuan coast (Gregory 1982) there is competition to
build more impressive church buildings than one's neighbors have.
The second context is even more telling, because it involves indigenous
religious notions. In cases where persons are very sick, it has become a prac-
tice to collect sums of money as contributions from their group-mates and
other kin and take these to show them to the sick person as a part of the
process of seeking to heal the sickness. The contextual meanings arc that,
first, the collection of money indicates the solicitous care that kinsfolk feel
for the sick person; second, the money will be used to obtain either special
foods and medicines or to procure pigs for sacrifices to spirits that may be
implicated in the sickness; and third, that money itself has acquired cenain
quasi-sacred characteristics that derive from its supreme value in the new
economic world and its historical association with pearlshells.
Money in fact easily took on the fertility imagery that had
been found both in shells and in stones, as that of the river stones that are
collected by men who are going to perform the Amb Kor, Female Spirit cult
In this cult the stones serve as a home in which the Female Spirit can reside
when she comes to share her fertility powers with the group. When
was first introduced into the area it was in the form of the Australian
OBJECTS., RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 181
shilling. These metal coins were referred to as ku (stones), by a classificatory
approximation linking them to the earth. The shilling coins were often ones
with a hole in the middle and thus for the Mel pa were reminiscent of magic
stones used for both rain-making and fertility. During the 1970s when mon-
ey was used in compensation payments the bills would be artistically laid
out in a fanning, centripetal shape with an empty circular opening at the
middle. These bills were often but not always spread out in this fashion on
top of brightly colored fabrics with flower prints on them. These are the
body-wraps and head coverings that had been worn by women (sec figure
j-4).
During the 1960s a particular cult emerged, called the Red Box cult, in
which the powers of currency were conflated with the types of power resi-
dent in stones used in the Amb Kor celebration. The Red Box cult members
placed stones into metal boxes and waited for the stones to be converted by
a kind of automatic alchemy into money (A. Strathern 1979-1980). In the
original image, the Female Spirit could manifest herself as a stone; in the
new image, stones themselves could become wealth.
The powers of money and its close links with the Mount Hageners' per-
ceptions of their own history are also shown in commentaries that ha\·e
sprung up since the 198os on the designs that are found on Papua New
Gumea's currency notes. The most obvious characteristic of these designs is
that they are all versions of indigenous valuables from different provinces of
Papua New Guinea, for example, the stone axe on the two-kina note, the
  (kina) on the five-kina note, the pig on the twency-kina notc.
4
It is
perhaps surprising that less symbolic note has been taken of these represen-
tations than of the design of the fifry-kina note, which was introduced much
more recently and corresponds in Hagen to a significant unit of wealth-no-
tionally a wil-wil kat ("bicycle") or timb tenda ("one leg"). Here what is
picked on is the fact that the note has on it the head of Sir Michael Somare,
Papua New Guinea's first prime minister and current cider statesman. The
note is called Somare peng ("Somare's head"). Attention to this fact is relat-
ed to the realization or consciousness that money is a national symbol and
stands also for governmental power, which is thereby potentially given the
same quasi-sacred power that we find in its use in sickness rituals at the local
level. It is predictable also that since leadership is seen as personal the asso-
ciations with "the nation" were not made until Somare's head appeared on
the fifty-kina note. And it is for this reason that a further semantic twist was
given later, from 1991 onward, in a belief that was articulated by Ru, a Ha-
gen man, that Somare's head would be taken off the valuable notes and re·
FICUHE 7-4. Nloney (kina notes) arranged in roserra shapes. These h   n ~ been
placed upon a table that has been decorated ~ u o u n d the edges with local tlora.
This display is made for the receiving parry to view and register their appro\'al.
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 183
phu:c<l with the pope's head. Since the pope is a major religious figure, it is
obvious that money's sacralization is intensified in such an image, but the
symbolism is also connected with prophecies of the end of time, as discussed
later (Strnthern and Stewart 1 997b).
Bloch and Parry have developed an analytical scheme that helps us to
make sense of the dichotomized picture of money as both good and bad that
has emerged so far here. Money is involved in the "relationship between a
cyde of short-term exchange which is the legitimate domain of individual,
often acquisitive-activity, and a cycle of long-term exchanges concerned
with the reproduction of the social and cosmic order" (Bloch and Parry
1989:2.). The problem is that money is used in both of these domains. It fa-
cilitates individual acquisition, but it can also be used as a vehicle for social
reproduction. Conversions of it from one sphere to the other are marked by
ideological practices and also by the potential for conflict. It is here that we
can look again for comparisons with African cases.
Cattle and Money Among the Nuer and Luo
Money has become, since its introduction along with cattle and grain
markets in the early 1930s by the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, an every-
day medium of exchange among the Nuer, used in a wide variety of transac-
tions. Money has penetrated some fields of exchange more than others: it is
favored for purchasing grain, cloth, guns, medicine, and for paying taxes
and school fees, whereas cattle are reserved for marriage, initiation, and
sacrifice. Limits on the interconvcrtibility of money and cattle arc based on
the idea that money "has no blood" and does not carry the procreative pow-
er chat cattle do. The fact that humans and cattle do have blood is given by
Nuer as the reason why cattle can stand for people in reproductive ex-
changes (bridcwealth, blood payments), as pigs do in the New Guinea con-
text.
Evans-Pritchard wrote that in sacrificial and exchange contexts cattle
were considered direct extensions of human persona and that their fertility
and vitality were equated with and opposed to that of human beings
(1956:248-71). Sharon Hutchinson elaborates on this point, stating chat "it
was because cattle and people were in some sense 'one' that individuals were
able co transcend some of the profoundest of human frailties and thereby
achieve a greater sense of mastery over their world: death became sur-
mountable, infertility reversible, and illness something that could be actively
defined and cured" ( 1996:60).
The unique position that cattle held in the rime of Evans-Pritchard's field-
184 Andrew Strathem and Pamela]. Stewart
work among the Nuer in 1930 has, however, been modified through a com-
plex history of events (Hutchinson 1996:56-102). Colonial impositions of
head tax, famines, the introduction of auctions of cattle exacted in court
fines, wage labor in cotton fields and in Khartoum, and the development of
an indigenous class of merchants have all meant that money has become im-
portant and by various means is used to purchase cattle (and, correlati\·el)·,
cattle can be sold for cash and the cash used either as a store of value or as a
means to purchase further cattle or to stand for cattle in bridewealth).
Here we are interested primarily in the categories that historically emerge
in this flux of events and processes. There is a basic distinction between cat-
tle and money, as we have seen, but there are subdistinctions that provide
crossovers between these (see table 7-1 ). These categorizations facilitated
conversions across the money/cattle divide while reserving some cattle and
money for lineage purposes and others for more individualistic uses, based
on the idea of individual labor (sweat). It is interesting to note that "cattle
money" (82) is only a minor category, and cattle remain the major items in
bridewealth, a factor that stimulates continuing conversions of money into
cattle.
The Nuer have mediated their own categorical distinctions by such con-
versions, which enable them to cope with pragmatic circumstances and to
transform commodities back into gifts, or gifts into stores of value. Equally,
rhe nexus of "the cattle of money"/"the money of cattle" (A2/B1) protects
collective stores of value as these "pass in and out of the marketplace"
(Hutchinson 1996:89). Hutchinson comments that these Nuer historical
contrivances give the lie to Bohannan's notion that money "scrambles" ex-
change spheres, as also to the notion that things rather than social rclarions
differentiate spheres of exchange (ibid.:90; see also Piot 1991 ). The possibil-
ity of a conversion string of the "money of sweat" to the .. cattle of money"
to the "carcle of girls" (B3a to A2 to A 1) also shows that young men coulJ
contribute to the sacred realm of the "cattle of girls" (A 1) by means of their
labor, lessening their dependence on older men. The Nuer have presen·ed
some of their categories, but altered others, and the total system has
changed within the framework of those categories. The parallels wirh :\frl-
pa practices here are clear, since money can he used among the Melpa to ob-
tain pigs for bridewcalth and moka and can also stand alongside pigs in
these presrations bur does not totally substitute for pigs, any more than it
does for cattle with the Nuer.
The Nuer case shows certain parallels also with that of the Luo, discussed
by Parker Shipton (1989). Hutchinson herself compares the Nuer "money
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 185
TABLE 7-1. Nuer Concepts of Cattle and Money
A. Cattle
1. The .. cattle of girls/daughters .. (bridewcalth canle)
2. The "'cattle of money" (cattle purchased with money)
B. Money
1. The .. money of cattle" (money obtained from sale of lineage canle)
2 ... Cattle money" (money substituted for cattle in bridewealth)
3. The "'money of work"
a. The .. money of sweat" (obtained by wage labor and trading)
b. The .. money of shit" (obtained from sales of beer to latrine bucket workC"n)
Clur.acttnsrics
Ar belong to the lineage and must be distributed along kinship lines.
A:. may he used in bndcwe.ilth but can .ilso be disposed of in a more individual w.a)· than Ai. AJ. an
also be ritually blessed and brought into lineage herds (A 1 ).
81 belongs to the lineage and should be used for lineage purposes.
8:. (refrrrcd to by same Nuer terms as Al.) arr small amounrs of money substitutcJ for  
canle, if the father-in-law permits this.
B}a is money acquired by l01bor as wages or from commodity sal", contrasted with 81. B1a can be
used to obtain canlr.
83b is money earned through emptying latrine buckets or selling beer to latrine workrn. BJb i:anno<
be used to obtain canlc because of its pollutint; quality.
of shit" concept with the Luo "bitter money." The "money of shit" could
not be used for buying cattle, and its presence could also cause cattle to die,
hence it was sometimes used only to pay government taxes.
The Luo concept, however, worked rather differently. The idea of bitter
money points up the ideological hierarchy of value between the collective
and the individual spheres, instantiated also in Nuer distinctions, with land
standing for the Luo in the position occupied by cattle among Nuer. Bitter
money is a kind of bitter reward, a benefit deriving from "unjust., gains, ex-
tended to windfalls, finds, lottery winnings, and thefts (Shipton 1989:18).
Most often it comes from sales of lineage land, gold, and tobacco/cannabis.
Land is a collective possession, gold is mined from despoiled lineage land,
and tobacco and cannabis are grown on old homesteads inhabited by ances-
tral spirits who are also contacted through the act of smoking. Gold and to-
bacco are thus equivalent to land/ancestors, and essentially bitter money
comes from the wrongful alienation of ancestral assets. The Nuer equivalent
would be the sale of "cattle of girls." The Luo have experienced individual
registration of land rights in British colonial times, and they jealously guard
remaining lineage lands, so one sees the bitter money concept as an attempc
186 Andrew Strathern and Pamela]. Stewart
to shore up indigenous values against an alien idea of relations of produc-
tion. Ancestral spirits follow the money gained by illicit sales, causing cattle
purchased with it to die, or bndes obtained with it to die also since they
"eat food from the land cast out of the patrilincagc" (Shipton 1989:31). Bu-
ter money is individual money, it is stolen from the collective realm and can-
not be ploughed back into this realm.
The Luo thus forbid the conversion of land to money to bridewealth cat-
tle and set up a barrier between land as immovable and livestock as mov-
able wealth. Whereas an "upward" conversion of work into cattle via
"money of sweat" is acceptable among the Nuer, a "downward" conver-
sion of land into cattle via money is prohibited among Luo. The principle in
both cases is the same: the creation or maintenance of collective assets is
good; their dissipation into individual forms of consumption or use is bad.
Like the Nuer, the Luo use money freely for many transactions outside of
this particular nexus. It is not money or labor as such that is bitter but its
use in contravention of fundamental ideas of pcrsonhood. Such a mode of
thinking corresponds exactly to Bloch and Parry's distinction between indi-
vidual and reproductive uses of money. Since both Luo and Melpa arc hom-
culturalists/agriculturalists, it is not surprising that for the Melpa also land
is not ordinarily considered transactable, although flexible shared-use
arrangements of it are made on the basis (again) of social relations.
In the late i99os there were renewed governmental attempts in Papua
New Guinea to introduce land registration, attempts that provoked unrest,
concern, and opposition. Should such legislation be passed and land sales
become common, it is possible that a category of bitter money might emerge
among the Melpa. As it stands, however, the concept is Luo-based, whereas
the equation of collective ancestral interests with a sacred realm-tied in
with human social reproduction and opposed to an individual realm of sec-
ular acquisition and consumption-is per contra general and found among
Luo, Nuer, Melpa, and many others, as Bloch and Parry suggest.
The End of Time and the Pope's Head
What indigenous notions are carried over by the Melpa when they en·
counter the teachings of charismatic Christian evangelists in their area. a
process that has been gathering force and significance since the early 198os?
Christian millenarian ideas, based on the Book of Revelation, have come ro
hold considerable interest for the Mel pa, in two ways that fit with their 0\\11
preoccupations, although these arc now lifted into a new and expanded con-
text. The first is the notion that incorrect human actions determine histOI)·.
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 187
In their indigenous model this is seen as the result of provocations against
rhe mi (sacred group symbol), a notion that can be at least partially mapped
onto the Christian idea of sin, but without a corresponding idea of salvation
(other than by sacrifices of pigs). The second is the image of the limit, pro-
moted in a new objectivist framework as the year 2000 A.O. in the Chris-
tian calendar. This is widely taken as the year by which the world will end
wirh the return of Jesus, and a sequence of signs of the rimes has been set up
in accordance with an anticipated chronology of events (Strathem and Stew-
art 1997b; Stewart and Strathcrn 1998).
Since at least the mid-198os the Melpa have been perplexed by the speed
of changes in their lives, caused by urbanization, the development of class
structure, and the volatility of national- and provincial-level politics. Tribal
warfare, instead of fading away, has not only resurged but escalated in scale
along with the introduction of guns in replacement of bows and arrows.
People see themselves contradictorily pulled into rhe advanced capitalist
world of computers and financial services while at the same time they are
embroiled in what for them is experienced as a return to prepacification
condinons of hostility and restriction of mobility between clan areas. This
confusion of times is interpreted as the sign that time itself will soon end.
Discourse of this kind has gained ground generally in Hagen only since
rhe early 1980s and was undoubtedly introduced through Christian teach-
ings, especially those of the Pentecostalists, whose churches have become
very successful in step with the accelerating speed of social changes in the
area. Earlier Catholic and Lutheran teaching tended co downplay millenari-
an notions and to set the end of the world into a more remote and nebulous
furore. We may suggest here that the actual speeding up of events of change
in the society has contributed to a foreshortened idea of limits on human
history. This kind of experiential explanation would make it less crucial to
stress elements of indigenous Melpa cognition that fit with a millenarian
concept of time as such.
5
Speculations about the millennium were particularly rife by the end of
1991 and were powerfully played on in the discourse of local charismatic
evangelists intent on becoming leaders of new congregations, obtaining
monetary contributions to build churches and baptize people, and to use the
idea of the return of Jesus as a judge of sinners by way of an inducement to
conversion. Some argued, like Ru, that the pope's head would replace that
of Papua New Guinea's leaders on the country's monetary notes and coins,
a prediction that perhaps emanated from a new sect of charismatic
Catholics who began holding all-night sessions of drumming, singing in
188 Andrew Strathern and Pamela]. Stewart
alien tongues, and possession by the Holy Spirit in a format rivaling if noi
outdoing that earlier adopted in church services by the local Pentecostalisu.
In view of the intense and potentially violent competition building up in
relation to the national parliamentary elections in May 1992, others pre-
dicted that this would be the end of elections and after that the army would
simply take over. All agreed that the manifest turbulence and uncertamty <A
life presaged the end of the world. The "signs" involved were thus all taken
from the contingencies of contemporary history. The textual authonty of
the Bible and a conflation of the genealogical accounts in the Old Testament
with the messages of the chiliastic sections in the New Testament were put
together as the overall justification for this new interpretation of history and
time.
Clearly, in the premillenarian indigenous schema the world is seen as con.
rinuing while human groups come into being and die out as individuals do.
This vision corresponds to a political world in which each group has in a
sense its own genealogical life span that is laid down for it through its m1 or
sacred group symbol. The kind of time process that informs this is local and
entropic. This overdetermined entropy, however, is modified through the re-
cursive mediation of exchange cycles. The group's power stemming from 1t\
founder is magnified or reduced through the contingencies of exchange.
The history of exchange is thus the history of events modifying the im-
pact of the sacred realm of life. In the introduced schema this dialect1c.il
process affecting each group is replaced by the idea of Christ's death and
salvation as a source of renewal, balanced against the image of his return to
judge and also put an end to the world, not just to a given descent group bur
to every group and category of person within it. The new vision
in effect to a new national political structure, which links groups
regardless of their mi or their exchanges. It is perhaps in this sense that the
end of time, as heretofore understood, is imaged by the Melpa at this sta"
of their history. Nevertheless, the idea is not likely to take complete possn-
sion of them because of their remaining view of history as contingent. In rlY
emerging dialectic between contingency and determinacy the role of propht-
cy obviously becomes crucial.
The idea of predicting the future is not new to the Melpa. They had
merous acts of divination to determine the likely success of a  
an expedition to solicit valuables from an exchange partner, and to ;lS(tt·
rain which of a deceased leader's sons might acquire his rhetorical powus..
Implicit in all these acts is the notion of a correspondence berween a sip
and a future event, but it is difficult to be sure what forms of causation wm
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 189
bdd to underlie such signs. In some cases there is a direct process: a man's
spirit enters his son and causes the son to shake and tremble. This is a sign
of a direc."t transmission of power. In others a concept of hannony or design
is present: if pig-fat runs straight down the face of a bride, her marriage will
also go "straight," that is, be reproductive and harmonious. In the case of
an expedition it is a bird, the koi kot, which by its cry indicates that a visit
will be wonhwhile or not. The bird is in communication with rht' hidden
;ancestral powers. They speak through it. These powers are the causative d-
(1'.00lts and they are in league with the mi. The bird acts as a kind of prophet
2nd is an instrument of forces that control the world.
There is, therefore, an indigenous model of causation, which ultimardy
denies the point that is otherwise maintained, that human actions detrrminr
hisrory. Such prophetic elements, while present, were not in thr past grndy
messed by the Melpa, who preferred to keep them in rhc background and
project an image of themselves as dependent on their own noman or
willpower (even though the noman is also linked to the ancestral tthosts).
Prophecy, however, comes into its own when the indigenous S(hcma is ova·
laid with notions of the overriding power of God on the one hand and rht
extrrme turbulence of human affairs on the other.
This circumstance explains the great sway that Christian rvangelim cur·
renrly exercise over Melpa historical consciousness and notions of rime. In
this context the pope's head seems to stand as a metasign of thr overall
a stamp of both finality and generality, and a mark of the su·
pcriority of international religious power over national political power, or
thr essential as against the contingent, the universal as agninst tht' local. In
the past this kind of potential for hierarchy was represented in the concept
ot the mi, but the interaction between the mi and other powers was plurali!I·
CK': contingency arose from multiplicity of power. The image of 19y 1 WH
that of a powerful monadic image rcpladng all others, injecting rdi·
clement back into history and thus holding the capadry ro 1top time
and to signal the creation of heaven on earth, or the final recurtion of all
things into the hand of God. (Another interpretation is simply that the poJX'
the Antichrist in the imagery of protesranr fundammrah1t
chun:hcs.)
Themes of this kind were still very much current in Hagen in mid· 19cn
iSttatbem and Stewan 1997b; Stewan and 1998). The idea that
the world would soon end now took on a new   which h«allK'
dttpl)· interwoven with a set of local historical evmts among tht IU.mb
prople. A young Kawelka man killed a youth of a ncighboring rht
190 Andrew Strathern and Pamela). Stewart
Mokei, in a barroom brawl, and che issue of compensation arose. The
Mokei, surprisingly, asked the Kawelka to give some of their land rather
than money and pigs in lieu of such compensation, noting that much of their
own land had been taken up with urban development around Mount Hagen
township. The Kawelka leader, William Pik, replied that they could not do
so because much of their traditional land had been alienated co the govern-
ment for an agricultural research station and cheir own youths were very
short of land for gardening. Besides, it was not the custom, he argued, co
give land in this way.
The Mokei's request coincided also with the announcement from the
Papua New Guinea attorney general's office that the national government
was in favor of the universal registration of customary land, an idea that
has come up repeatedly at intervals since the rime of Self-Government in
1973. The national government, led by Sir Julius Chan, was in turn re-
sponding to recommendations by the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund that had been made in connection with the possibilities of
extending loan facilities to Papua New Guinea. Global pressures of this son
filtered down to the coffee gardens in Mount Hagen, and as Ru's wife
Mande said in an interview: "the price of coffee fluctuates, a bad country
may take us over [she implied that this would be with its own currency,
analogously to the pope's head motif], money will be short in our pockets,
and it is all a sign of chc return of Jesus, so we must pray very hard about all
this." Mande also said that "when our hands will be dry and lack grease,"
this will indicate the world's end and signal the return of Jesus. A well-oiled
skin is a sign of health and reproductive capabilities, just as the grease ap-
plied to pearlshells in the past signaled that the owner of the shell was an
active participant in an environment of healthy social reproduction. The
skin of the people becoming dry in this instance signals a lack of potential
for further social reproduction, a loss of money's sacred powers, and thus
the end of the world with the cessation of fertility.
Resistance to the idea of registering customary land comes from the per-
ception that once land tenure is reduced to individual titles, which may be
used as security for bank loans, the possibility that financial institutions
would take over landownership also emerges. Registering land would put it
in the same conveyance sphere as money and would thus destroy a basic un-
derpinning of clan life: the security and durability of clan-based land tenure.
The Mokci were proposing an analogous revolutionary shift: the equation
of a life with a stretch of land rather than with wealth produced from the
land. In both instances land becomes exchangeable, a part of a single sphere
OBJECTS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MEANINGS 191
of (Xchange with wealth. Such a move would further weaken the common-
ality of interests between clan members and foster a more individualistic
mode of integration of persons into the nation-state.
Mount Hageners saw such a prospect of the dissolution of spheres of ex-
change and the creation of new ones as a part of the total roster of signs
that the world was due to end. The motif of the pope's head on the fifty-
kina note indicated a phase just before the end, in which the pope seems to
stand for some kind of global, transnational unification signaled by the form
of money to be used. Such a globalization might also be seen implicitly as
neutralizing locally anchored forms of wealth such as pigs, collapsing the
old pigs/shell wealth dichotomy .. and introducing the idea of the millennium
as che abolition of difference or the convertibility of all things inco all other
things: a vertiginous rendering of the effects of capitalism on territory and
sociality chat began with the use of shells to pay for foodstuffs in the 1930s.
Pigs would then lose their representational capacity and the pope's head
would prevail over the head of Ongka 's pig.
THE MEANING OF MONEY IN THE AGE
OF MODERNITY
Edward LiPuma
A signature event in Maring history was the introduction of Western rn
. . . . oncy
The 1mporrance of this event has, 1romcally, been masked by the case . ·
which the locales integrated Western money into the economy of v c r ~
 
~ ~
life and ritual politics. Within the first decade of sustained contact rno }
' ncy
came to figure critically in everything from the purchase of trade goods lo
payment of bridcwcalth and homicide compensation. No other Wesrcrn
product, image, or institution has had such resonance or been granted such
an open reception, save perhaps what amounted to much the same thing:
the person of the Westerner.
Despite the apparent case with which Maring have accepted and mre-
grated Western money into social practice, its penetration has animated a
process of change and accommodation that is as critical as it is hidden from
the ordinary eye. The primary engine of this process was the infiltration of
the commodity, as the type of goods and services associated with the en-
compassment of Melanesia by the West (that is. imported goods bought for
money in a tradestore) and as a form that inscribes the epistemology and so-
cial presuppositions of capitalism. Most Maring, as well as most other
Melanesians and expatriates, imagine this as a transition from a "tradition·
THE MEANING OF MONEY 193
Jt• form of wealth to a modern one, an evolution from the kastam money
ot pcarlshells to a Western-type specie. Whatever money is, it falls under the
~ p   l of an ideology that offers the clarity of surfaces in trade for a deeper,
more complex view.
Ideology aside, this transition from pearlshells to money is never simply
the replacement of an indigenous form with a foreign alternative. As else-
where in Melanesia, this is the case for the Maring. The money that emerges
is a hybrid; it is the product of the skewed image that the Maring have of
'"Western" money, defined-and differentially so-by the contingent char-
.lCter of contact (such as the view toward money of the Christian ministry
that happened to be in their territory), in relation to local images and prac-
tices of use. Furthermore, intrinsic to the emergence of "local money"-
which is the shaping of a quasi-\Vestern money form-is the emergence of
an ideology that conceals the local contribution to the new money form, not
only as part of its production, but the reproduction of the modem itself. It is
precisely the form and progress of this imbrication of practice and ideology
that an ethnography of money in Melanesia must sort out. Indeed, as the
story unfolds we will see that the Maring imagine they have appropriated a
Western form in its pure Western state, the purity of the form being under-
stood locally as an index of the degree to which they have embraced the
modern.
To view money as a form of hybridity is to recognize that even as it ad-
vances the commodification of the local world, it is infused with a complex
of culturally specific meanings. Thus the meaning and functions of money
for the Maring arc not necessarily the same as for other Melanesian peoples.
Another way to look at it is that, due to its social saturation, currency in the
\Vest is nearly homogeneous nationally in meaning. This contrasts greatly
with the culturally variable meanings of kina. The result is that to treat the
Australian dollar and kina as parallel money forms is, at least at the present
moment, an ideological exercise or viewpoint. Money in the West has nu-
merous social meanings and functions that are shared nationally though de-
nied ideologically, whereas money in Papua New Guinea has numerous lo-
cal meanings and functions that are not shared nationally. In contrast to
nation-states in the West, the Papua New Guinea state can exercise scant
control over the construction of the subjectivity of its citizens, and especial·
ly so in the hinterlands of the Highlands. What this means is that for us to
understand the nature of hybridity, it is necessary to come to terms with the
character of the Western money form, as an aspect of a continuing process
of encompassment, in relation to the changing attribution of meaning and
194 Edward Li Puma
use at the local level. Only thus can we ground an ethnography and analy\i\
that is inherently comparative.
In this light, I argue that money is the perfect instrument of moderniza.
tion not because-as formal economics would have us think (see the listing
under "money" in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, for cxample)-it
has form without content, but because its defined and often definite content
is so contextually specific and dependent. This means that transformations
in social practice and contexts for action will transform the meaning of
money. It means also that there will be an evolution of the meaning of mon-
ey that traces the trajectory of modernity. And, it means that there will be
bifurcate epistemologies, the way in which persons engage money in one
setting, such as town, different from its engagement in the hinterlands. To
accomplish this requires an understanding of the apparently simple horizon
between money and pcarlshells.
Thematizing Money
There arc two general viewpoints that have guided the story that ethnog.
raphers and other travclers tell about the introduction of money into
Melanesia. The first is what we may call the "steel for stone" view. The no-
tion is that labor the world over produces commodities that people circulate
and exchange in order to improve their living standard. Money is that spe-
cial commodity that helps to grease the wheels of trade, be it primiti\'e or
modern. just as Melanesians quickly shifted from stone to steel axes, so they
also quickly adopted Western money because it is more efficient, easier to
manage, and more durable. The easy virtue of this idea is that it has an an-
swer as to why Western money was readily adopted. The steel-for-stone
view is problematic, however, because it can never account for those soci-
eties that continue to use shells (sec Akin, Licp, Robbins, this volume) in
concert with money. Also important, this view cannot adequately thcorizt
the character of capitalism, having reduced it to a universal human motive.
Labor, the commodity, and everything entailed by them arc imagined .is
transhistorical and transcultural categories. The end result is that this ,·icw
cannot deal with the encounter between Melanesia and the West, the eco-
nomic violence of colonialism and Christianity, or the profound changes in
knowledge and spirit animated by capitalism. The view is chained to ~ ­
em metaphors and cannot help but ground itself in our epistemological prt·
suppositions about the nature of agency and action. The result is that v ~ · ­
thing that is Melanesian vanishes (as does everything that is historically
specific to capitalism). This is the idea of money that was championed by
THE MEANING OF MONEY 195
the Australian state and is currently being advanced by the Papua New
Guinea state in collaboration with the World Bank and other interstate
agencies. The steel-for-stone thesis is a distillation of Western ideology, bear-
ing in mind that a peculiar and necessary feature of capitalism is the con-
struction of an ideology that masks its essential social form.
The alternative position fixates on the cultural and economic space that
separates Melanesia from the West, arguing these points from two comple-
mentary angles. The "economy of difference" theory begins with an under-
standing that there is an enormous gap between capitalist and primitive
economies, the bridge between them shaped by the history and conse-
quences of colonialism. Labor, value, the commodity form, money, and the
other categories of capitalism have no parallel in the primitive world. They
have no abstract doppelganger as a necessary, intrinsic, and masked feature.
There was no abstract labor or value in precontact Melanesia. So the com-
modity as the West knows it cannot exist, money cannot be the exemplar of
the form, and thus whatever the pearlshcll is, it bears no lineage with capi-
talist money. Shells and money arc exemplars of that qualitative difference
between societies in which kinship mediates social relations and those soci-
eties in which lahor itself mediates social relations.
On the cultural side of the ledger and generally with little thought to eco-
nomic issues, there is a new Melanesian ethnography that calls for a radical
alterity between the West and its others. It self-consciously-if not always
sclf-reflectively--cndorscs an opposition between us and them and presses
the thesis that there is an essential and inalienable space that divides
Melanesia from the West. The goal of the theory is to relativizc our images
and metaphors in order to destabilize the Western (and capitalist) presuppo-
sitions that too often underwrite anthropological inquiry. Because of this
perspective, this view cannot help but romance the opposition between corn·
moditics and gifts, between commodity-based and gift-based societies (even
if the ultimate objective is to destabilize this opposition). While the focus of
this ethnography is usually issues such as agency, intentionaliry, and local
concepts of time and space, it has no problem with, and implicitly endorses,
the idea that there is a radical separation between Western money and pearl·
shells. The critical virtue of this distinction and the "new ethnography" rhat
lends it support is that it can come to terms with the vast and deeply in-
scribed differences between Melanesian   u r r e n   i ~ and Western money. And
while I am sympathetic to this view, indeed in most respe<..15 I embrace it, I
also recognize that it cannot easily account for the ease and rapidiry with
which the Melanesian world adopted Western money. Thus the conundrum
196 Edward LiPuma
that the steel-for-stone thesis, by overestimating commensurability, cannot
account for the encounter of cultural differences, whereas the "economy of
difference" thesis, by taking a highly relativist perch, cannot easily account
for the eager, uncoerced adoption by people like the Maring. The view that
colonialism and the nature of encompassment is forcefully imposing the
capitalist money form on Melanesia is only a starting point; if taken too lit-
erally, if we mistake this bald descriptive overview for a theory of what is
happening, the inherently comparative account of the relationship between
money and pearlshells becomes derailed because we arc led to undervalue
the force of Melanesian agency and to overvalue the capitalist ideology of
money.
In this respect, this chapter also takes issue with the position advanced bv
Bloch and Parry (1989). They call into question what they view as the   ­
thropological assumption that the introduction of money animates rippling
changes in the institution of exchange and the epistemology of personhood.
Westerners, they argue, view money as an "acid" that corrodes social rela-
tions by arousing the individualistic, possessive, and materialistic instincts
buried in each of us. It elicits the worst of our human natures. Those people
who imagine the devil's face impressed on every note have an inside track
on understanding the power of money to dissolve the lineaments of social
life (see Taussig 1980). For the societies of Melanesia, those who subscribe
to this position think that the money form itself leads to a shift from gift to
commodity exchange, from a world in which relations are valued over
things and persons are defined by these relations to a world in which objects
trump relations and persons are defined exclusively as individuals. Bloch
and Parry question and contest these notions on the grounds that the intro-
duction of money often does not lead to a dismantling of the exchange sys-
tem, and conceptually, many peoples do not equate money with the loss of
social relations. Their reading of the ethnography leads them to conclude
that anthropologists have overestimated the extent to which money trans-
forms others.
Their perspective is, however, troubled on several counts. To begin with,
it confuses the ideology of money of the West with an account of money ad-
equate to its object-that is, as an aspect of a capitalist economy that neces-
sarily masks and misrecognizes the social relations that constitute it. The re-
sult is that they envision the money form only in its fctishized stare, as
invested with agency, autonomy, and animation, and so enabled to institute
change on its own. But the force of money is different from pearlshells, say,
not because there is anything "inherently" different about money bur be-
THE MEANING 0 F M 0 NEY 197
cause ir is part and product of a capitalist set of relations that are embedded
in everything from the nature of colonialism and Christianity to the polity
of the nation-state and internationalization of Western culture (the adoption
of Western juridical and educational systems across Melanesia, for exam-
ple). The countercultural claim that Bloch and Parry make about money for
other societies is also true for the West. Westerners do indeed use money in
relations based on "diffuse enduring solidarity"; no, they do not always as-
sociate money with the pursuit of short-term individual gains; and yes, they
do sometimes direct their personal ambitions toward the reproduction of
the group. The underlying reason for this is that there is, as I expressly ar-
gued in the discussion of personhood, a "dividual" dimension to the West-
ern person, a dimension that is concealed by, among other realities, our ide-
ology of money. The ideological image of money in capitalism-although
necessary and intrinsic to its form as a commodity-not only is not true for
Africa, Amazonia, and Melanesia, it is not true for the Western world as
well (though, of course, the character of this mystification always has acer-
tain cultural historical specificity).
The Bloch and Parry position is troubled not only because it founds its
comparison on an inadequate account of capitalism, but because it subjects
the ethnography to an overly objectivist-not to say, empiricist-reading.
The fact that the inflow of Western money has not led to the demise of "gift
exchange" or that money has been excluded from the spheres of exchange
thought to be critical to social reproduction (such as kastam) docs not mean
that the indigenous exchange system has somehow escaped its influence.
The existence of money reorders the context for the production of meaning
and value; the coprcscnce of the two alternative spheres of exchange and the
two forms of currency mutually inform each other's meaning. Simply to
choose a sphere of exchange is itself a commentary on the state of the ex-
change, its modern-day purposes, and its objects. Indeed, as we shall see in
the Maring case, it was precisely the introduction of money that permitted a
new equation to emerge in which money was to bisnis as pearlshells were to
tradition with pigs the mediating category. Money has redefined the nature
of pearlshells just as the customary use of shells helps to define the social
meaning of money. Moreover, strategies for obtaining money constantly
defined the trajectory of social organization and relations especially between
generations. The general error of the Bloch and Parry viewpoint, which
ethnographers have repeated across a spectrum of domains, is that because
they base their analysis on the Western ideology of money (as opposed to its
structure in its demystified form) they cannot formulate a comparison that
198 Edward LiPuma
is adcquare to its intent or object. This leads them, like so many other ana-
lysts before them, to overstate the difference between Melanesia and the
West even as they understate the effecrs of modernity on the production of
meaning and value, not least as a favorite symbolic weapon in the struggle
between senior and junior generations.
Comparison and the Money Form
Somewhere in Capital, Marx remarks that money is a god among com-
modities. To this we should append Durkheim's observation that what is in-
teresting about gods is that even when they are imagined as universal, they
arc always culturally and historically specific. And so it was necessarily with
the Melanesian encounter with money, this money being the capitalist mon-
ey materializing first in the Australian shilling and later the PNG kina,
and inrroduced by a particular and idiosyncratic core of Western  
There was an inseparable relationship between the adoption and meaning
of money for the Maring and the circumstance of its introduction. Taken at
face value (the practical and ideological mode of its apprehension), money
reveals solely its practical and ideological aspects. Its relationship to
its epistemological underpinnings, its link to subjectivity, embodiment, and
indeed the commodity form, all lie beneath the surface. Hence an under-
standing of money in Melanesia must begin with, and ground itself in, an
account of the submerged dimensions of the Western money form in rela-
tionship to the differences between capitalist and non-capitalist society. So
far, this relationship is all but untheorized; what follows is a preliminary at-
tempt to begin to write an account adequate to its object(s?).
Money in capitalist societies (however it may be defined) is significantly
different from what has been called money in other societies. This difference
derives from the reality that money is the externalized, visible, and most
quantifiable expression of the commodity. Existentially, money renders com-
modities commensurable by allowing the exchange of qualitatively different
goods, services, and information. More important and at a deeper le\·el,
money is the expression, index, and measure of that commensurabiliry. This
contrasts dramatically with the role of pearlshells or shell money in ex-
change. When a Maring man gave an affine a gift of shells to compensate
them for having helped him, the objects involved in the transaction were in
no way thought to be commensurable, nor was it thought that commensu·
rability was necessary. The reasons for this was that gifts engendered oven
social relations bound by spatial and temporal realities and shaped by the
terms of kinship and marriage-what capitalism grasps as barriers or con-
THE MEANING OF MONEY 199
srraints on t r   d ~ which only inhibit the circulation of commodities. Unlike
the commodity, the use and exchange values of the gih had no abstract di-
mension, the gift was not pan of a quasi-natural system that appears to lie
beyond the control of agents, and thus the commensurability needed was
berween the agents rather than the things. To put this another way and
avoid confusion, shells in Melanesia were forms of currency (so too arc pigs
and plumes), but they were never money-not at least until they encoun-
tered the Western money form.
The dual character of the commodity in capitalist societies ensures that
money will have a dual character. The first is money in its concrete or prac-
tical form. The meanings and uses of money in its concrete guise are deter-
mined by the concepts, institutions, and ideology of specific societies. On
these grounds, the various capitalist societies of the West will imbue '"their"'
money (dollars, francs, lira, and so on) with their own social meanings,
functions, and values. So Zelizer ( 1994) argues that there are numerous
kinds of currency in use in the United States (paychecks, food stamps, gold
coins, and so on) and that the meanings and uses of a currency are insepara-
ble from the social history of the nation. This means that money is not as
advenised. It is nowhere near as homogeneous, liquid, fungible, or lacking
in sociocultural qualities as purely economic stances make it out to be.
Certainly, one of the defects of the ethnography of money is that,
influenced by formal economic theory, it has too ohcn assumed that there is
a dichotomy between primitive and modern monies because the latter has
been freed from its social moorings. The notion is that-released from the
fetters of spheres of exchange and ritual control, the economy of the gih,
and the politics of compensation-capitalist money can function a5 a uni-
versal medium of commodity circulation. This image buys into a Western
theoretical ideology of money, not least hy shutting its eyes to the reality
that, at the existential level, both money and shells have numerous (though,
of course, different and differently constituted) socially defined uses and
meanings (Bloch and Parry 1989). On this level, there is a family rcsem·
blance between money and shells. Indeed, an economistic view of money
aside, the Westerners who approached the Maring always assumed that
money had a social calling. By injecting money into the local economy, they
thought that they were not only introducing a better lubricant for exchange,
they were introducing the Maring to the moral economy of modernity.
Thus, the Anglican church ran a corresponding branch of the Bank of New
South Wales as part of an effon to teach the Maring among other things
how individuals could save money in their own name for future purchases.
2.oo Edward LiP11ma
Implicated in this simple practice was an entire epistemology and economy
of desire: that persons were first and foremost individuals; that thc..-y needed
signs of possession, a bankbook bearing their name, as part of the construc-
tion of their subjectivity; that their actions should be organized and mca\·
ured against time, an indefinite time in the future when the sum of mom.ry
corresponded to their material desires; and that placing it in an anonymom
institution of saving, distant from one's kin and one's own nature, was a
safeguard against the temptation to spend it frivolously.
The second side of money is historically specific and general to capital-
ism. So constituted, money is a commodity in a world of commodities (mon-
ey as one type of commodity), the form of the most abstract expression of
the commodity, and equally the sign of that form. These qualities allow
money to mediate the relation benveen producers and consumers in such a
way that this relation, although social at its core, takes on a quasi-objective
character. And, as capitalism evolves, its abstract character comes to over-
shadow and inflect its existential overt social character. Money   e c o m e ~
progressively reified, though in a culturally/nationally specific way. A pa)·-
check or food stamps, for example, are kinds of currency with specific social
meanings and functions (that is, they may be earmarked for certain purpos·
es, understood as an index of industriousness or idleness, regulated b)· gov-
ernment agencies, and so on), but these overt meanings and uses arc shaped
by the socially mediating function of labor, which, as Postone ( 1993) ar-
gues, is the key defining feature of capitalism. The mystification of money
goes beyond the crucial fact that money appears to have an existence inde-
pendent of relations among persons (it can compound in value, for exam-
ple). In a capitalist society, money thus has two features: it is produced, his-
torically and culturally, in a concrete and abstract form; and its abstract
form appears so natural and transhistorical that its concrete form appears
to be an extrinsic aspect of money. The ethnographic goal is thus to grasp
how the social meanings ascribed to Western money by Maring intersected
with the social meanings of pearlshells, and how the gradual infiltration of
money into their economy helped to engender a gap between the concrete
and abstract dimensions of the objects of local exchange, especially mone)·.
The Social History of Money
Let us take as a given, because the elders and ancestors say so, that gifts
of shells were vital to those exchanges that create Maring sociality (LiPuma
1988). Their exchange mediated key relations of social reproduction, par-
ticularly marriage, and they thus stood as tokens of these relationships. The
THE MEANING OF MONEY l.OJ
most valuable shells, bestowed with proper names, objectified relations bc-
rwecn clans and served as a memory of the embodiment of commionent to-
ward others. Given their centrality in the orbit of social relations, the ques-
uon is, Why did people's confidence in the indigenous media evaporate?
Why within two decades of intermittent contact did pcarlshells all but dis-
appear in bridewcalth payments? Why, generally, do people give up the giv-
en for the unknown, assuming of course that we refuse to imagine there is
that wonderful little soul. the rational economic manchild, peering out from
inside of each Maring and spurring them to embrace the greater and trans-
parent efficiency of Western money? Indeed, in the eye of the Australian ad-
ministration as well as the expatriate population, a battle raged across
Melanesia between that universal human instinct to act rationally and the
veil of culture that could easily lead to irrational behavior, between explicit-
ly the adoption of money or the continued use of shells (Foster, this vol-
ume). On this score, the Maring deserved a round of applause, if only the
authorities knew.
Objects of exchange did not comprise a homogeneous or unified field
within which there is .. free" convertibiliry. Until the mid-196os, pigs and
pearlshells were the two most critical objects in a special category of goods,
called mungoi (LiPuma 1988:2.71). The things of this category had cultural
preeminence because they were not merely consumable but reproductive
goods; people identify them with the clan and subclan and use them to sus-
tain those relations deemed necessary to social reproduction. However close
the parity between pigs and pearlshells, however much they were implicated
in the same sphere of exchange, they had radically different fates in the mod-
ern era. Pigs became increasingly significant in all forms of compensation
whereas pearlshells all but disappeared. Even when a small number of shells
were included, this was done, as the Maring say, for the benefit of the "old
men out of respect for their sorrow about the past" -that is, as a nostalgia
deep enough to serve as an emotional touchstone for a distinction between
kastam and modernity.
Prior to the European infiltration into the Highlands, circa 1930, pearl-
shells in the Jimi and Simbai valleys were scarce, their scarcity imbuing them
with power. Possession of a named shell was an index of the extraordinary
man; the big-man who had the charisma, magic, and extralocal relations to
attract or pull the rare shell. The shells were exemplars of externality, of the
passage of things across frontiers from an alien unknown and other into the
heart of culture. In the Maring's own comparative discourse, there existed
clear and telling differences in thought and practice between them and all
202 Edward LiPuma
other peoples. And they embodied this in the symbolically charged opposi-
tion between the cultural, domesticated world of the inside and the un-
tamed, mysterious world of the outside. At the same time, however, the flow
of shells across borders was grounded in exchange relations and thus pre-
supposed a certain sameness and sociality, the communication of intention-
ality across the frontier. So defined, the pearlshell was a kind of indigenous
fetish because it combined the categorically opposing values of samenes\
and difference, and because it simultaneously expressed and veiled both of
those values. The shells were both obtained from (and I underline the term)
exchange partners, even as their exotic, alien qualities conveyed "a magical
aura of beauty, power, and mystery" (Strathern and Stewart, this volume).
However, and this is the heart of the difference between money and pearl-
shells, commodities and gihs, the fetish was never itself fetishizcd. The onto-
logical forms (such as exchange) that underwrote social practices (such as
trading for pearlshells) were always understood in terms of oven, per-
sonified, social relations rather than as the naturalized categories intrinsic to
capitalism.
Beginning in the 19 30s, the flow of Australian colonists into the central
Highlands dramatically, though indirectly, altered the availability of shells
in the Maring area. The colonists injected an extraordinary number of new
shells into the Mount Hagen region to pay for local goods and tabor. These
shells then filtered through the trading routes to the Maring region where
they led to an inflation of exchange rates. From the late 19 30s until the ear·
ly 1960s, shells the Europeans used as commodities, as a species of money,
were absorbed into the local economy as wealth objects. The onset of shell
inflation started to chip away at its indexical force: the practice of naming
shells died and the frequency and number of shells in wealth payments spt·
raled upward (from one to several dozen), causing a certain indeterminacy
in their value as significrs of extraordinary relations. There evolved a kind
of struggle between those who, having shells for rhe first rime after a lift of
unfulfilled longing, wanred the pearlshell to retain its value as a form, and
the entropic forces of the social economy that dissipated its \'alue.
But the turbulence engendered by the flood of new pearlshells paled be·
fore the next phase of contact. Beginning in the m1d-196os money, fim
shillings and pounds and then dollars, began to enter the local economy.
The Maring obtained Western money via contract labor on coastal planu-
tions, working for the Anglican mission and visiting ethnographers (oi
which there were thirteen over a twelve-year period), panning for gold, and
the sale of coffee beans grown on the steep, shaded slopes of the hillsides.
THE MEANING OF MONEY .Z.O}
And by the birth of the 1970s, those clan clusters located in proximiry to
Western outposts had all but replaced shells with money in bridewcalth and
homicide compensations. A new regime of values was evolving. Now com-
pensation payments would revolve entirely around pigs and money with
pearlshells defined exclusively as body decoration to be used when a lr.aiko
or dance was held. The value of shells fell in local eyes and many were sold
to Westerners of all stripes-the greatest number purchased by the Anglican
mission, which then resold them to a retail outlet for tribal ans in Po"
Moresby. In what was surely an ironic rum, by 1980 the number of shells in
the jimi valley returned to near precontact levels. But few people, save per·
haps the ethnographers, took much notice.
Pigs, Pearlshells, and Modernity
The receptivity of the Maring to Western money was part and product of
a more global transformation in their social life, not least being a rdorl113-
rion of their worldview. The Maring came to imagine a radical break be·
tween the time of kastam and the modern economy. They re-presented their
past as a rime in which people were limited to subsistence goods and there
were periodic bouts of hunger in the rainy months bcrwttn the planting 11nd
the first harvest. Especially men's garden work, felling the trees and dc.1ring
other secondary growth, was much more difficult without the aid of stcd
axes. Ignorant of money, every critical compensation implicated only pearl·
shells and pigs. Where capitalism produced a carnival of goods, the older
economy was defined at every turn by its limitations-limitations that only
seem so, of course, in the perfect hindsight of the present. As was pointed
out repeatedly to me, in times past everyone was the same and the demand
for conformity guaranteed that what was inevitable would happen. If. in the
rare instance, a man distinguished himself by acts of production and accu-
mulations that appeared ostentatious, no doubt as much by g<>Od fo"une as
by good effort, he was likely to be accused of sorcery. not because  
imagined that there was a direct connection between the number of pigs
someone owned and the spells said against some intended victim hut be-
cause anyone who would dare to express their individuality in public would
surely do it in secret.
Implicit in the antinomy between the time of custom and the advmt of
bisnis was a relativization of the economy into those practicn and penp«·
rives that are good and hence should be advanced inro the future; those at·
pects of custom that require recalibration; and those practices and penpcc·
objects and places, that do not appear to be contemporaneou1 with
104 Edward LiPuma
themselves, .. survivals" like fight stones, pearlshells, sacred groves, plus the
dispositions of senior clansmen. The metamorphosis from shells to money
was viewed as an index of a transition to a new concept of the past, a pan
that it is no longer desirable to reproduce in the present but, rather, that i'
conceptualized as divided from the present. It is the construction of the pa\t
as a symbolic resource that agents can invoke and deploy for the making of
the present (Keesing 1982; Lindstrom I990).
The other side of the invention of a past was an unqualified leap into the
modem. And on this side of the break in the world few things were as salient
as money. In short order, a number of social functions accrued to money. Its
possession and use became an index of modernity, the objectification of the
subject who had recalibrated his relationship to tradition. Part of the power
of money, as with pearlshells, derived from its externality, but now this
power was magnified by the manifest power of its source: the Westerners
who had conquered the Maring and whose ability to pull goods appeared
limitless. In this regard, money also allowed its owners to purchase impon-
ed goods, especially foods like rice and tinned meats, which people concep-
tualized and served as the modern equivalents of taro and pork. Money was
the only means by which people could buy those foods that would permit
them to embody the modem even as its consumption signified their moder-
nity.
As Strathern and Srewan (this volume) indicate for the Melpa, there are
a set of generational issues sparked by the introduction of money. Not the
least of these is that, in contrast to pearlshells (which were obtained through
affinal linkages and exchange panners), money was "won" through the sale
of coffee and the genre of labor performed by young men. Jobs at the Angli-
can mission station, orderlies in the hospital, the manager and clerks at the
tradestore, teachers at the school, assistant station manager, all required
fluency in pidgin, some knowledge of English, as well as basic skills in rht
arts of writing and arithmetic. What separates the up-and-coming genera-
tion is that their dispositions and attitudes and perceptions of the world and
the West (that is their habitus) have been shaped by an objective structurt
inflected by school lessons about money, calls for tithing by the Anglican
mission, wage labor, cash cropping, and state production of a national cw-
rency, all of which were unknown to their parents and grandparents. So a
central feature of the reshaping of their senses was a growing sensibility ro-
ward money-money as an object of desire and a means to status that dis-
lodges the production and efficacy of exchange nerworks. As the manager
of the tradestore at Koinambe explained: "men like my fathers nttd to makr
THE MEANING OF MONEY Z.Oj
exchange partners because they don•t make money; when I need something
all I have to do is buy it."'
This statement was a slight exaggeration in that his fathers' generation
did indeed find a way to attract money, mainly through a restructuring of
che domestic economy. Their ability to "pull" money lay primarily in their
control over land and domestic tabor, meaning that they could place garden
lands into coffee production and they could increase the production of
piglets, which they could then sell for cash. The senior generation also ex-
tracted money from the junior generation though this would increasingly
become a bone of contention, the young generation asking why they should
"back"' those whose aims and ambitions were no longer in tune with the
times. More than simple access to money, what separated the generations
was their disposition toward its use, the senior generation treating it like a
valuable that should be reserved for special occasions whereas their children
used it to satisfy small, immediate, personal desires. On the side of produc-
tion, the senior generation seemed unable to grasp the spirit of calculation
required to run a tradestore. The acquisition and use of money was thus at
the core of the growing rift between generations.
The most telling difference between pigs and pearlshells was that people
raise pigs on their home territories or that of their affines. Pigs embody the
mixed labor of both sexes and hence were signs of their complementary role
in the reproduction of the clan and subclan. In of exchange, pigs medi-
ated that relationship between husband and wife as much as they mediated
the relationship between donor and recipient. The Maring, like other High-
landers, expressly connect pigs to specific localities, lands that were the ma-
terial representatum of lineality. Further, the compensation of pork was
thought to replenish male grease (imbana), which in turn advances the con·
tinuity of a male substance (LiPuma 1988:76) that defines clanship itself.
The representation value of pigs thus <:entered on intcriority and identity
formation, relations that were the opposite of those representable by pearl·
shells or money (see also Strathern and Stewan, this volume).
But pearlshells, of course, neither disappeared entirely nor lost all of their
symbolic potency. Rather, pearlshells were now confined to the ceremonial
arena, primarily the kaiko, where they were valued because they 8hine like
well-greased skin-the quality of a person's skin, its   glou, and
color being a mirror of strength and vitality. The relocation of pearlshel11 to
contexts that were themselves of tradition brought a new Kmi-
otic politics into existence. Indeed, a symbolic opposition wu quick to
emerge between pcarlshells and money in which the formtt wa1 usociated
206 Edward Li P11ma
with kastam, interiority, and local identity while money became emblematic
of modernity, exteriority, bisnis, and the emergence of a national identity.
The representational value and force of the pearlshcll transformed from be-
ing a signifier of the outside, of indigenous but not Maring society, to being
a primary signifier of the inside and interiority, now mapped as the kastam
world of Papua New Guineans versus the modern world of Westerners. In
this relocation of value, the opposition between money and the pearlshell
was mediated by pigs, the kastam inside value that has become modern.
Moses and the Commandment of Profit
Other than the tradestore run by the Anglican mission there was only
one successful, locally owned and operated, store in the Jimi and Simbai
valleys. The tradestore was founded and directed by one of the first young
men to attend high school, gain fluency in English, see himself as a devout
Christian, and more generally approximate the dispositions of the Western
capitalist. Critical to the success and longevity of his store was his perspec-
tive and attitude toward money. Here is an excerpt from a conversation I
had with Moses in which he discussed (in English salted with pidgin) his
view about business and money.
Money is different from anything we [the Maring people generally and his clan mem-
bers more specifically] have known about in the past. Because it is pan of bisnis (Tok
Pisin], money is meant to be saved and used to allow the business to grow. When
anyone comes to the tradestore they pay in cash even if they are one of my fathers or
brothers. I have made it clear to everyone that it is wrong to extend credit-to allow
someone to have something without paying for it immediately. This is how people
did things in the past and it is okay if all we are doing is exchanging things with one
another. This is not right for bisnis, however. Some clanspeople are resentful and
jealous about my store [its success] and say that I am greedy and selfish; but I tell
them that their stores fizzle out because they don't know how to manage monc)·.
Money is not something that we can just give away freely like it was sugarcanc or
sweet potato. Money has power inside of it; you know that but people here do not
grasp that yet. They still concentrate on pigs when they should be learning to fcx.-us
on money as this is the basis of our development as a people. The right use of profit
is to replant it [in the store] so that the bisnis will grow straight. To go on the .. new
road" is to use money all the time.
I have quoted Moses at length because he not only understood that money
was the icon of the modern and a repository and index of wealth; he under-
stood money as capital to be reinvested again and again in an increasing spi-
ral of accumulation and growth. Whereas in an earlier time, the Maring
treated money exclusively as a form of wealth-they did not imagine it as a
factor of production-here Moses expressly makes the connection. And fur-
THE MEANING OF MONEY 2.07
chcrmore, he sees himself as a prophet of the modem whose mission (in his
drive to develop his score) was to convince others that money was first of all
capical to be plowed back into the bisnis. His argument, repeated rime and
again to his clansmen who were shareholders in the tradestore, was that nei-
cher the goods for sale nor the profits generated could be treated as though
they were part of the indigenous exchange system. In this logic, the rrade-
srore, as a dimension of modern bisnis, was a new context for the produc-
cion of sociality in that money should mediate every transaction, regardless
of the kinship of the agents involved. What in other more traditional con-
cexts would be a gift was here reclassified as "credit," Moses parroting the
credo of the mission store that no one will be extended credit. This view-
point also called forth a new logic of desire, Moses defining his refusal to
share the store's goods and profits as a virtue. There were those kin who de-
sired him to act according to traditional canons of redistribution and share
his good fortune. To which Moses answered that they are smitten with jeal-
ousy and ignorant of how things are done in the age of development.
Fluent in English, a high school graduate, a devout Anglican, and a suc-
cessful businessman, certainly one of the leading figures of his generation, a
rising star in the largest and most prominent subclan of the largest and most
influential clan, Moses was tapped by the Anglican mission in 1980 to be-
come the station manager at Koinambe. Father Bailey, the priest in charge
who chose Moses for the post, explained to me that the mission station was,
in his own words, "'a complex financial business," and Moses understood
money. The good father was at least and decidedly right on the last point,
church finances being more discombobulated than complex. The local per-
ception flowered that Moses, and a handful of other young men like him.
had acquired the special knowledge of things Western and this led their im·
age of money and bisnis to become culturally canonized as the correct and
modern view (see Maclean 1984:336-67 for examples of men similar to
Moses). Moses understood modernity as entailing and requiring a new
species of knowledge, a view shared by most of his generation, even if they
were not always able to articulate it in concrete images. This was not the
case for Moses, however, who put it this way:
To know how to make exchanges, to give women, pigs, and pcarlshells to other
clansmen, requires nomane (meaning the wisdom, sodal insight, and cuhure of the
ancestor spirits that is transmitted to their descendants). (In this respect, nomaM an·
nounces the relationship between the living community and its am;estorsJ. To be
good in bisnis, however, requires save [Tok Pisin). If a person lacks save, he won·r
know how to buy and sell things in Mount Hagen or how to use money. (In this re·
gard, save defines and mediates the relationship between indigenous agents and the
208 Edward LiPuma
forms of Western knowledge that would enable local agents). It takes save to uat:
money, which is why those of the senior generation-men who have plenty of no-
  do not know how money works: they only know how to .. line" the
money [a patterned, public display mostly of two-kina notes) when people give
bridcwealth and the death payment. The people who are successful in bisnis have
learned to think of money and to use it exactly as white people do. In the future, rhi\
will be the ausc of our success. The people will realize that once they win money,
rhey can ger anything they desire-in places like Port Moresby even girls to go with
you. You know that I'm an Anglican and don't do things like that, but there is no
reason not to buy clothes, food, cigarettes, and .... Believing in Jesus and learning to
use money to make bisnis are what will allow us to develop ourselves.
These remarkable and perceptive comments, made but a quarter-century af.
cer concacc, contain a whole, novel worldview about the
between people and money, the Maring and the West. The view spoken here
is thac to understand money as wealth is consistent with custom and by in-
ference the use of pcarlshells and other indigenous objects of trade. And, in
turn, knowing how to operate in this context requires nomane, the custom·
ary form of knowledge. By clear contrast, to understand money as capital
and to know how to use money to make money requires save-the Weitcrn
form of knowing and knowledge. Embodied in this understanding i'-»   of
dispositions about money, shared by most of Moses' genera-
tion. Indeed, the junior generation's cake on money was one of the rhingi
that engendered and defined its distance from older generations. Att revcaltd
in Moset;' remarks, this generation saw money not only   a lubricant of n-
changc, but as a technology of power that enabled its holder to engage and
control the fcm;cs of modernity. Knowing about money wa" hisni\ by tht
tame name and bisnis was the heart of lrn.:al development. "Anything con·
cerning money is bisnis" was a common sentiment, true hccau\C any prac·
rice thar entailed the flow of money, he it bride payment or the sale of a pig.
involved that commodity that <:an he exchanged for all other WC!itern wm-
moditics.
Thr picture Moses drew was also of a racially coded cpisrcmology in
which whites understand money in contrast to bla<:h who do nor, .and
learning how to use money is the primary ingredient ro local devtlopmrnt,
that is, acquiring the know-how to imitate the behavior of whit«. 11
marked contrast to the senior generation, Moses' cohort did not b(lievc that
Westerners possess a magical and by inference secret knowledge. Hav1ag
gone to school-where onr of the primary goals was to "dem)'Stif)·· loal
notions of where Wesrern goods and money came from, mainly through a
lesson based on the Wesr's mystified version of how Western goods arc pro-
THE MEANING OF MONEY 109
duced and circulated-this generation was beginning to understand the
character of money as a form of commodity.
They were also beginning to understand that the West dominates others
less by hiding knowledge from them (although this is surely sometimes the
case) than by inducing them to accept, as given, public knowledge about the
nature of social reality. Part of this reality of money was that one can ex-
change it not only for goods or for help (in tending to a coffee plot, in car-
rying goods from the mission airfield to the village, and so on), but also for
sex and the company of women. Money can be exchanged for a relation-
ship that was formerly well beyond the compass of interpersonal exchange.
never mind bisnis. So the double understanding-embodied in Moses' re-
marks as well as those of other men who had visited Pon Moresby-was
that people will do things for and with money that they would never do
with customary obje<.."ts of exchange, and that Western money has rhc abili-
ty to do things and "pull" others in ways that kastam objects did not and
could not. To put this another way, men like Moses were beginning to in·
habit an objective world and to have subjective dispositions roward that
world that engendered a space between the concrete and the abstract n·
pcctS of the money form. There has been a progrcs.,ive layering of mraning:
Moses and his generation have begun to grasp money not only a1 an indtx
of modernity and a store of wealth hut as capital.
Monetizing Agency and the World
The inflow of Western money into the Maring univenc and it\ abtorP"
tion into local practices have animated proccs1e11 th•U ore 1H rr•n1formativr
aa rhey arc incremental, cmbeddcJ in the feature of everyday routine•, and
ra1y to mihrc(;ogni1.c. For Maring iU for other llighland• thcK
proceues arc founded in the advent of the 'ommodiry form a1 both an in-
dex and a virtue of modernity, a1 an imagined key to Wc1tc:m t':\:onomu: and
political power over local practket. More than a (ilrntVill, 'apitahMn brinp
a profusion of good1t, from food 1<> gun1, that cnhan'c thr pouihilitir1 of
power over a future defined by a Werncrn world that ia it&tlf dtfined by com·
moditici. And, for the Maring, no object reprnc:n11 thr 'oming·to-br-un·
dentood \:nmmodity more than money.
Thr commodity was alto imtrurmnral in thr aJvarK:c of Wnttm tpilk'·
mology and ctpccially w in the cue of monc:y. Of all the commoditte., it
5tands in the mott am.tract relationship to tunt and tabor. The introduction
of Western money and what, in con1ra1r to rradicaonal moot)', can only
purchased with money (good• at the minion uadnrore, for   tw
z.10 Edward LiPuma
also reorganized the terms of desire. Where the use of pearlshell was limited
to specific contexts of exchange, where the pearlshell was invested with so-
cial relations (so much so that certain shells had their own names), money
has a much broader set of uses and more easily becomes detached from so-
cial relations (not, as the case of Moses illustrated, as some "natural" prop-
erty of money but as part of a culture of use learned in their encounters with
the agents of modernity such as ethnographers and missionaries). The ap-
pearance of money also created new situations and terms for the exercise of
judgment about the production of values and meanings. In a total sense, the
infiltration of the Western money form, by transforming the ground of peo-
ple's beliefs, desires, and judgments, gradually and imperceptibly helps to
shape the conditions for the production of intentionality and subjectivity.
Thus the ethnography suggests that an understanding of the meaning and
value of "local" money is intrinsically tied to an understanding of the cul-
ture and progress of modernity.
What emerges from the steady infiltration of Western money is a quasi-
Westcrn money form. This money form begins its local life history imbued
with little formal commodity value, but a plethora of social meanings whose
center of gravity was the alterity between the Maring and the foreign other,
and the local vision of the road to modernity. In the inscription of social
meanings, the "hybrid" form resembled its Western counterpart, though
these meanings were, of course, specific to the Maring. Money is a privi-
leged index of modernity precisely because its socially signifying values are
left open. The Westerners who introduced the currency assumed, following
the tenets of their own commodity-driven ideology, that the social meanings
of money are epiphenomenal and that its economic function is transparent.
In the first rush of contact, then, money appeared as an empty signifier, a
form devoid of intended effect: it was not a prayer designed to salvage the
soul, or a food to strengthen the body, or clothes to shelter the self from the
elements and eyes of others. In this respect, the social representational value
of the Western money form became synonymous with modernity itself: use
of pounds, dollars, and kina signifying the modernity of those who use
them. For Westerners as well as Maring, the adoption of money was inter·
preted as an omen of progress.
But, historically, this was only the initial moment of what is a longer and
more mediated process. Over time, the social meaning and morality of mon-
ey would become more nuanced. And by the early 198os, the once positi\'e,
almost millenarian, imagery had become colored with negative tonalities.
More than pigs, pearlshells, or plumes, money was easy to conceal, and es-
THE MEANING OF MONEY 2.11
pecially in conjunction with the adoption of individual family dwellings, ap-
peared to encourage a philosophy of concealment.
Not only did the physical properties of money-small, weightless, pa-
per-allow it to be hidden, but the Western enclave seemed to condone its
concealment. The heights of hiddenness was the bankbook account at the
local bank at Koinambe, the priest who managed the corresponding branch
of the Bank of New South Wales refusing, when asked by a person's kin, to
divulge how much money that person had on deposit, citing .. confidentiali-
ty" as an inviolate Western value and rule. In this way, everything from
changes in housing styles to the advent of money and the practices of the
Anglican mission, allowed the flowering of inequalities, of forms of selfish
and possessive individualism that always, even in the precontact era, people
imagined lurked beneath the surface or "skin" of human behavior and in-
tentionality, but that could now express itself more openly as practical and
increasingly legitimate action. Also and from a complementary angle, the
generation then coming of age began to question why "white" people
seemed to have the money, and to look at this disparity as an index of tangi-
ble inequalities of power-inequalities that seemed to be out of step with
the rise of the nation and the emergence of a government run by .. black"
men. Where, in the i 9 50s and 1 96os, money was an unconditionally .. good
thing," by the late 197os people began to grasp money as something that
could also undermine and destroy, as harboring an element of evil, a senti-
ment that was, incidentally, echoed in the sermons of mission men (see also
Strathern and Stewart, this volume).
As money slowly but surely penetrated the Maring universe and people
discovered ways of obtaining it, the commodity character of money began
to take hold. At the heart of this experience was the slowly evolving realiza-
tion that their relationship to orhers need not be mediated by sociality-that
is, overt relations of clanship, affinity, or enmity-but could be mediated by
their willingness to sell their labor and goods created from that labor in ex-
change for money. Particularly for the younger generation and especially for
those who had attended the mission school, the possession of money began
to emerge as an end in itself, an objective whose touchstone was the grow-
ing but secretive bank account. This generation began to incorporate the
ownership of money into its image and construction of the person. In every-
day speech, they began to extend terms of derision such as .. rubbish man"
to include individuals who had little money or potential access. People's
conception of land and their perception of its worth also began to change.
Land that was suitable for coffee producing or panning for gold so soarrd
212 Edward LiPuma
in value that clansmen began to fight for rights over formerly unused (in the
case of coffee) or unusable (in the case of gold) plots of land, this friction in-
spired by their desire to ... win" money.
Not the least of the effects of money was that it changes the conditions
for the nature and expression of agency. Traditionally, the power of a per-
son was manifest through their ability to "pull" or influence the behavior/in-
tentions of others, and the ability to perform sorcery/magic. The first was
exhibited most in the actions of big-men (and more dramatically and mar-
ginally, ... wild-men"), the second in the performance of shamans and more
marginally sorcerers. Traditionally, these also represented the limited cir-
cumstance for expression of "individuality" in a relationally dominated so-
ciety. The appearance of money engendered both an externalization of pow-
er in that the ability to influence others turns on a person's access to money,
and a leveling of power inasmuch as more and more people have access to
sources of money wealth. Those who have money have power analogous to
the big-men and the shaman/sorcerer. So it was that the influx of money
into the Maring region adds a new dimension to the production of big-man
status and complements the increasing use of sorcery.
This observation flies in the face of accounts that presume the opposition
and exclusivity between Capitalism with a large C and principles of the tra-
ditional economy. The basic understanding is that capitalism universally op-
erates in terms of markets, economic maximization, and the accumulation
of personal wealth (principally in the money form). The traditional econo-
my is conversely founded on reciprocity organized around forms of kinship
and interpersonal domination. The problem with this view and the primary
reason why it fails cthnographically, even for the West, is that it separates
production from culture. The idea is that the market and also class arc the
forms of organization that flow from capitalist relations of production
whereas kinship, ritual, and community arc the forms of human organiza-
tion generated by culture. Unfortunately, within this framework, there is no
way to account for differences between capitalist usocictics" because t   ~
market, value, labor, and money are assumed to be transhistorical and tran·
scultural categories-to be, in other words, external to culture. When trans-
posed to Melanesia, this viewpoint makes it impossible to grasp the evolu·
tion and trajectory of these societies because it is precisely the internal and
intrinsic connection between capitalist production and culture that deter-
mines their movement historically. Yes, it is true that capitalism preempn
and subsumes social relations based on kinship and community, but it ntc·
essarily does so in a panial and social-historically specific manner. This is :.l
THE MEANING OF MONEY 213
rheoretical way of saying that not only does the integration of Others not
entail uniformity or even harmony, but that by its very nature it engenders
variability and disharmonic relations that are themselves determinant fea-
tures of encompassment. This last point requires us to observe and honor
the differences between Melanesia and the West because these differences
  r e ~ rather ironically, the basis of their now inseparable, intertwined histo-
ries.
IN GOD WE TRUST?
The Legitimacy of
Melanesian Currencies
Robert J. Foster
Introduction: Token Theories of Money in Melanesia
As the last century ended in the United States, "gold bugs" fiercely at-
tacked "Bryanites" who advocated the guarantee or "backing"' of ba_nk-
notes with silver. But, acting upon principles of segmentary organizanon,
the feuding "monometallists" joined against the proponents of fiat money,
the so-called paper-money men who sought to back currency only with the
authority of the state. The metallists' critique of paper money contrasted the
intrinsically valuable substance of solid specie-heavy metal, as it werc-
with the intrinsically valueless shadow (or symbol) of substance, mere pa-
per. Such a substanceless symbol, warned Thomas Nast's famous cartoons.,
was especially vulnerable to manipulation by the government (see figures 9-
1 and 9-2). Thus, by an act of Congress, soft soap could be declared money,
milk tickets could be declared milk, pictures of cows could be declared
cows: arbitrary significrs could displace natural signifieds.
The anxieties engaged in this debate over the matter of money have not
entirely disappeared from the American cultural landscape. Freedom pam-
phlets still criticize the Federal Reserve Board's devilish conspiracy and as-
sert that only gold and silver, not paper, qualify as money (Project Liberty
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 215
____________ ........ ......_.,_
THIS IS A
.,J1." 0 l:.J !; E _A_N D L 0 T
  ~ ~
f I Gu RE 9-1. Thomas Nast, Milk-Tickets for Bt1/Jies, i11 Place of Milk.
Source: n ~ w i d Ames Wells, Rol>mscm Cmsoe's Money (New York, I H76). CourtCS)"
Uni\"ersity of Ro(hestcr Lihrary, Department of Rare Books and Spe(ial Collection.,.
199 3 ). And even people for whom paper rnrrem:y has become naturalized
as the real thing have reason to be anxious. The New York Times Afagcizine,
in a cover article on digital cash, thus asks (ironically): "When money can-
not he touched, when it turns into electrons, when it dcmaterializes. some
people start to worry about what they really have. Will it oe enough for a
bank, or a credit-card company or even the Government ro validate some
chip as 'money'? Can it ever be as real as a dollar hill?" (Glcick l'J96:18).
What strikes me about the rhetoric of the American mrtalli\ts and their
descendants is how, at least in one respect, it seems 1,0 alien to Melanesia. I
216 Robert f. Foster
.. -
.. . . . .., .....
•.· .. · •. r. ·•
';"" ' I ,• •
. :· ....··· .. ; .. :.·.·
:-·:,_ .........
.
111£¥ CAN.
ilND    
THE
D E V \l l!!ffE.a:::=:::::;::::a
IS
...........
FIG u RE 9-2. Thomas Nase, Ideal Money. Beneath the title, in small
script, it reads: "Universal suffrage can, if ir likes, repudiate rhc whole
debr; it can, if it likes, decree soft-soap ro be currency." Source: Harp-
er's W
1
eekly 48 Uanuary 19, 1878). Courrcsy University of Rm:hcsrcr Library,
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
am unaware of any instance in which Mclancsians perceived metallic coins
as "really" valuable by contrast with paper money; that is, Mclanesians
seem not to have regarded the material distinction between metal and paper
as an index of differential value. Why? Perhaps, as Marc Shell ( 1995) sug-
gests, the nineteenth-century panic over paper money climaxed a deeper cri-
sis of representation specifically rooted in European Christendom, namely, a
crisis over the nagging discrepancy between face value and substantial •.-a-
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 'l.17
lue: profound doubts about Jesus, the coinlike wafer-God-man. Or perhaps,
as I have suggested elsewhere (Foster 1998), the rhetoric of the metallists
bespeaks a fetishism that could never have enchanted Melanesians given the
colonial circumstances of their initial encounters with both metal coin and
paper currency (not to mention Melanesian conventions about relations be-
tween persons and things). Or perhaps, as Robbins and Akin (this volume)
suggest, Melanesian anxieties lie elsewhere-not with the medium of ex-
change per se but, rather, with the direction of its flow in creating and en-
forcing distinctions crucial to social reproduction.
This is not to say that metallist rhetoric is alien in every respect. The issue
of trust and confidence-the issue at the heart of the metallises' critique of
paper-is often implicated in Melanesian discourses about currency. I am
thinking here in particular about the Kwaio case presented by David Akin-
and not only about how the Kwaio assert their distrust and lack of
confidence in the Solomon Islands state through their attachment to kofu,
or shell valuables. I am also thinking of how considerations of trust and
confidence among Kwaio themselves can determine the appropriateness of
particular media to particular transactions. For example, Akin mentions
that Kwaio are more likely to use cash rather than large kofu valuables in
compensation payments between groups with weak social ties. Similarly,
Akin points out that hawkers may convert items such as bacteries and to-
bacco into short kofu lengths at crowded feascs, where the context enables
something resembling an anonymous market transaction to occur:
a hawker at a big feast may sell to strangers or to people with whom he has only a
slight connection. With his goods concealed in his bag, he can selectively advenisc,
avoiding those who might pressure him to extend credit. He can seek out impersonal
contexts within which to conduct his commodity sales free from social constraints
and obligations. (Akin, this volume)
I infer from these examples that the transactional use of cash and small
lengths of kofu sometimes indicates social relationships of a relatively tran-
sient nature, that is, relations weakly grounded in trust and confidence.
1
These relationships differ from the more important and enduring-perhaps
more trustworthy (even if only potentially)-relationships performed
through the exchanges of large kofu valuables. The circulation of such large
kofu valuables defines social relations of a definite kind, namely, relations
deemed necessary to social reproduction. Put otherwise, then, the material
distinction between large kofu valuables and short lengths of kofu (and
cash) conveys in at least some contexts Bloch and Parry's ( 1989:i.4) concep-
tual distinction between two morally discrete transactional cycles, one con-
2. 18 Robert]. Foster
cemed with .. the reproduction of the long-term social or cosmic order.,"' tht
other .. concerned with the arena of [short-term] individual competition."
I submit that this Kwaio case is just one example of how Melanesians re-
spect what Keith Harr ( 1986) calls token theories of money as distinct from
commodity theories of money. Commodity theories, like those of the met-
allists, focus on the .. tails" side of a coin (a British coin, that is); they treat
money, like coins, .. as a thing, capable of entering into definite relations
with other things, as a quantitative ratio independent of the persons en-
gaged in any particular transaction" (Hart x986:638). Token theories, by
contrast, focus on the "heads,, side of a coin; they point to the symbol of
political authority that minted the coin in order to remind us "chat money is
originally a relation between persons in society, a token perhaps" (638). To-
ken theories "insist that money is a symbol for something intangible, an as-
pect of human agency, not just a thing like a lump of coal" (Hart 1986:645).
le is not my aim co counterpoise the metallists' commodity theories to the
Melanesians' (or Melanesianiscs'?) token theories. Indeed, that is the sin of
modern theories of money, which, Hart argues, have fetishized relations be-
tween persons and things "as two contradictory camps, thought of as states
and markets" (1986:647). But I nonetheless want to use Hart's discussion
of token theories of money to think about how some Melanesians might be
thinking about money. To be more precise, I want to consider how some
Melanesians might be thinking about money in the context of an unevenly
expanding capitalist mode of production. My aim is to explore how this
context variously upsets the natural foundations of money-not the pre-
cious material substance of shell or metal but, rather, the social relations of
trust and confidence, hence authority, mediated ·and evinced by money's cir-
culation.
Hart identifies three different sorts of token theories in the Western intel-
lectual tradition, each of which regards money as the expression of some-
thing less tangible: personal creditworthiness, the nation, and the state. I
will use each of these theories, in turn, as points of departure for exploring
the entanglements of exogenous and indigenous moneys in various relations
of trust and authority. (I say "moneys" deliberately for, from the poim of
view of token theories, shell valuables such as kofu are unquestionably mon-
ey.) In doing so, I seek to reiterate and gloss the claim made by both Blo-:b
and Parry (1989) and all the chapters in this volume, namely, that .. soci.il
reproduction is at the heart of the matter where currencies are concerned"
(Robbins and Akin, this volume).
Crises of Social Control: Young Men Against Old Men
(Women Against Men)
Token Theory One, familiar to anthropologists since the publication of
The   i ~ (and championed most forcefully by Simmel), regards money as a
token of personal responsibility, of interpersonal relations. For Han
(1986:648), this sort of theory makes sense of kula exchanges in which valu-
ables name the networks of big-men whose personal reputations make the
exchange of valuables possible in the first instance. It is these reputations
that define the value of the shells and vice versa; that is, value is located in a
moral source, as an aspect of relations between honorable persons. Liep's
comments (this volume) about Rossel Island shells are pertinent:
In the field of exchange practice, the identtty of persons-in terms of nerwork con·
nections, level of participation and credibility-is continually constructed, ncgori.at-
ed and revised (Liep 1990). Further, the individuality and recognizabiliry of shells
make them serve as indexes of personal biography so that an interview about a man's
basket of shells elicits a curriculum vitae.
Such is the nature of credit.
Let me extend Hart's example. For many Melanesians, I submit, the
efficacy of shell valuables derives from their plausibility as tokens of impor-
tant social relationships, plausible because their exchange practically medi-
ates key relations of social reproduction, as I have suggested for the K waio.
As Akin points out, moreover, the plausibility of kofu strings as efficacious
tokens derives from the way in which Kwaio actively exclude cash from ex-
changes "within which it might acquire some of the same social meanings
Kwaio ascribe to shell money" (this volume). Hence daims for the efficacy
of kofu are self-fulfilling.
Joel Robbins's discussion of bo11ang among the Urapmin is another caK
in point. The commitment of Urapmin to bonang in rapidly changing cir-
cumstances stems from the continuing plausibility to Urapmin of bonang as
the instrument of their autonomous social reproduction. And this plausibil-
ity, in tum, stems from the continued mandatory use of honang in ttansac-
rions thought to ensure social reproduction-marriage, monuary, and corn·
pensation payments. To doubt the efficacy of bonang is thus to doubt the
practical grounds of social reproduction. My question is this: How has this
seemingly dosed circle of plausibility, this confidence in indigenous media,
sometimes been tested in Melanesia? And how did the circumstancn that
introduced an exogenous money provide the catalyst for this testing?
2-:.o Robert]. Foster
These questions are, of course, loaded. I formulate them on the basis of
what I know about the history of the Tanga Islands (New Ireland) and the
way in which Tangans dealt with the flow into the islands of German {later
Territory, and later Australian) money, and the commodities money could
buy. In Tanga, the introduction of foreign money was facilitated mainly by
young men, that is, young men who would leave home to work as contract
laborers on plantations or as servants in the households of Australian gov-
ernment officials or as employees of Chinese merchants. Young men thus
had greater access to money than old men, a situation that potentially posed
problems of social control for old men-problems of how to appropriate
the money of young men, how to persuade young men that investment of
money in the activities of their elders was appropriate, worthwhile, maybe
even obligatory (cf. Akin's account of a similar situation in Kwaio). As far
as I can tell, old men were successful at least up to World War II in control-
ling the money and goods brought back to the islands by returning laborers.
It is not clear if money and goods entered directly into the exchanges man-
aged by old men (all connected in one way or another with mortuary rites)
or if old men converted money and goods into pigs (for example, by paying
head taxes in exchange for pigs), which were then used in exchanges. I do
not know when precisely marriage payments routinely included a cash com-
ponent, though I am confident that this practice was established by the
1 9 5os if not earlier.
After World War II, another source of money opened up to Tangans: the
marketing of copra. Once again, old men asserted their control by assuming
leadership of the "cooperative" societies formed to purchase ships in order
to transport the copra to Rabaul. These attempts to manage the production
and marketing of copra failed, however, as the societies, like the ships that
they purchased, ran aground. By the late 19 50s individuals were opening up
accounts with the Copra Marketing Board and arranging their sales inde-
pendently of the societies. These individuals, by the early 1960s, began to
include young men whose own coconut palms had come into bearing.
I have argued elsewhere (Foster 1992, 199 5a) that it was in this histori·
cal context that the categorical opposition between kastam and bis11is ac-
quired salience for Tangans. Kastam came to denote the activities of big-
men which, as a result of the big-men's loss of control over copra
production, became confined to the management of mortuary feasts and ex-
changes. What I want to stress here is that this confinement entailed an "en-
daving" of mortuary exchanges, and to some extent marriage payments as
well, in which the cash component is today almost trivial. That is, mortuary
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 12.I
exchanges became marked by the circulation of shell valuables (am fat) and
homegrown pigs and an interdiction on the circulation of cash.
The term and notion of enclaving comes from Appadurai (1986b), but I
use it here thinking of John Liep's discussion (this volume) of a similar set of
circumstances on Rossel Island. Liep points out chat "Rossel big-men have
so far successfully resisted the introduction of cash into the payments which
regulate kinship reproduction, that is, from bridewealth and the main mor-
tuary exchanges" (this volume). In doing so, these big-men complement
their strategy-first instituted during the early colonial era---of effectively
keeping their high-ranking shell valuables from circulation and so turning
them into singular inalienable possessions. Young men reportedly resent the
control that old big-men exert over these shells, leaving the young men to
deal in lower ranking shells which have increasingly taken on the role of an
"internal cash." Likewise, young men have protested the ban on cash in
mortuary ceremonies; cash now circulates in the form of payments to the
young men who perform the funeral services: "the young men have here
opened a niche for ceremonial investment of cash honoring each other" (this
volume).
What I draw from the examples of Tanga and Rossel (and here I am sim-
ply following Liep) is that it is useful to think about the issue of multiple
moneys as a dimension of struggles over key relations of social reproduc-
tion. These struggles are often organized as intergenerational contests, that
is, as an attempt on the part of younger men to gain greater participation in
or control over important exchange relations, mainly on the basis of their
greater access to cash (see LiPuma, this volume). Thus, as Mosko (this vol-
ume) shows for Mekeo, the recent access of not only young men but also
women to money and "money things" has ended the monopoly of heredi-
tary clan officials over the ritual power or "heat" necessary to reproduce so-
cial relations in marital and mortuary exchanges. Such struggles between
generations and genders, carried on amid the leveling circumstances of colo-
nial capitalism, have produced various outcomes, including the enclaving of
indigenous money (Tanga); the commodification of indigenous money
(Mount Hagen); and both the enclaving and commodification of indigenous
money (Rossel). It is also possible that indigenous money will be abandoned
altogether., condemned by young men as an anachronistic impediment to de-
velopment, and replaced by exogenous money (Li Puma, this volume; sec Le-
derman 1986 on Mendi, and Nihill 1989 on Anganen). (Although Bohan-
nan might have imagined this last result as inevitable, all the chapters in this
volume demonstrate otherwise.) Or it is possible that exogenous money will
1u. Robert]. Foster
be unreservedly embraced, but according to a cultural logic that is entirely
indigmous (see below; Strathem and Stewart, Mosko, Brison, this volume).
From this perspective, what impresses me most about the Kwaio case is
how, according to Akin, young Kwaio men "are among the strongest sup-
porters of kofu and its dominance" (this volume). In Kwaio, as perhaps on
Rossel, the struggle for control of social reproduction between young men
and old men has been softened by accommodations that incorporate young
men's cash into key exchange transactions, in the form of either coins and
paper notes or shell valuables converted from cash. Doubts over the efficacy
of indigenous money have not been exacerbated by the exclusion of young
men from the performance of social reproduction. On the contrary, young
and old alike still regard their indigenous currencies as plausible and effica-
cious, as legitimate tokens of a moral and political authority that merit their
confidence. Like the Urapmin father and son heading off to search for the
bonang they need to make a marriage/child payment, young and old concur
in the temporal power of indigenous currencies to link the present and the
future, that is, to enable social reproduction.
Crises of Foreign Relations: Us Against Them
Token Theory Number Two romantically regards money as the expres-
sion of national self-sufficiency. In the view of Adam Muller, author of A
New Theory of Money in 1816, money "derives its value from the trust gen-
erated within a community and is more specifically an expression of the na-
tional will" (Hart 1986:644). This theory of money "stresses the accumulat-
ed institutions of a nation as a necessary framework for markets and
finance" (646). It is a populist theory of money.
The populist theory of money has its moment in Melanesia
opposition between kastam and bisnis is mapped on to the distinction be-
tween Indigenous Traditional Money and Western Modern Money (for tx·
ample, Stt LiPuma, this volume). This mapping is not a necessary corrdatt'
of the kastamlbisnis distinction, as Mark Mosko (this volume) demonstrates
with thC' analogous Mekeo distinction between maketsi (
06
market•t and
lt12ngaltanga t•custom .. ). When, however., the kastam/bisnis distinction is
turned outward., it can be taken as the sign of an external crisis of
confidence., an mclaving undcnaken not by seniors against iuniors or men
against women, but instead an endaving of Us against Them, Them  
•Europeans• or a Westerners.""
Varieties of the opposition bctwttn Us-Kastam and Them-Bisnis ocav
in many placrs throughout Melanesia (for example, see Dalton. thu ml-
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 1.z.3
e) but cases where the opposition is explicitly and prominently
um , Th K .
configured through a contrast between moneys are fewer. e wa10
one such case: "For Kwaio, shell money and cash have come to symbolau
the respective characters of Kwaio and European societies" (Akin. this vol-
ume). The Tolai and Duke of York Islanders, discussed by Errington and
Gewertz (1995b), are another example. As if they had themselves read
Bloch and Parry, Duke of York Islanders frequently described shell money
(tambu or diwara) to Errington and Gewertz in terms of .. an essentialized
contrast with money":
Shell money was extolled as .. hea\'y" (mawat)-as substantial and significant-:is
capable of generating the activities on which both male and female reputations wctt
built and social order rested; money was denigrated as .. light" (biaku)-os fli""Y
and inconsequential-as mcapable of creating or sustaining personal worth or en-
during social relationships. ( 1995:58)
The contrast between shell money and money unambiguously   the
moral superiority of the former. Unlike European money, shell money can
be displayed in the form of accumulated coils that arc sometimes cut apan
and redistributed in mortuary exchanges. That is, unlike Eurorcan money.
shell money makes possible the enacnnent and reproduction nf matrilincial
social relations. Indeed, in the form of accumulated coils, shell monry is a
condensed symbol of the capacity for autonomous socinl rerroJucrion--the
self-sufficiency of the Tolai nation (d. Robbins on Uropmin bonnng, this
volume).
The moral devaluation of European money and the   of "hdl
money as a .. national" (or ethnic) icon are plnusiblc.a to Tolai, I IUfqtHt, rrr-
ciscly   shell money continues to he used cvttry day in all \:'ontutll 3!I\
a universal currency. Neumann ( 1992: 1 H6) remarks that"' Ar the village l('V·
el nearly all other goods that c.an he bought with kina IPNG state-iuued
c:urrencyl can also he bought with tambu-which makC1l tambu in that KnK
thr 'truer' of the two currencies used on the Gaulle IPcnin,ulal ... lndttd.
Errington and Gewern (199s:s9) rcpon that in parr' of bur New Britam,
it is now possible to do what the German and Australian colonial authori·
ties strictly outlawed: pay taxn with shell money. What we havr here i1 a
two-sided process similar to the simuhaneou1 enclaving of high-ranked
shells and "monetizing'" of low-ranked 1hcll1 on Ronel l1bnd. The .. cultur-
alizatK>n" of shell mol\C'y as a marker of Tolai collective ha. gone
hand in hand with the spread of shdl money into MW     con-
tcxh. It is this duality-its suitability for both shon-tnm commercial (com-
modity) transactions and long-term kinlhip (gih) t"-Changn--thar makn
u4 Robert]. Foster
shell money superior to European money. Thus one of the underlying objec-
tions to the attempted exportation of shell money for display in European
museums and collections was that the exporters were "buying large
amounts of shell money in order 11ot to use it" (Errington and Gewertz
1995:68).
It is worth noting that if a plausible moral critique of Europeans and their
money could be made on these grounds, so too could a critique of other in-
digenous Melanesians be made-Melanesians who either abandoned or
never used their own shell currencies (for example, the Christian Kwaio; sec
Akin, this volume). In this way, Tolai shell money expresses a superior eth-
nic identity within the national-cultural framework of PNG as well as a su-
perior cultural identity vis-a-vis "the West." And by the same token, so to
speak, Tolai shell money expresses a moral superiority over Papua New
Guinea state-issued currency, which is no more appropriate than European
money in enabling .. enduring social relationships.'" That is, shell money
functions as a token of contested state-society relations in PNG-which
brings us to Token Theory Number Three.
Crises of Civil Authority: Society Against the State
Token Theory Number Three is statist. It regards money as the expres-
sion of state policy and "emphasises the role of law and government inter-
vention" (Hart 1986:646). Its operating dictum is "money is a value made
by law"; put otherwise, money is a "standard of credit issued by the state"
(6.H). To accept state-issued money as legal tender is to recognize not only
the state but also the honor of the state. Here again, money is a token of
trust.
As Andrew Strathern and Pamela Stewart point out in this volume, the
recent issue of a fifty-kina note has given Papua New Guineans new impetus
for thinking about state-society relations. The picture of Sir Michael So-
mare's head on the front of the note forces Mount Hageners to rccognizr
that money is a symbol of the nation-state, and hence of the power of gm·-
cmment. But the picture also makes money an eminently suitable vehicle for
articulating both critiques of the PNG state and alternative (even millcrwi-
an) visions of state-society relations. First of all, the picture confirms wh.ar I
have elsewhere described (Foster 1996) as the unmystified conception of tbr
state held by most Melanesians. that is, a conception of the state as the ac-
tual politicians who operate (or not) in its name. In some   ~ this ~
tion entails imagining the state as a big-man to whom one owes allcgi.anct
as a follower (Gcwertz and Errington 1991; A. Strathern 1993; CbR
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 2.2.S
1997)-but only to the extent that the big-man docs not betray one's trust.
Accordingly, critiques of the state can take the form of critiques of its per-
sonification-the big-man par excellence, Sir Michael himself. Jeffrey Clark
(1997:81) claimed that .. It is believed in Pangia (Southern Highlands) that
Australian money was made by the Queen, Papua New Guinea currency
made by Somare in Port Moresby.,.. Here Soma re is unfavorably contrasted
with the queen, whose greater power was reflected in the strength of her
(Australian) currency and whose agents, the Australians, would be prefer-
able to the current independent government. Or, in a more extreme instance
of what Clark once called Melanesian Gothic, it is predicted by some Mount
Hageners that Somare's head will be replaced by the pope's head on paper
notes, and international religious power will triumph over national political
power (Strathern and Stewart, this volume). Trust in God eclipses trust in
the state.
These examples remind me, as someone who has spent most of my rime
in PNG in the quiet backwaters of New Ireland, that the Highlands is in-
deed another country. But they also remind me of how I started this chapter.
namely, by observing that the question of whether paper notes are less real
than metal coins is not a matter of pressing concern to Melancsians. Why
should it be, given that most Melanesians have historically understood pa·
per notes and metal coins as the material tokens of a social relationship be-
tween themselves and some radically alien Other (see LiPuma, this  
In what is now PNG, the first of these Others were the Germans, who were
compelled in 1900-1901 to issue ordinances forbidding the use of shell
money (tambu or diwara) in transactions between Europeans and native$.
Then came the Australians, who were also compelled in 1910 ro issue the
Narive Currency Ordinance, which stipulated in racially precise terms that:
04
no European or any other person having the 5tatus of a Eurorean and any
coloured person in the employ of such European, shall sell, give
or take in payment, or use as a means of barter or exchange any of the rarth·
cnware saucepans which are commonly used in currency by the Siaui ttroup
of Islands, nor eanhenware anicles similar in nature to !luch sauc:cpan1'"
(Mira 1986:29). The Japanese imposed their money durinK World War II;
the Australians reimposed their money aftnward-fir•t pound1 and
shillings, then dollars and cents.
It should come as no surprise, then, that in 198 J I heard viJJage men in
New Ireland ( whtrc toca are still sometimes rtfcrred w a• ""1i and uling in
Tok Pisin) narrate a history of colonialilm in tcm1.1 of currau;y 1hifn-frum
marks., to shillings, to dollan. Nor should it comt H a JUrprite that N"
u6 Robert]. Foster
Ireland men ofrcn complained to me that their money was nor as strong as n
was before Independence, equating the diminished purchasing power of
their money with the weakness and corruption of the PNG state. In other
words, it should come as no surprise that the PNG state has been cast as the
huest in a long line of Others with whom diverse indigenous societies have
entered into contested relations of power. This conclusion is what a statist
token theory of money would lead Papua New Guineans to find plausible, 1f
not self-evident.
Crises of Representation: Strained Analogies
I have thus far emphasized how encounters with exogenous currencies
have variously prompted Mclancsians to question their faith in indigenous
currencies. For token theorists, however, the gap between signifier and sig-
nified, inscription and inscribed, is always imperfectly closed by confidence:
currencies are by definition symbols that do not stand for themselves. They
must claim to stand for something else or to materialize something else.
Only in the imagination of commodity theorists--cspecially those, like the
American metallists, who accuse others of idolatry and fctishism--could it
be otherwise. Doubts persist, then; things arc indeed not what they seem
(Dalton, this volume). If we continue for a moment with the idea of Mclanc-
sians as token theorists, we might well ask, What sorts of doubts-in addi·
tion to doubts about state-society relations-do Melanesian currencies en-
tail? And what sorts of certainties, too?
Douglas Dalton's discussion of Rawa shell valuables furnishes a response
to these questions. Dalton (this volume) starts with the cogent observation
that the meanings associated with shell valuables-and with Melanesian
currencies more generally-arc historically contingent and open-ended, and
perforce responsive to the circumstances of colonization, missionization,
and commoditization. This contingency has cna bled fvlclancsians to amcu-
late old cultural ideals and values by means of and in terms of new media,
that is, to absorb exogenous currencies into indigenous schemes of meaning
through creative efforts of analogy. Such efforts account for the striking syn-
cretic character of public, ccremonii.ll displays of Mclam·sian currencies.
Thus, for example, Strathcrn and Stewart (this volume) report how intro-
duced metal coins with a hole in the middle reminded Mclpa of magic stonC"S
used for rain-making and fertility. In extended an.:ilogical fashion, the bills
used in compensation payments were "bid out in a fanning, ccntripet.tl
shape with an empty circular opening at the middle .. (Strathem and Stew·
art, this volume; see Nihill 1989). Similarly, such analogical efforts under-
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES U7
write the striking syncretism in the material forms of Melanesian currencies.
p;1hon, for instance, offers the complex example of a Rawa shell valuable
in which the "wooden cross" of Christian iconography conveys the sorrow
Jnd compassion that Rawa speakers ordinarily associate with the giving
and sharing of valuables among kin (see also Thomas 199 I on other .. en-
tangled objects").
The analogical open-mindedness of Mclanesians has frequently helped
them to put exogenous currencies and other foreign imports in the service of
social reproduction as indigenously imagined, thereby effecting continuity
with past practices where (following Bohannan, say) one might anticipate
rupture and disjuncture. In Mount Hagen, the enthusiastic substitution of
introduced money for pearlshells in prestations hinged on a perception of
their comparability or symbolic equivalence in representing and realizing
ideals of agency and personhood (Strathem and Stewart, this volume). Like-
wise, Karen Brison (this volume) argues that Kwanga understood and em-
braced exogenous money in the same terms that they valued their pigs and
yams, namely, as precious valuables to be "invested" in communal projects
rather than consumed by individuals or even households. Such '"invest-
ment" ideally enabled Kwanga to acquire "he&lt .. and therefore enhance
their personal agency while simultaneously achieving such ends of social re-
production as establishing reciprocity and equality between groups within
the community. Finally, and most dramatically, Mcken treat introduct"d
money and "money things" as analogs of ritual instruments for
the "heat" or power necessary to influence other people. This analogy moti-
\'ates Mekeo to carry on socially reproductive activities such as cornpctiti-.·e
courting "according to the same \:ategory operations that anim:lletl the prc-
existing system of agency" (Mosko, this volume). Mosko,   Sahlins's
( 1981) historical dictum of plus c'est la memc chose, /Jl11s r" ,·h'1nge, thus
concludes that the recent radical changes in chiefly authority itmf re-
lations in Mckco society have come about exactly hecausc .. Mekc:o c.'Conom-
ic thought and activity continue to operate according to a logical and
practical scheme" (this volume).
Accordingly, as Robbins (this volume) acknowledges, it is hardly §h,x:k-
ing that Urapmin-who, unlike Kwanga or Mekco, have a highly developed
shell currency-say explicitly that bonang is "our money." lJrapmin, how-
e\·er, recognize implicitly that their analogy is limited; for. unlikr bonang,
introduced money carries with(in) it no promise of autonomy, that t§, no
possibility of autonomously effected social reproduction. With thi1 in&ight
they seem to know beforehand what K wanga-and perha(>!' otht>r Me lane·
u8 Robert). Foster
sians who first embraced money enthusiastically but now wonder about
their capacity to control it, to bend it to the goals of social reproduction-
arc learning from experience. Kwanga, according to Brison, now doubt
whether monetized intergroup exchanges are the proper vehicle for collec-
tive investment and ask if the growth of money that betokens collective po-
tency might not be achieved more effectively through individual and family
projects. That is, Kwanga are entertaining the idea that the money they earn
through coffee sales and tradestore operations promises, if anything at all,
individual rather than collective autonomy. The original analogy of intro-
duced money with familiar valuables has become strained by the long-run
unintended consequences of articulating indigenous modes of social repro-
duction with an expanding capitalist mode of production (Robbins and
Akin, this volume). Unanticipated changes of this sort might yet result in the
formation of a strong dichotomy between kastam and bisnis, as Brison inti-
mates in noting how some Kwanga now classify intermoiety exchange u
consumption, as wasteful and inimical to economic development. Alterna-
tively, Kwanga might follow the example of the Rawa (Dalton, this volume),
who stress the sharpened contrast they experience between sorrowful, recip-
rocal "sharing" and angry, competitive "buying .... This contrast, Dalton ar-
gues, although given in indigenous forms of Rawa social production,
emerges more starkly in the efforts of Rawa to use introduced money as the
means for converting "buying" into "sharing"' and vice versa, effons that
have largely failed to encompass the conflict and contradiction associated
with Rawa experiences of capitalist exchange activities.
It is important to remember, however, that strained analogies are nor onl)"
the consequence of historical encounters with a capitalist mode of produc-
tion. The Urapmin again seem to recognize this claim in their very refusal to
substitute introduced money for "our money" or bonang. Urapmin, li.k(
Rawa, understand and worry that loss is always inherent in and
not merely the actual loss of exchange objects through unrequited reciprc..:-
ity. The loss inherent in exchange is the loss connected with death and de-
pendency upon others to overcome death through regenerative social repro-
duction. For Urapmin, Robbins says, introduced money represents  
death and dependency, whereas bonang represent i11 addition the promisr al
transcendent autonomy. That is, bonang (like the Rawa kunawo)
a paradox, a strained combination or uneasy synthesis of opposites. When
accumulated and collectively displayed in exchange transactions, bonang
point to or indicate the power of Urapmin to effect their own social repro-
duction locally. At the same time, though, such displays are preludes to dJt
THE LEG IT I MACY 0 F M EL A N ES I AN CU RR ENC I E. S 1.Z.9
moment when the collected bonang will be dispersed, once again compelling
urapmin to retrieve them by entering into external (regional) relations of
crade and exchange. Bonang embody and enact the entailment of autonomy
and dependency for Urapmin, much as kunawo embody and enact the en-
t3ilment of "sharing" and ... buying" for Rawa.
Given their paradoxical nature, bonang can at best offer Urapmin men
only temporary autonomy, a fleeting transcendence of dependency. In this
sense bonang resemble Tangan shell valuables, discs made of giant dam
shell that in their display at mortuary feasts bring a matrilineage into being
as the autonomous agent of its own social reproduction (Foster 199sa). Yet
these discs-called
04
stones" (am fat) and regarded as material analogs of
perdurance--chip, crack, and sometimes even go missing altogether. Their
very materiality puts at risk their apparently iconic capadty to perdurc. As
with bonang and kunawo, then, one meaning cannot be conveyed without
its negation-no autonomy without dependence, no sorrow without
no immortality without mortality. Or, as Tangans know but ncvcnheles.s
deny in the symbolism of mortuary feasts, no reproduction of matrilinragcs
without the consent and support of (non·matrilineal) affines. Mdancsian
currencies, in this view, do indeed seem to be mediators of paradoxn, H
Robbins and Dalton both suggest. Hence, perhaps, their pathos and thrir
mystery. I would only add with Bloch and Parry ( 1989:18) that the  
paradox that Melanesian currencies engaKc is the paradox of social repro·
duction, the "fundamental human probll'm" of creating on endurin1e social
and cosmic order our of thC' transient individual lives that animatr it (sn-
also Bloch and Parry 1982.).
Conclusion: Beyond Token Theories
What seems to emerge as a certainty from this way of l<K>king at MdaM·
sian currencies is the knowledge that the crisis of reprnenrarion i1 perma-
nent. The gap between signifier and signified i\ alway1 open nor only br-
causc of the famous arbitrary nature of the sign, but alw br'aUM thr
5ignified itself is inherently unstable and paradoxical. Perhapa
do worry after all about the medium of exchange per 8'e, if not m dw
terms as the American mcullisu. Mclane1ian.•, on 1hi1 accounl, would trear
the material forms of currencies as of the changing 111tu1 of
paradox of social reproduction that tM currmcito1 engage-as pcrhapt the
pigs' rusks and dogs' teeth on Dalton'• namdesl valuable tignify an
in anger and dependency. Which dimension of the paradox, Melannaan1
might ask. is at the moment in ascendana and which in cdiptc?
i.30 Robert]. Foster
This account allows us to regard as sensible, if not predictable, the ways
in which Melanesaans scrutinize the material forms of introduced curren-
cies, never fully accepting them as either natural or without not-yet-revealed
meaning (sec Clark 1997; Foster 1998; Lattas 1997). The Mount Hagen
case presented by Strathcrn and Stewart is compelling on this point; fears
about the appearance of the pope's head on the PNG national currency arc
bound up with worry over where one ought to turn to secure control over
the means of social reproduction: the market, the state, or the divine? Hence
the commcnr of Mande: "the price of coffee fluctuates, a bad country may
take us over [and she implied that this would be with its own currency, anal-
ogously to the pope's head motif], money will be short in our pockets, and it
is all a sign of the return of Jesus, so we must pray very hard about all this"
(Strathern and Stewart, this volume). Given the history of frequent shifts in
the material form of the state-issued currency in PNG, it is surely unremark-
able that Mande looks to the currency for clues about the political future.2
National currency, as Keane ( 1996:77) observes for the Sumbanese,
(re)prcscnts the state as "an absent origin," a source of wealth and power at
a distance (cf. Clark 1997). The nature of the nation-state's authority regis-
ters as traces on the surface of the currency-in the engraved face of Michael
Somare or in the colorful logo marking the twentieth anniversary of Inde-
pendence on the front of two-kina notes. Coins and notes are, in a profound
Melanesian sense, the skin of the state-the sire where Melanesians might
look for news about their relationship to the powerful forces brought by
contact with white people and their institutions. Hence, the failure of the
PNG state to deliver on its promise of wealth and power is, as Mande antic-
ipates, a failure that will materialize in the form of currency shifts. Like the
Urapmin, who examine the skins of both people and things (including cur-
rency) for the appearance of the "triple six namba" (the number 666),
Mande and other Mount Hagcners articulate a critique of the contemporary
PNG state with an apocalyptic desire for the millennial state that heralds
the return of Jesus Christ (Robbins 1997).
To think from within this view of currencies is to exceed the limits of any
token theory of money, for from within this view money can never represent
or stand for anything else "truly," that is, fully and finally. Here we en·
counter a familiar Melanesian mode of epistemology and symbolic appre-
hension in which images and artifacts condense an inexhaustible array of
meanings (see, for example, Wagner 1986a; Barth 197 5 ). Money forms will
always be subject to skeptical reception, an awareness that these forms har-
bor within them unrevcaled possibilities for the future, hidden agencies and
THE LEGITIMACY OF MELANESIAN CURRENCIES 231
identities that might be exploited or might engender exploitation in as yet
unimagined ways. But here, then, we move beyond the limits of token theo-
ries, for the issue is no longer one of representation's arbitrariness, but
rather its ultimate failure. In other words, money is always already repre-
sentationally flawed, unable to materialize all the latent and unfathomable
meanings that will-most certainly, sooner or later-disclose themselves on
its surfaces.
CHAPTER IC
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCIES IN
AFRICA AND MELANESIA
Jane I. Guyer
Spheres of Debate and the Impact of New Work
Melanesia and Africa have been unparalleled sources of surprise and in-
spiration in the study of money for societies in which the sratc is not the pri-
mary issuer, arbiter, and guarantor of currency transactions. Studies by Ma-
linowski (1922) and Mauss (1925) on the gift, based in South Pacific
ethnography, and by Bohannan ( 19 5 5, 1959) on spheres of exchange, based
on the liv of central Nigeria, arc foundational in the comparative Mudy of
transactions, cited in works far afield from the regions that inspired them
and from anthropology itself. Even now, however, the currency histories of
these regions themselves arc still far from clear, and ethnography still strug-
gles to come to grips with the originality of their cultural propositions and
material techniques. As anthropologists turn to the study of the introduc-
tion and management of state-issued currencies in the twentieth centul")·,
and to people's current patterns of money use, we arc aware that we do so
with only a limited understanding of the indigenous transaction systems to
which they are grafted.
The fact that the limitations we feel differ somewhat between the rwo re-
gions offers potential for fruitful learning and critique, but it also means
l.Jl.
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCIES 2.33
char some choppy water has to be traversed before we can move in on issues
ammablc to illumination from both directions. In the first place, anthropol-
ogy has recently lost confidence, and perhaps also interest, in the compara-
  endeavor, returning rather to the classic relativist position that no item
or institution can be taken out of its matrix-whether this be conceived in
historical terms or in terms of core axioms of perhaps by
the bearers themselves as they move into the circuits of the international
economy and global imaginary (see Robbins and Akin, this volume). As a
result of the retreat from institutional and other mid-level comparison, each
regional scholarship has been engaged in debates with its own panicular
subject matter and with interlocutors within the region but outside the dis-
cipline. After some time we find ourselves struggling with the academic
equivalent of dialect differences when we look back across the regional di-
vide to examine one another's work.
This secondary and unintended effect of our regionalism means that ba-
sic questions need readdressing: Are the regional cultures and histories fun-
damentally so different as to be recalcitrant to comparison? Or have the de-
bates simply taken up different issues, now offering each other termi-
nologies and insights about select phenomena but not much more than that?
Or, more ambitiously, has each branch of study illuminated a facet of a larg·
er theoretical domain that we may now be on the verge of reconstituting?
My own reading of the chapters in this volume an<l of studies in Africa sug-
gests that we should be able to work through the first question, and cenain-
ly make use-with caution--of a positive answer to the second, but finally
grasp the possibility of addressing the third in a manner that not only hdp&
ro sort out the human past but also will contribute tu the analysis of that
large and growing category of monetary (or money-indexed) transaction
that escapes state regulation in the turbulent present. The three parts of thi•
commentary address each of these questions.
Regional Diff erenccs
In Melanesia the indigenous media of exchange can be quite wdJ under-
stood because they have been working systems well into the era of systemat·
ic ethnographic accounting. The kula has been studied several rimrs, at dif-
ferent periods and with different questions in mind. So has the spcctacuJar
Rossel Island money. Anthropologists have been able to addrm increasing·
ly nuanced philosophical issues-such as the of .authorship
alienation (M. Strathem 1988), the operation of dcnommanons and equ1v1·
lencies in debt relations (Liep 1983a), and the exchange rcln-ancr of tempo·
234 Jane I. Guyer
rality (Munn 1983). And they have pursued new sociological questions such
as the relationship between gendered circuits of distribution and pools of
wealth (A. Weiner 1976).
The Africanist literature can only approach the same questions about
non-state monies through historical methods, and even then quite imper-
fectly by comparison, because of the sparseness of the evidential basis for
what was clearly a long and turbulent history of money use before colonial
rule. Many of the African media of exchange that figure in museum collec-
tions and numismatic exhibits under the rubric of "primitive money" or in-
digenous currencies were actually either imported or fabricated locally as
trade of all kinds expanded during the four centuries in which the Atlantic
and other trades flourished. Many decades after state currencies have sup-
planted these currencies it requires an archeological kind of exploration-
working outward from small clues-to suggest in a provisional way how
they might have worked within African communities. Any active memory of
their production, use, and meaning is rapidly receding. For example, when I
interviewed elders about bikie in Cameroon in 1984 their memories were
those of youth, of working the bellows at the forge and of having their mar-
riage payments offered, but not of the adepts and elders who had managed
the currency system. The older currencies-such as gold in the Middle Ages
in the kingdoms of the Sahel; various kinds and qualities of raphia cloth
along the Congo River; and the croisettes of the central copper belt, which
date from around the ninth century-arc even more recalcitrant to a full
cultural, material, and political account.
In African studies, then, we can benefit greatly from experimenting with
the cultural work of Mclanesianists in posing new questions to the clues we
do have. This might be an entirely unproblematic marriage of intellectual
resources were it not for the domain that history opens up in the study of
transactions and conspicuous consumption/destruction in Africa, namely,
slavery and human sacrifice. We can concentrate attention on all kinds of
other transactions but no comprehensive approach to cultures of precolo-
nial transaction can sideline slavery. Centuries of trade with the Mediter-
ranean world and the West and above all the massive fact of the Atlantic
trade, which dominates currency history from the sixteenth to the nine-
teenth century. have no direct analog in Melanesia.
The centrality of the highly emotive and controversial terrain of rights in
people and over people in Africa means that the whole topic has to be ap-
proached with a circumspection that probably inhibits the kind of thinking
about transaction and personhood that Melanesianists have been able to de-
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCIES 2.JS
velop. Questions of identity and personhood invoke their as
as their permutations and transformations. trade w1thm
to
be a distant enough issue that sens1b1lmes are no longer at 1s-
may seem ·u ·
sue, but I was forcefully reminded of how much there sn is to cov-
by
the comment of the African woman scholar s1tung next to me at a
er . .
powerful advocacy speech in favor of the United States'. reparations
for slavery to Africa, given by another African of Swah1h ongm and there-
fore from a trading culture. She suddenly turned to me-a stranger-and
asked "You mean, you people are going to pay them twice for us?" In this
kind of situation, the work of Nigerian anthropologist Felicia Elccjiuba to-
gether with historian Kenneth Dike ( 1990) on her own people, the Aro, who
were the major slave traders of the Niger region offers a remarkable exam-
ple of what needs to be done.
As a result of these differences between the regions and the scholarship,
we borrow from one another's work while not yet speaking to one another
as easily and directly as our common discipline might suggest we should.
Differences emerge in several places in our regional studies. One difference
is clear in the differential use that the two literatures make of the two works
from the 1980s that gave new impetus to the anthropologicnl study of mon-
ey: Hart (1986), writing in a historical and political-economic vein in which
history and the state figure prominently, and Bloch and Parry ( 1989) insist·
ing on and exemplifying cultural analysis of the moral framing of monetary
transactions. The difference also appears in the emphases in the two cri·
tiques of the seminal work of Bohannan on spheres of exchange: the
Melanesian critique in these papers focuses on his limited attention to rcla·
tions among people as distinct from categories of objects, and the Africani"t
critique launched in the 1970s (Dorward 1976) focused on his failure to
place the Tiv currencies in their changing regional and historical context.
Again, the introduction to this collection suggests linking Bohannan's con-
cept of spheres of exchange (which arc defined by the objecrs that cir..:ulacc
within them) to Sahlins's ( 1971) relational model of exchange (as differenti-
ated by the social distance of the parties concerned). The focus is, in a acme,
lateral: on category creation, identity, and the negotiation of ethnicity. In
African studies Bohannan's spheres have been interpreted hierarchically by
Meillassoux ( 1961 ); the elders' control of good1 in che highest currency
sphere makes possible their control over marriage and thereby ovrr women
and youth, a relationship that was deeply implicated in the arricuJation  
twcen kin-based societies and the colonial economy (Dupre and Rey 197J).
In each case the common heritage of theory has bttn taken in different di·
23t> 1a11e 1. u11yer
rections: toward more philosophical elaboration in Melanesia and toward
more political and historical excavation in Africa.
Possibly it is inevitable that in the study of money and value we would
need to go through a similar discovery of consonances and dissonances as
the scholars of kinship in an earlier generation of Africa-Melanesia compar-
ison. I myself (Guyer 1993) have depended on the Melanesian literature for
concepts such as alienability and singularity that could help me make plau-
sible suggestions about currency dynamics in equatorial Africa-where
monies mediated valuation and transaction across a very wide range of
goods, services, fines, and rights in people, as they do in some contexts in
the Pacific. Even so, the struggle to take whole transactional systems into
account, as these chapters do, reminded me of the extraordinary complexity
of monetary phenomena, and the major leap one takes to group them to-
gether for comparison. Even within Africa, it is by no means clear, for ex-
ample, whether and how the "impact of money" in the Congo Basin in the
shape of imported copper Belgian mitakos (Vansina I 97 3 ), and in Dahomey
and southern Nigeria in the shape of massive imports of cowries that even-
tually resulted in inflation in the late nineteenth century (Hopkins 1966;
Hogendorn and Johnson 1986) arc comparable to the "impact of money"
in the shape of the legal imposition of state money and the forced demoneti-
zation and destruction of indigenous currencies in eastern Nigeria in I 948
(Ofonagoro 1979). Are any of these transitions ''like" the dynamics of
Melanesian state currencies that have been brought in through wage lahor
or market sales at the end of the twentieth century, when different curren-
cies can circulate freely against and beside one another?
However profound the differences may be, the two literatures do contin-
ue to edge toward one another for concepts and even to attempt generaliza-
tions. Gregory's ( 1996) recent work on subaltern monies and Strathcrn and
Stewart's chapter in this volume, both starting from Melanesia, suggest that
some Melanesian dynamics have been similar to African cases. Piot's ( 1996)
careful reconstruction of the cultural underpinnings of slave sales among
the Kahre, as a part of their total prestation system, and Taylor's ( 19921
suggestion of persistent themes of circulation in Rwanda., both suggest that
African conceptual schema may still be traceable, in part through the inspi-
ration of Melanesian work. Not only that., but their cultural accounts may
contribute to understanding the specific African historical realities of, in the
one case, slavery and, in the other, the symbolic meaning of particular fonns
of mutilation during ethnic violence. As Africa scholars reapply their ener-
gies to understanding long-term continuities in valuation, through the rur-
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCJES 137
bulence of political and economic change, we should rediscover the Mclane·
sian work. .
The particular topic for mutual illumination that suggests the
resent collection is the common process of enclaving currenetes of different
as the context changes over time. As Gregory ( 1996) has pointed out,
currency enclaves in the modern world ultimately involve power struggles
of the kind we have seen in African history. But they must also rest on the
proposition and persuasive plausibility of moral and cognitive definitions of
the kind pointed out by Bloch and Parry, also pioneered in African studies
(at the same era as Bohannan's work) by Mary Douglas {1967). The system·
atic study of enclaving as a process not only brings the two literatures to·
gether but also allows us to address far more general processes, namely, lo-
cal styles of saving and asset formation in the people's societies and
economies that grow up in relation to money markets and the global move-
ment of capital funds.
A Common Process: Enclaves in Africa,
Melanesia, and Elsewhere
One of the richest contributions of these studies for the combination of
cultural and political-economic analysis lies in their examples of the dynam-
ics of enclaving. In situations in which force has not yet been systematically
applied, people's own terms of negotiation have fuller ph1y and one can un-
derstand what is at stake as the alternatives nre explored. The foct that thi$
process seems, to an Africanist, to stop short of outright     can use-
fully be accepted to reflect the real situation, so that we can focus on the
cognitive and cultural issues. Enclaving involves and defining.
In many of the cases analyzed here, Melanesians have defined certain kinds
of transactions as amenable to mediation solely hy specified currcm:in. !rlO
older forms continue to circulate even where cash has been well accepted.
The thresholds and conversions (Guyer 1997) of the multiple ""Ur·
rency systems lend themselves particularly well to tracing out pathways and
circuits of distribution and control because the objects can act as tangible
indicators of the channels through which things move and· of the relational
transactions that move them. Where people earmark by terminological dn-
ignarion alone, as in the "bitter money" described by Shipton ( 1989) or the
subtle cattle/money terminologies described by Hutchinson ( 1996), it i1
much more difficult to reconstruct a cultural history.
For centuries West Africans ran multiple currency economies that re-
sponded to surges and retreats in regional trade. Shifts in the nature of the
238 Jane I. Guyer
trade goods changed the media and circuits of exchange and could favor the
rise and fall of subgroups who depended for their social power on the con-
trol of particular monetary forms. Marie-Claude Dupre's ( 199 5) fine case
study of raphia-cloth production and circulation among the Tcke in equato-
rial Africa shows how closely the fates of different political leadership and
political philosophies were tied to the dynamics of production and exchange
for different kinds of cloth.
We do not know in detail, however, the means by which groups and sub-
groups authenticated (A. Weiner 1992) their exclusive identification with
particular currency goods, except in the most striking cases, such as the to-
tal currency monopolies of the Ashanti and Dahomey states or the intricate
genealogical ideologies of cattle control exerted by herd owners throughout
eastern and southern Africa. Elsewhere currency management of any kind
was very difficult. In a vast and underpopulated continent new goods flood-
ed in, putting heavy pressure on all barriers of containment. We know that
currency objects were produced, decorated, handled, stored, counted, dis-
played, assessed, transported, and talked about, but we have not yet found
ways to reconstruct, to modern ethnographic standards, the moral and po-
litical process that shaped the activities of which the museum, the archives,
and oral history provide incontrovertible but incomplete evidence.
We do know that part of the stabilization of currency and prices in Africa
depended on naming and conceptual stabilization. Many of the trade con-
cepts were fictional-the cabess, the ounce, the chicken, and even the nomi-
nal concept of the slave-so that transactions could be described in stable
terms while the actual content of a transaction might be quite variable, de-
pending on passing conditions. The power to name and rename things per-
mitted real prices to vary widely in the medium and amount of payment
while nominal prices persisted. This said, however, control over naming or
over transactions is never initiated or implemented by power alone, in cul-
turally meaningless ways. Some equivalencies are easy to render plausible
and others not. Why, and how?
When we turn to the current Melanesian cases for help with this prob-
lem, what is quite striking in almost all cases in this collection is that enclav-
ing ultimately rests on the supernatural sanction and emotive power associ-
ated with certain objects and transactions. The integrity of a particular
exchange is maintained because it stands for and ensures the integrity of the
relationship between living people and with the ancestors. Akin (this vol-
ume) writes of ancestral spirits who demand pig sacrifices for taboo viola-
tion, for returning migrants, and for mortuary feasts. Sponsors of feasts
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCIES 2.39
"make public ancestral curses against cash contributions.··· giv: cas.h in
brideprice ... would undermine the legitimacy the   Brison
(this volume) writes that any deviation from "strict equivalence···
ld invite sorcery attacks." To marry without the md1genous currency
wou bb" h"
invites the anger of matrilateral relatives against the children (Ro ms, t is
volume). Dalton (this volume) elaborates a complex of emotional states and
personal characteristics that kunawo evoke or mollify. .
The object-subject-value link seems more flexible in Africa. In volat1le
conditions and mobile populations, the interventions of supernatural sanc-
tion to prescribe particular objects or media of exchange is more difficult to
achieve. Religious sanctions are powerful with respect to transactions, but it
is unclear whether, or how, they underwrote currency enclaves. For exam-
ple, Sally Moore ( 1986) offers numerous examples of the power of the curse
in Chagga society in the early years of this century. People owned "cursing
pots" and could bring fatal sanctions to bear on actions and transactions
that breached expectations. One is not sure who had the right to own a curs-
ing pot, or who had access to its efficacy. The suspicion that this sounds just
too easy a recourse is bolstered by the classic Africanist attention Moore
gives to struggles over control bet\veen the people and chiefs, who saw curs-
ing as "a rival form of enforcement" (1986:45) to their own. Sango priests
in nineteenth-century Yoruba society could fine people at extremely high
levels for incidents and accidents of several kinds (Oroge 1985). Their sanc-
tions diverted currency, created debts, and ruined careers. But why-in a
culture where "man makes god" (Barber 198!)-were they so powerful?
And African spirits certainly were powerful where money was concerned.
The treasure-houses, where stores of wealth in currency form were kept in
West Africa, were guarded from theft by magical substances and spiritual
presences. Without religiocultural protection of the kind referred to in the
chapters in this volume under the rubric of identity maintenance, any kind
of currency system and wealth pooling in precolonial Africa would have
been impossible.
It is possible, however, that the kinds of spiritual involvement differed
from those described in these chapters, and it would be worth pursuing this
question in more detail. Ancestral guarantee of relationships, via the medi-
um of currency enclaving, seems more prevalent in Melanesia; this fits well
with their explicit concern with social reproduction. It may be that, in
Africa, monetary transactions were more associated with the inventive,
charismatic aspects of spiritual life, which then allowed for more oppor-
tunistic connections to be woven between religious and economic power.
240 Jane I. Gityer
This is an interesting difference if it holds up to greater examination. An ex-
tended comparison of the religiocultural nexus of enclaving and the protec-
tion of stores of wealth in Africa and Melanesia would greatly repay the ef-
fort. Multiple currencies in both places provide a uniquely tangible
grounding for the broader study of the connection between currency object,
transactional relationship, and the spiritual/institutional processes that
make enclaving possible. The presence of spiritual sanctions in both places
allows comparative exploration of the ways in which real and conceptual
thresholds arc guarded with ordeals, booby traps, and threats.
Another fascinating line of exploration suggested by these studies is to
investigate the conditions under which authentification of transactional
forms becomes a function of explicit religious doctrine at all, versus a cul-
turally embedded habitus. One is only aware by comparing the two sets of
works that, for example, we in Africa have privileged the action of sectional
religious mechanisms and interests over a collective cultural investment in
social reproductive processes. Terminologically and analytically the Melane-
sian literature seems to privilege custom over religion, whereas in Africa we
see particular ancestors and gods with their own particular congregations,
and particular currencies of access to graded title societies that arc mandat-
ed by those at the top (Henderson i972). Is this a regional difference? Or
have the regional scholars concentrated so disproportionately in what looms
larger in their own cases that they have overlooked other dynamics that may
exist, but as minor themes?
Religious doctrine versus cultural proposition as the bedrock for authen-
tication is not just a theoretical issue hut also a potentially politicized one in
an era when Christian and Muslim devotion is making great inroads into
domains of belief and practice that arc now considered pagan. On the de-
fensive, non-fundamentalists and cultural nationalists of all sorts in Africa
are urgently defining what they consider "traditional" or ucultural" and
thereby out of the reach of insurgent religious reformism. Where do en-
claves, assets, and social payments fall in this great dichotomy between reli-
gion and custom? On the answer to this question hangs the future of social
payments and the social organization of currency use and storage that un-
derwrote them, that is, the future of bridewealth and tithe, mortuary presta-
tions, alliance gifts, tribute of followers to founders, and harvest gifts from
men to their sisters. Where religion is altering the forms of currency defini-
tion, transaction, and enclaving, the rather experimental drift of the
Kwaio-back and forth over where the ancestors "stand" on currency en-
claves and over whether this whole matter is of any spiritual or secular rele-
COMPARISONS AND EQUlVALENCIES 2.41
h
l
Ak
.10 this volume)-is exactly the kind of process one
vance to t cm see ' h
d
l Ok at
mo
re closely A better understanding of sue processes
nee s to o · · f ·
would guide our own explorations of both the great periods o _conversion
in Africa in the past {in the context of multiple currenc! economies) and the
present religious revivalism (in the context of a pervasive cash e   o n o ~ y ~ to
understand more fully how other pagan religions, in non-state socseues,
have repositioned themselves on the transactions that form and reform per-
sonal relations. In the more liberal situation with respect to currency use
that Melanesia seems to enjoy in the secular domain of the state, religion
may play a central role in reshaping transactional pathways within commu-
nities.
It may be through such an expanded attention to "religion and the rise of
commercialism" that we will see far more dearly through our reading of the
Melanesian cases how to describe currency circuits and the threshold sanc-
tions that shape them. The great unexplored topic in the study of Africa's
extraordinary currency history is the full range of linguistic terminology for
objects, subjects, and transactions through which the links to spiritual pow·
er as well as worldly power were named and defined. It may be too late for
an ethnographic nuance on the past, but present work offers some templates
to follow. All societies create valued assets, inside or outside the domain of
formal financial institutions. Understanding of contemporary asset creation
in societies with limited access to or use of formal institutions can surely be
advanced by extended cultural study in contemporary cases of the
classification of new currency goods and their linkage into a spiritual, aes-
thetic, and moral vocabulary.
On Payment and Equivalence
While we dearly can share methods and insights here, I suspect that
Africanist scholars would not start from an assumption that religious sanc-
tions and cultural bulwarks against the breach of enclaves expressed c:olltc·
tive identity, as do the authors of several of these chapters. African scholar,.
have been more likely to see sectional interests and struggles within soci·
eties, and forces reshaping entire situations from without. ls this skcprici5m
about collective identities a function of theory or of place? These chapttn
are panicularly stimulating in that they suggest how place may have aff«t·
ed theory, and in one very telling way for our theoretical approaches to
money. Here, I think, we may be on the verge of reconstituting a joint theo·
retical critique of basic concepts.
The chapters in this volume provoke new thoughts about t!K implicic
2.42 Jane I. Guyer
evolutionism or historicism in our shared notion-soundly empirically
based for the late twentieth century--of an ever-expanding domain of mon-
etary mediation of relations of all kinds. It seems to me that in reading back
and forth historically to discover the pathways by which monetization has
occurred across space and time, we may all be underestimating not only the
varieties in the courses of change themselves but varieties in our own as-
sumptions about "starting points." The age-old "functions of money" as
means of exchange, unit of account, mode of payment, and store of wealth
can be found separately and develop independently, as the expanding
Melanesian and African literature shows. There may be no typical pattern
of change, apart from incorporation into the global financial institutions of
the present. Since the kind of change we see may result from an interplay of
some unpacked theoretical assumptions and the particularities of regional
cases, to advance further it could be useful to bring regional assumptions-
both Africanist and Melanesianist-into clearer view. They arc not mutual-
ly exclusive, but they do tend to index different qualities and different tra-
jectories. At the risk of stereotyping, it is worth highlighting the differences.
The economics literature starts the "story of money" with barter, entail-
ing a concept of money as primarily a means of exchange (see, for example,
Niehans 1978), a mediator of market-based distribution. This position al-
lows the tracing forward in time of monetary transactions in a constantly
evolving fashion from "primitive societies" through ancient civilizations to
industrial economies, regardless of the structure of the economy. By starting
from utilitarian need, rather than (for example) from symbolic value, the
goods chat circulate can be assumed to be functionally equivalent. Certainly
incremental diffusion and development through the desire to truck and
barter in this way may well be one trajectory of monetization, but as a gen-
eralizable history of money, it has been soundly challenged by anthropolo-
gists working in both Asia and Africa (sec Humphrey and Hugh-Jones 1992;
Dupre and Rey 1973).
The Melanesian literature on monetary goods starts from the gift and
ceremonial exchange, which is a moral-political rather than a distributional
phenomenon. The central challenge of understanding kula exchange, as Ma-
linowski framed it, was that no-one needed the valuables (in any utilitarian
meaning of the term need) but they wanted them, with a passion, as expres-
sive of their personal value. Currency is then a sort of unit of account that
measures and establishes personal reputations. People's status is established,
realized, and confirmed in prestations of monetary goods. In some cases
where exact repayment is highly valued, Robbins ( 1994) has argued persua-
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENClES
:z.43
. I that the meaning of exchange is precisely to express _th.e equivalence
s1;e :rsons in egalitarian cultures. Hence the great emphasis m
on the relationships that are created by of vanous kmds,
rather than on the objects that mediate circulation. . . .
The one connection between this position and the previous one is that, m
· · h ali'ty is highly valued and equivalence is the lodestone
soc1et1es w ere equ
d ideal type of all exchange, purchase and sale in a free market format
:ay be assimilated quite easily {as all these case studies   because
the preexisting cultural elaboration of equivalence. Here 1t would be fasci-
nating not only to examine cultural underpinnings of enclaves .of the
currencies but also the cultural understanding of price and eqmvalence m
market transactions using state-issued currencies. Does it occur to people
that certain kinds of exchange may be expressive of deep inequalities? If so,
in what terms is this expressed?
The Africanist literature, by contrast, seems to me to start from an im-
plicit assumption of money as "basically" a mode of payment, a kind of
tribute between unequals or, perhaps more exactly, between non-equiva-
lents. Bridewealth and other transactions over rights in people are the insti-
tutional context most often associated with monetary use in the past, so
rights in people are the inevitable domain to be addressed in any theory of
money use. Africanists very early on debated whether marriage payments
were better designated as bride-price or bridewealth and came down dearly
on the side of payments of wealth and not mediation either of equivalent
gift exchange (prestations) or market price. Concepts of status differences
between persons-according to birth order, or talent, or primacy in resi-
dence at a particular site, or whatever-arc pervasive in African cultures,
such that no transaction could express real equivalence. There was always a
residua\ or an explicitly expressed difference between the parties. This dif·
fercnce between the Melanesian balanced exchange and African payment is
monumentally attested to by Levi-Strauss ( t 949) in his distinction between
the restricted exchange marriage systems of Australia, Asia, and the Pacific,
and the generalized-delayed, currency-mediated-bridewealth systems
elsewhere, including Africa.
The idea of money as payment implicates more closely than the other
two (money as medium of exchange and as unit of account) the final attrib-
ute of the classic definition of money, as a store of wealth. The mobility of a
medium of exchange and a unit of account is not directional; it may circu-
late indefinitely or stay in one place, like the large denominations of Rossel
Island money. But payment suggests pooling. The givers arc enjoined to
2.44 Jane I. Guyer
present and the receivers hold or invest, and thereby deeply influence trans-
actional pathways. Some scholars go so far as to place primary theoretical
emphasis on payment and storage (for example, Meillassoux x 96 I). Even
outside of politically inspired studies there are works that privilege money
as a demonstration of the magnitude of wealth. Here both Africanisrs and
Melanesianists have all been less acute theoretically and empirically than we
might be, although a great deal of information does exist about pooling of
monetary wealth in systems with different degrees of centralized control.
In the case of modem states, payment to or through the state can be seen
as basic to the definition of money (see Schelkle x994 on money in Indian
development, although this matter is contended). The state originates cur-
rencies; it mandates, regulates, and monitors the key transactions; and it is
the preemincnt store of wealth and the clearinghouse for debts in the econo-
my. It is no accident that libertarians still favor the gold standard, since gold
has been the single most comprehensively valued monetary substance, re-
gardless of political form, in currency history. Otherwise, all modern monies
rest on state backing to '"pay the bearer." For preindustrial states there are
also clear examples of state control of currencies, pools of wealth, and kinds
of uansactions. The Bible, for example, describes the temple as a storehouse
for gold and the locus of people's transactions in their own persons in rela-
tion to ritual status, such as pledging and redemption. far more wealth
seems devoted to these purposes than to a mundane transactional economy.
Our anthropological theory of money is not always clear enough on the
separability of the classic functions of money to suggest to those of us in dif-
ferent regional scholarships that we may be using the common corpus dif-
ferently. For example, Crump defines money in terms of paymenr-"The
phenomenon of money is manifest in a particular kind of event, called 'pay-
ment'"' ( 1981:3)-but then goes on to suggest that the asymmetry of each
transaction can be cumulatively redressed by circulation, which may result
in hierarchies or equality, depending on second-order social and cultural at-
tributn to transactions. On the other hand, the idea of payment does entail
asymmetry, where exchange docs not, so where one starts makes a differ-
ence to wlut remains to be explained. How we link inherited concepts to
the empirical world cannot entirely determine the account of that world,
buc it aruinJy shapes what is elaborated and what is passed over in !iilcnce.
A rrturn to tM history of monetary theory in anthropology and beyond,
and me differmt reasona for and implicarion• of turning to one emphasis
OYer   could be Uldul for all of m. CenainJy this collection has pro-
voked me to think '°· Localizing 1tratcgin may be one reason that Krith
r
COMPARISONS AND EQUIVALENCIES 145
Hart, in what remains one of the most important contributions to the an-
thropology of money, sees us as vacillating theoretically between equal and
unequal, market-mediated and state-regulated, emergent and mandated cul-
tures and practices of monetary transactions. His own position is that all
systems shift, creating different permutations and combinations of transac-
tional relationships. With a political-economic approach in which the con-
ditions that generate inequality and control are central, he advocates look-
ing at eras "when the environment is especially uncertain," including the
"shifting hierarchy of credit relations that make up modem markets," when
hierarchical powers tend to assimilate greater control, by comparison with
"conditions (that) grant low-level agents considerable autonomy" (Hart
1986:649, 651, 649). Bloch and Parry, in contrast, look at the meanings of
monetary transactions as "a product of the cultural matrix" ( 1989:u ).
Money is not explainable in terms of economic functions because its mean-
ings emerge from situational definition and constant renegotiation among
people about their own relative value, that is, from precisely the relatively
autonomous participation by agents in their own social lives to which Hart
alludes. These Melanesian papers find their touchstone in Bloch and Parry;
our own (Guyer 199 5c) veered more toward Hart.
Both are clearly relevant. The "people's economies" of the present, in
both Melanesia and Africa, will continue to create assets and values at some
kind of tangent to state and banking systems, which are unlikely totally to
incorporate them, not through limitations on power but through disintt"rcst
in the levels of profit they might offer. So it is far from an antiquarian or ex·
otic proiect to clarify both the concepts and the ethnography, as this volumt
invites us to do.
We perhaps confuse ourselves, or engage in fruitless mutual im:omprc·
hcnsion, if our implicit "default models" of the mosr basic function of mon-
ey differ-as this comparative review has persuaded me may well be thC'
case. Money would not be defined in such a complex four-function fa&hion,
nor would it have such a vast and checkered social history, if it WC'rt n<>1 one
of the most polyvalcnt of human inventions. In one scnJC it is a breathtak-
ingly ambitious proiect chat we set out, simply by defining   and
African currencies, the green back, and the .. Euro .. u pan of the 11nv do-
main. It is no wonder that we struggle with the concepts, the comparisons,
and the ethnography. ft is useful, then, to face the multiplicity of 1taning
points and pathways squarely and dir«tly, to rry looking for common or
overlooked processes, and to revisit old H critically u bdng
invited to write this comparative note has challmged mt ro do.
2 s 2 Notes to Pages I 4 6-7 I
kula objects per se. Billy operates in the kuln as a capitalist and therefore must follow the op-
posite strategy. Damon forgets thnt. being enmeshed in nn indigenous institution, Billy could
not escape being tied into social relationships. Damon's own data suggest that even Muyuw
actors may become enthralled by object fetishism. Thus, he reports that a person may threat-
en to commit suicide in kuln negotiations because his '"desire for a kula valuable is greater
tiuin his desire to live" ( 1993:15 1, n.1 5). Another man, he notes, '"went crazy" over a cenain
renowned kula valuable (151, n.11).
1 1. Entirely new fonns of limited currency could appear in such relationships as the fol-
lowing comment shows: '"A novel feature of tax collecting at both Rossel and Sudest is the
fact that most of the payments are made hy checks issued by both Mr. Arbuin and Mr. Os-
borne. As the checks are retained by the natives for many months in some instances the sys-
tem seems to me to amount to a kind of onificial currency" (Vivian 19 3 1 ).
11. Cash and trade goods have also entered mortuary exchanges on Woodlark (Damon
1989:85-86). Goodenough (Young 1989:187). Panaeati (Bcrde 1974:178). Misima (Whiting
1975:151-74) and Sabarl (Banaglia 1990:170, 178).
13. Gregory came closest to the explanation when he said, .. The greater the penetration
of commodity exchange through cash cropping, the greater must be the efflorescence of gift
exchange to neutralize the corrosive effects of commodity production on indigenous land
tenure" (1981:19.z.). But this was in a context of Enga participation in the exchange to gain
allies to defend don territory in war.
6. "Money and the Morality of Exchange Among the Kwanga, East
Sepik," by Karen Brison
1. A few people told me that the Kwanga had once used shell valuahlcs as p:irt of presta-
tions and m:irriage exch:ingcs. But I never saw any shell money and, as for as I know, u was
no longer in use. People occasionally included state currency in prest:it1ons, presumably in
pince of shell money.
i.. People generally purchased pigs from two neighboring vill:iges. which bordered on a
large, unoccupied area of bush. Although I never asked why these villages kept more pigs
than other villages, I suspect it was because they had access to more land, so there w:is less
damage from pigs' breaking into gardens.
3. The Councilor was an elected official whose chief funcnon was to attend regional meet-
ings of village councilors in order to convey information from the central     to the
village. As far as I know, however, he did not get his ideas ahout tradestores and exchange
from these meetings.
7. "Objects, Relationships, and Meanings," by Andrew Strathenz
and Pamela]. Stewart
1. Our argument here may seem to repeat the suggestion that New Guinea Highlands so-
cieties were preadapted to capitalism (see finncy 1973 ). It is nor, however., meant to appl)· in
such a broad way; rather, we mean to pinpoint a specific process of change in which new
transactions impinged on earlier symbolic strnctures and produced a historical pathway. The
relatively benign processt'S of commoditization, inflation, an<l abandonment of categories of
shells over rime in the Highlands, resulting in the conquest of arenas of value expression by
money, can be compared with the persuasive account given by Gregory (1997:.2.33-62) of the
role and symbolic meanings anribured to cowries in Africa. While the phenomena in African
and Papua New Guinea hisrory are exactly comparable in terms of "the massive impon of
shells into Africa and their subsequent hyperinflation and demonetization,. (i.34)
1
other as-
r
Notes to Pages 176-87 153
. . h. and the slave trade
h r k between cowncs, kmgs 1p,
:i ar dissimilar, most notably t c hk o Ccce from Benin quoted by Gregory
  which underlies the narranve of K_ p carlshells and then soon afterward
Ill wCS ' . M H .. en from cownes to p . f h va\-
) The switches m ount ao f h ·ng indigenous pcrcepuons o t e
1_.s.H to money can be seen in terms o c d nassa shells became quickly o,,·er·
rrom r- . "fically that cownes an , ·
r different shell categories, spcc1 . f h" h they were used. Moneys SUC4XSS m
:;plied in terms of the small-scale reali1.ation that it was a mcdi·
tclipsing shells in general was a of t e 'n . an cxtcmal-capitahst and an intcrna\..ccrc·
um that could oper;ttc, as they thoug t, cqua y • the Australians had been able to buy
monial context, as shells could not. That is, _wh Mount Hageners realized they could
scn-lccs and goods from MountbHagenersdw1t s rvc from the Australians, whereas with
· th sc shells to o tam goo s or sc ,.
not in turn use e . \ th s be seen as driven by capita ist cam·
)' they could The whole h1stonca process can u f h .. h n b b-
and .demands for lahor and services leading od
blc" :is Gregory argues on the basis of work by Ian Hug es _140 · n ee . h
roccss has been corroborated by other writers and was pomted to_ tn Strat crn

71
b:io
7
-
1
1. Nevertheless, there is no equivalent in h1stonca\ cxpcncnce of
3
: association with slave trading. There is, however, an cqulValence m reasons for adopt·
· money that is that it was seen as a part of the power of the colomal state. Mount Hi·
ins ' • • · h b · · h h Us b t wthey
geners put this their way: white people had mckcd t y t cm s e , no .
knew better and would demand money. They thus attnbuted their enmeshment m the C3pt·
t:ilist economy to their own creative agency and resistive insight.
i.. This theme of reproduction and fertility is described m a foi myth about the origin of
pcarlshells recorded by Wi\liams (1977:314) and discussed by j. Weiner l1988:176-79),
which tells of a poor man who goes hunting and discovers '' secret local source of these shells.
f.xplicit in this story is the analogy of pearlshe\ls with eggs and reproduction (cf. Strathcm
1980). Shells are like eggs, since their forest-dwelling keeper is himself a bird-fowl man, with
both bird and human charnctcnsttcs. The myth shows some structural resemblances to the
Female Spirtt cult myth in Mount Hagen (but we cannot pursue these here).
conflict between generations is seen dearly in a scene from a 1995 film, A Dtath to
Pay For, which was made in Mount Hagen for the l\BC, with Andrew Strathcm llS anthropo-
logica\ consultant. A young man, Nikint, explains that he had made a garden by cutting into
the sacred site of the 1:emale Spirit cult, whose custodian, Ru, strongly objccttd to this action
but could do nothing to stop it. Nikint planted a peanut garden in order to harvest the null
and earn some cash. ln conversations off ·camera he made it very clear that he: and othff
young men felt -.·ery shon of land and that he had cut into the site as a against Ru.
Nikint's father, Reiya, also feels resentment against Ru for becoming a hig·man on land
claims dcri,·ed from Reiya, while Reiya himself remains a person of relative obscurity.
Ru has other conflicts also. An access road he built into a large area devoted to a potato·
growing proiect was repeatedly blocked by lineage kin who felt (incorrectly) that Ru was
making a large profit from his project. What at issue is not the of money as such
but the inequality of its possession, correlated in a new way with inequalities and Mlricrions
in the use of land. The concealment of wealth that is possible with money (and wn alw prac·
ticcd with pigs and shc\\s in the past) is another issue: Ru was suspected by Rciya of ..:on·
founding the bank accounts for the potato project and taking money for his own a charge
that Ru denied.
4. A pig of Ongka's was taken as the prototype for this. incidentally, since Andmv Stnnh-
em was a consultant on the choice of these items as well as on the naming of dlc currmcy it·
self in 197}·
s. During i 991 when the competitive rival Chrisli.an seas and mi.,al·
ist movements seemed to reach a crescendo. old friends of Andrew Strathcm '°far not
rized into this or that sect often approached him in private pualemcns., wamjng to know hia
1H Notes to Pages 2. 17-3 o
own view on the questions at issue. P11rle-Komh. for example. a middle-aged man wh<HC
chl1racter is both gentle and skcptical l1t the s;ame time. cook the opportunity of drawing him
into,, garden one Sunday when everyone else had gone ro church. to ask him what he
thought: •Evcryonc is saying the world will end." he noted, .. but they also give different esti-
mates of when rhis will h11rpcn, so whnt is your view?"
Andrew Strnthcm rcplit.-d thnt he did not know about this. I-le doubted 1f anyone tru-
ly did either. P.ule noddN, as though thi!> made sense to him. bur he knew it did nm resolve
his dilemma of whether to commit h1mscU speedily to one or other of the sects damoring for
local influence among his Kawclka people at the time.
Younger men lookC'<l for signs of the C'nd in urban events. One youth had said in the mid-
19805 thar he thoughr thC' sign of Jesus coming hack would he the appearance of computer\
in Mount Hagen rown; bur the computers arrived, and Jesus did not, and he was left to imag·
inc other prognostications. (On computers and bar codes on store goods see Strathcrn and
StC'Wart 1997b.)
9. "'In God We Trust?" by Robert]. Foster
I thank Douglas Dalton for his stimulating comments on an earlier version of this chapter.
The 'haptcr draws on research supported by the University of Rm:hC'stcr and the Sprncer
Foundation. The data presented, tht• statements made, and the views expres!ted arc the !ioOle
rrsponsibilit)' of the author.
1. It is dC"ar from Akin's discussion that this is not always the case. Indeed, 111 M>mc ca!in,
it is precisely the strength of social relations that cnahles people to forgo conventional prohi-
bitions against, for example, selling rice to kinspeoplc for small lengths of kofu.
1. And herC' it is important to emphasize again that PNC; state-issued currencies have
changcJ their form frequently-nor only in response to shifts in colonial administration but
also in m\llllC'r, less ohvious ways. The design of fifty-toca coins has hecn used to commemo-
rate t'VC'nts such as the South Pacific Games in 199.i., nnJ recently, paper rwo-kina notes havC'
been rC'pl.1cC'd hy longC'r-lnsting plastic two-kino notes. (I can onl>• wonder what MandC" and
01her Muunt Hageners might mnkc of the small   hole in one of 1hc honom cor-
nen of the bill.)

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