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The Body in the Gift: Memory and Forgetting in Sabarl Mortuary Exchange Author(s): Debbora Battaglia Source: American

Ethnologist, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 3-18 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: Accessed: 14/10/2009 09:06
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the body in the gift: memory and forgetting in Sabarl

mortuary exchange

DEBBORA BATTAGLIA-Mount Holyoke College

In contemporary writings on "social memory,"' much has been made or accepted of the distinction between inscriptive (textual) and performative (embodied, dramatically enacted) cultural traditions. Typically, as Connerton observes in a recent study of social memory and commemoration, scholars regard inscribed traditions as the "traditional subject of hermeneutics" (1989:4): statement-making social texts, defined and interpreted (often apolitically) by interestedpartieswhose participation in the hermeneutic process is acknowledged to the extent that their own relation to the subject (the text or its inscribers) is represented as dialogic. This approach to inscribed social practices is inherently constructivist; it is tied to the value interpretersplace on the observable marksor "traces" of an act and on their apprehension of these traces as "evidence" (1989:13). Linkingthe general allure of traces to the goals of historical reconstruction, Connerton identifies some serious distortions in our understanding of traditional practices and their transmission. Specifically, he notes the scholarly neglect of "embodied" or noninscribed social practices and of the "habits" of conduct transmitted "in and as a tradition" (1989:4)-that is, of the "culturally specific postural performances [that] provide us with a mnemonics of the body" (1989:74). Such embodied social practices, having as their modus vivendi less the entrapment of informationthan the release of information at the moment of interaction, Connerton terms, conventionally, "incorporating" practices. We can appreciate the social consequences of such practices only if we recognize how the performance experience makes collective events memorable to the participants.The appeal of Connerton's argument lies partly in the room it leaves for reexamining embodied images as experienced phenomena in cultural performances (see, for example, Bruner1986; Kapferer1986; Rosaldo 1986; Turner 1982; Wagner 1986) and for revaluingthe affective and cognitive dimensions of mnemonic efficacy (Boyer 1990; Freedberg 1989). In ascribing a central function to embodiment in the work of cultural transmission, Connerton and others profoundly challenge the view that incorporated practices are merely settled for in societies "lacking" literacy (Bourdieu 1977:186-187). Yet setting out the problem as an opposition between lasting, disembodied "historical reconstruction" and ephemeral, embodied "social memory"-itself a reproduction of the terms in which Halbwachs (1980[1925]) introduced the subject of social memory to the social sciences early in this century-is problematic, and needs to be critically reexamined in the light of non-European examples and indigenous notions and uses of inscription in predominantly

In casting gift exchange as an inscriptive performance of embodied gender relations, the Sabarlof Papua New Guinea reveal an indigenous valuation of forgetting as a willed transformationof memory and resist the opposition between inscribed and enacted cultural traditions that is so pervasive in the anthropological literature on social memory. Sabarl mortuaryexchanges that feature "corpses" of gendered wealth serve here as a case in point. [exchange theory, gender performances, embodiment, memory and forgetting, Melanesia, mortuary rituals]

the body in the gift

oral (aural)societies. Drawing on my experience with Sabarl islanders of Papua New Guinea, I thus argue that there is much to be gained by querying the radical dichotomization of "social memory" and inscribed social history and, by extension, the oppositional relation of performative to inscriptive cultural acts. The case is particularlyclear in societies such as that of the Sabarl, where gift exchange is the central mode of social reproduction and where exchange performances culturally inscribe crucial social categories as "working" political relations. Focusing on commemorative exchanges and the gender values they establish as a matter of "custom," I hope to suggest how our own analytic constructs may be leading us to the wrong conclusions about social memory, as about exchange transactions and social personhood.

an ethnographic orientation
The Sabarl, who number approximately 1200, inhabit three small islands in the eastern Calvados Chain (or Saisai) island region, which is part of a great archipelago extending off the southeasterntip of the New Guinea mainland, in what is known from ethnography as the southern Massim culture area.2 Social relations in this region are established mainly through exchanges of nurtureand wealth among persons whose primarysocial identities are as members of their matriclans. However, the distribution of just a handful of matriclans throughout the region combines with a marriagerule of clan exogamy to set up a fundamental tension between clan- and place-based allegiance. Thus, for example, descent patterns are "matrilineal" to the extent that the idiom of shared maternal blood, and experiences derived from the recognition of consanguineal ties, figure in constructing relational histories of greater tenacity than those derived from allegiances either to "place" (hamlet, village, or island of origin) or to affinal kin. Observing this dynamic elsewhere in the southern Massim, Thune notes how "the mortuary cycle articulates various different dimensions of these unresolvable contradictions" (1989:173), as people ritually perform their claims to land, portable wealth, and dependents controlled or owned by the deceased and as they formally sever ties of dependency between clans related through the dead person (see also Munn 1986). Indeed, throughout the Massim, mortuaryexchanges are central occasions for creating by this process the orienting "ground" of social relatedness (see especially Damon and Wagner 1989; Munn 1986; Weiner 1976). Thus, the prevailing state of social relations, including the value placed on particular histories of relationship and estimations of their future significance, becomes a matter of public record primarilyon mortuaryoccasions. Characteristically,this record is performed as a manipulation of the body of the dead person in the form of wealth substitutes. Inother words, taking the body as the orienting image, these exchange events function as temporary memorials, culturally inscribingsocial relationship as an ephemeral coherence "located" in the particularperson being honored in his or her physical absence (see also Strathern1990). Mortuaryexchange feasts, known as segaiya, are the most important and elaborate cultural events of the Sabarl islanders. Today there are typically three major feasts, performed as a series that begins shortly after the funeral and continues for a number of years. The feasts are invariably performed in sequence, and while certain events dating "from ancestral times" are combined or abbreviated, none is intentionally omitted. The time between feasts and their scale depend partly on the available resources-the supplies of sago, yams, and water, the availability of key persons, their access to food and object wealth, and so forth-and partly on the history of relations between the dead person's maternal kin and those suing for release from affinal obligations. The organizers of commemorative feasts (who may be male or female, particular persons or groups of siblings) rely on close kin and trading partnersfor the wealth items they will need to sponsor and contribute appropriately to mortuaryexchanges. The borrowing and lending of these social necessities create relationship histories that establish, or weaken, the social solidity and political reach of both women and men.

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Although various sacred rituals and distributions of food are part of every mortuary event, the "foregrounded"events of segaiya3 are ritualized exchanges in which women and men display and transact their "complementary" (gaba) forms of food and object wealth. On these occasions the categorical differentiation of masculine wealth and modes of productivity from their feminine counterparts is striking-particularly by contrast to the everyday pattern of work that Sabarl label "sabsabarl." Sabsabarl refersto the practice of women doing the "hard" work of men, such as sailing large canoes for ceremonial or subsistence trade and working in the sago groves, and of men helping women with their work, especially in the yam gardens but also as agents in their off-island trade for domestic or subsistence items. Though men and women alike construe sabsabarl work patterns as an adaptive response to life in an isolated place with majordeficiencies in natural resources, their effect is to make possible the surpluses of sago, yams, and wealth that are the mainstay of mortuaryfeasting. Sabarl say that working sabsabarl distinguishes them positively from their neighbors and demonstrates that they are generally "stronger"(ignoring the fact that men are somewhat diminished in the eyes of other men by doing women's work). But more to the point here, the effect is to positively reframe a problematic necessity, such that the Sabarl regularly practice a dual recognition: that human capacities and behavior are detachable from sex, and that gender is mutable on the level of social as of subsistence survival. Sabarl say, "Some birds can swim, some fish can fly." Mortuary events that dramatize gender-distinct, complementary spheres of production and exchange must be understood in the context of this competing reality and the cultural process of valuation it problematizes.

the trace of the gift

Sabarl regardforegrounded segaiya exchanges as acts of "remembering" persons who have died. Yet they indicate explicitly that the overall goal of segaiya is "forgetting" both the dead and the debts that survive them as lingering impressions of their exchange histories. The "work" of forgetting is in turn cast as a procedure of removing all "traces," "marks," or "evidence" (muina)of a social existence: in the local idiom, as a procedure of "finishing" (imwa) the memory. I turn shortly to some of the exchanges that make up this process. But first let us consider indigenous views of the relation of traces to giving and indebtedness. Although remembering and forgetting occupy a central place in manifest ideation, the Sabarl have no concept of "memory" as a faculty. The term paganuwohasik, "place/object of or for remembering," is used to mean "memory," "remembrance," or "memorial." In Sabarl usage it conveys the notion of a convergence and mooring of different human perspectives in space and time; significantly, the term paga also translates as "custom," in reference to localizedor, more exactly, locatable-cultural practices. A social action of literally "keeping in mind" (nuwohasik), "remembering" is significant to the Sabarl primarilyas a means of applying in the future something of value in the past or present, of thinking ahead and selectively projecting forward (see also Munn 1986; Wagner 1986). Conversely, to "forget" (nobunbunen) is to lose sight of or let go of places or objects connected to the past or to the future. Incontrast to words, which in the local view are unreliable and unstable vehicles of memory, material wealth and the gift exchange performances that incorporate it are highly valued as "memories," and they are very closely associated with their donors. The gift, as a memory, objectifies the subjective experience of relationship. More than an investment in the physical and social growth and strength of others (and thereby in the donor's own self), the "memory" manifested as the gift coordinates the different life trajectories and perspectives of the donor and the recipient while creating a new point of orientation from which to develop their relationship. Sabarl men and women extend themselves as objects of memory through what they give away, and they are recognized by others in their gifts as an absent presence. Inother words,

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giving, as an act of displacement, has the potential to create an impression of the donor in the mind of the recipient and to leave its mark on the recipient's social domain. Indeed, much giving is motivated by the hope that others will "think about" the donor when he or she needs material support for some future project. But by the same token, giving creates a "debt" (vaga), a subjective recognition of the social consequences (the potential realignments of power and extent of encumbrances) created by the transferof something of value according to "custom." A debt is a "memory" removed. The invisible artifact of a gift's displacement, debt is the label given to the shared expectations of returnsthat converge on the invisible trace of the connection created between people by giving. Inthis sense a debt is no less a "memory" than the materially marked transaction that gives rise to it. Indeed, debt awareness is the gift's intrinsically temporal dimension, a cultural emblem of the extension of the relationship into the future. For the Sabarl, then, so long as a debt is "held in mind" the donor is "present in absentia" (Todorov 1981:13) in the gift and the debt. It follows that when, for example, persons travel from island to island in search of wealth-or when their names do, linked by intermediaries with objects of wealth-they generate "paths" (hiyela) of exchange by establishing connections (that is, from their presence or substitute presence). But they also establish the potential for significant absence (debt)-the "negative trace" of relationship (a debt, in other words, is a future gift). Once established, indebtedness engenders "shame" (mwalina). A culturally elaborated affective syndrome (see Battaglia 1990 for further discussion), shame is the "child" of gift exchange asymmetries and, as I discuss later, perhaps the ultimate object of the transformation of memory known as "finishing." In sum, social life among the Sabarl revolves to a large extent around nurturantgestures and prospective returns,conceived as acts of remembrance that are inseparablefrom acts of indebtedness and shame. Theirfusion is the problem that must be acted upon in mortuaryexchanges.

foregrounded actors
Segaiya exchanges focus on the person who has died and on three figures who represent the core of his or her social world: the father's, mother's, and spouse's matriclans. In the following ethnographic sketch I refer to the death of a notable man, which in the Sabarl view best exemplifies mortuary"custom." The PaternalClan Representative. Representing his father's clan as senior affine is the special patrilateralcross-cousin (a FZSor FZD)with whom the dead person shared a ritualized feeding relationshipthroughout most of his lifetime. He called this cousin (male or female) "my father" (tamau)and was called by him or her "my child" (natu), in reference to the bond of affectionbased (ratherthan duty-based) giving that characterized their relationship (see Battaglia 1985). When the "child" was ill, the "father" would present him with gifts of food and wealth "to make him strong again." At the death of his or her "child," the cousin "father" assumes the title of tohan segaiya, "segaiya eater." It is the tohan segaiya who attends to the corpse-the bodily "memory" of the "child"-burying it and then, as we shall see, consuming it symbolically as wealth. The Maternal Clan Representative. Senior members of the maternal matriclan who sponsor mortuaryexchange feasts are known as totonewaga (singular, tonewaga). Representingthis unit is the chosen clan heir-most commonly the sister's son or surviving senior sibling of the deceased-who is someone the dead man was expected to support and "look after" (matahasik) and who supported him politically in return. He would frequently have substituted socially or have worked for the deceased, and he must now take responsibility for publicly overriding the generational rupturethat has occurred-by, for example, taking the dead man's name or otherwise symbolically collapsing the social distinctions between them.

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The heir's duties consist mainly of "looking after the memory" of the person: coordinating prestations of memorial wealth and organizing the schedule of activities for the three major clanic groups. The memory of his performance at the segaiya will endure in place of the dead; indeed, throughout his lifetime the heir will be associated with the person he served. In short, the heir is in a position to override the consumption of bodily memory undertaken by the senior affines. The Widowed Spouse. Representing the junior affines, or totolamwau (singular tovelam), is the widowed spouse. Her affinal position would always have placed her in service to her husband's senior clanspeople and have bound her own junior relations to support them materially with food and object wealth (muli, or material affinal support) on ceremonial occasions. She displays her self-effacement to them now in her mortuaryidentity as primarymourner. She also displays her "shame": the social awareness of inferiority which for Sabarl is inherent in any condition of indebtedness and is deeply embedded in the relation of junior affines to the senior persons who supplied them with a spouse. Thus, her skin masked entirely by charcoal paint, the widow is the living image of the human vacancy to which the death of her husband has reduced her in the eyes of her husband's clan seniors, who will symbolically slay her, and of affinal seniors, who will symbolically consume her.

foregrounded wealth
It is critical to recognize that the wealth items featured in segaiya exhibit in their physical propertiesthe temporal dimension of Sabarl exchanges, as gender distinctions. Durable things are counted and exchanged individually. Included in this category are certain comestibles (pigs and sago bundles) as well as "valuables" (gogomwau) of stone, shell, or wood (especially canoes, "greenstone" ax blades, chama shell necklaces, beaded limesticks, and to a lesser extent money), procured through political exchange partnershipsand associated predominantly with masculine productivity and "men's work" in "path" transactions. Relatively ephemeral things are economically valued and exchanged in bulk on particularoccasions, then come to rest in the domestic sphere. Included in this category are garden produce (especially yams) and bulk wealth "piles" (palo) of "things too numerous to count" (especially coconut-leaf skirts, pandanus mats and baskets, cloth, dishes, pots, and Europeanutensils), manufacturedor purchased by women and associated predominantly with feminine productivity and everyday "women's work." The qualities of these two kinds of wealth, as Foster has observed in speaking of the Tanga of New Ireland Province, "are not simply fortuitous features, . . . like the colour of paper currency, but ratherproperties inseparable from the recognition of the objects as valuable, as significantly different" (1990:64). Thus, whereas both kinds of objects are embodiments of memory that mark out the major social exchanges of segaiya, their qualities of being more or less durable establish differential value capacities for masculine and for feminine wealth as markers of political futures. For example, durable, unit-value things are said to "draw" people to them without the intervention of human agency. Sabarl consider the centrally important item of durable wealth, the stone ax blade, to be not an artifact at all but a natural object formed in river estuaries far away. The challenge for human actors is thus to appropriate and manage the (natural) magnetism of the object, a magnetism embodied in stone (and in shell) as artifacts of the "intercourse"of ("hot," masculine) salt water with ("cool," feminine) fresh water. Sabarldraw an analogy with, respectively, grease and bones in the human fetus, products of sexual intercourse and embodiments of the life-generating properties of semen (see also Battaglia 1983, 1990). Ephemeral wealth has no such magnetic quality and represents no such challenge. Rather,it displays "the anonymous, modest presence" (Miller 1987:101 ) of a frame (in this case a spatiotemporal frame) for the distinguished durables. The "humble common object from

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everyday life" (1987:101), ephemeral wealth is itself foregrounded in exchanges that fall before and afterthe durable-wealth exchanges that effectively dramatize its supportive role. Ephemeralwealth loses its function as a memory outside the exchange context in which it serves as a frame. Durable objects meanwhile continue as memories; debts created or cancelled by means of durable objects may remain associated with them in various contexts of use. Thus, it makes cultural sense that women's wealth, to be replaced (returnedto those who gave it) in futuresegaiya exchanges, must be manufactured afresh each time it is needed: the objects embody in their material properties the transformation of memory that is forgetting, creating the physical boundary of memory and forgetting. Men's wealth is replaced likewise, but the use of the same items in other contexts (as compensation in dispute settlements, as bridewealth payments, and the like) embeds in these objects as memories a particularhistory of circulation. The crucial point to recognize here, as observed and developed by Strathern(1988) in her study of Melanesian cultures (see also Butler 1990), is the way in which these forms of wealth prefigurethe gender relations performed in mortuaryexchanges. For these exchanges enact a working distinction that not only inscribes gender, in everyday life a negotiated, discursively qualified identity, as a matter of public record, but also designates the "performed text" (to borrow Kapferer'sconcept) of segaiya an object of and for social memory in these gendered terms. The point becomes clearer as we turn to consider the construction and deconstruction of "bodies of wealth" in segaiya. With characteristic insight, Strathernhas remarked that "in a world where social relations are the object of people's dealings with one another, it will follow that social relations can only turn into (other)social relations, and social relations can only stand for (other) social relations" (1988:172). She continues: "Where objects take the form of persons, actions and activities necessarily reveal the person in turn as a microcosm of social relations" (1988:173). The Sabarl transforma (dead) body of social relations into another (living) body of social relations at particularsegaiya exchange events in which wealth is configured as a human "corpse" (gimbane). Likeall major segaiya exchanges, "corpse" exchanges are conducted inside or in the shadow of the dead person's residence. In precolonial times the house would have marked the site of the grave, dug directly beneath it.4 Along the lines suggested earlier, the "corpses" of segaiya "come into being in and through the mark(s) of gender" (Butler 1990:8) in dramatic exchanges of masculine and feminine wealth.5 Sabarlpoint to the homology of conception images: human beings are said to be composed of the red blood of their mothers and the white blood of their fathers, transformed into body partsand "grown" and sustained both before birth and afterwardby foods seen as "complementary" products of masculine and feminine energies. In one sense, then, the substitute "corpse" is a performed "restoration" (see Schechner 1985; Turner 1982) of the dead, a new, substituteform of person as memory. Yet the matter is not that simple. The First"Corpse." On the day following a person's death, a helmet-shell trumpet signals that the funeraryevent known as Solu, or Appeasement, has begun. The cousin "father," the tohan segaiya, is preparingthe body of the deceased for burial:washing, oiling, painting, scenting, and dressing the corpse, sealing its orifices, and creating overall an illusion of health and social prestige. This fabrication is worth noting, since what the tohan segaiya actually creates is the "image" (kanukanunu, the shadow or reflection of an animate-category being) that will travel to the afterworld as the appearance of the "soul" (yalowane). The black and white clanic insignia (called hun, or "matriclan") painted on the face are especially important.Sabarl refer to all sets or sequences of inscribed, iconic "marks" (muina) as "our writing"(luluwoli). This label conveys a charged political awareness: marksof this kind (on ceremonial objects, canoes, houses, churches, and so forth) are regarded as signs that the productive activities associated with them-and the marks themselves-are legitimate in the same sense as the European-style knowledge and productivity that alphabetical writing has come to stand for. Thus, though Sabarl will say that they "read" the figurative forms that can

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be discerned in a rock, or that they "read" the movement of the sun or the moon or stars as "marks"of myths that explain the celestial "paths," human acts of writing are appreciated as "a straightforward technique of secular political action, one whose prime value is repeated and surrogate communication of unambiguous meanings in a variety of situations" (Meggitt 1968:302); and this is so even when such acts serve a ritualfunction (see also Kulickand Stroud 1990). Likewise, matriclan spirits identify the soul by means of these inscriptions, which make of the face a kind of passport to afterworld society. However, the entire faux image, while masking the signs of bodily decay, is in fact composed in order to be recomposed in a revealing intertextual aside to the ritual action. En route to the afterworld, the painted spirit image, reeking of its contact with the putrefying flesh of the corpse, is "husked" from the soul by spirits of the matriclan.6This refuse is eaten by dangerous fish who will absorb the stench and the black and white markings into their skins. Meanwhile, a new image, that of a baloma, is baked onto the soul by other matriclan spirits. A baloma, or spiritof the dead, is said to have a permanent glow of health; it is eternally fragrantand its clothing and decorations never appear worn. But more important, a baloma "cannot remember" debts to the living and for this reason is said to be free of the worrisome and emotionally distressing elements of remembrance in the human mode-what Sabarl speak of as the "pain" of memory. As the spirit loses its markings, so it loses its memories and so its status as a memory is transformed. This future awaits even those persons who are victims of sorcery and whose corpses (belief has it) are exhumed on the night of the funeral, the flesh eaten and the fat discarded in the sea by cannibal spirits of living persons. Persons who have participated in such cannibal feasts suffer a different fate. Swallowed image and soul by a cannibal ancestor or in other ways totally annihilated, they "finish" as a memory.7 What we see here, underwritten by the positive value Sabarl ascribe to separation from various forms of materially constituted identity, is the production of a culturally congruent substitute form: a memory screen" (the figure of a baloma) in which can be recognized forgetting's constructive role in the creation of a new memory, a memory free (perhaps entirely independent) of the painfully evocative features of the dead individual. What we see, too, is the refuse of detachment (the reeking skin of the clan-marked individual) being cast upon the waters as the memory of mortality. In short, like those of other Massim societies, Sabarl beliefs emphasize positive outcomes from the cultural fact of the partibilityof social persons. The phenomenon of displacement and transformationthat is salient in mourning continues at the Solu funeral scene as a process of social reconstruction. Mourning women have gradually built up around the corpse a display of (mainly) ephemeral wealth to "fill his canoe" on the journey to the afterworld, though only as "images," for the physical objects will be quietly recovered by their owners while the body is being interred. This display is the wealth counterpartof the bodily illusion created by the tohan segaiya: in both, it is the image that has efficacy; the material form is the illusion that makes the image's efficacy apparent (see also Strathern 1990) and witnessable, that is, official. After the interment, the widow returns to her house and cries there quietly near the spot where the body of her husband once lay. Suddenly her sons and daughters appear at the doorways, apparently enraged and sobbing, sticks and boards in hand, and begin to batterthe walls and house supports. Lamps are shattered and floorboards splintered as onlookers gather at a distance, showing flickering signs of sympathy mixed with flinching uneasiness as valuable objects are dramatically demolished. Once, the house would have been destroyed completely. Among the Sabarlthis rarely happens today. However, this firstact of demolition is significant. In life, people are closely associated with their domestic structures-residential houses and yam houses-which are intimate extensions of their personal domains of productivity. These structuresare the twin centers of reproductive life, and Sabarl see them as salient "memories." To demolish one center is to shift attention to the other, in this case anticipating the final feast

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and the final destruction of the public memory of the person. Butthe devastation also represents an intensification of forgetting, as if to confront it. And from this time forward commemoration is cast as feasting: consumption in its positive and public aspect. The Second "Corpse." The main events of the next major exchange feast, Hanlekeleke (Repealing the Food Taboo), are prestations of wealth to the maternal and paternal clanspersons from members of the widow's group suing for release from affinal obligations. The exchanges begin inside the house of the deceased when women of the widow's group assemble piles of ephemeral wealth on the spot where the body once lay. Typically there are two piles, one for the tohan segaiya as a representative of the paternal clan and one for the maternal clan heir; these are claimed and removed on the spot. In this "corpse" of wealth, the ancestor is resurrected as separate returngifts to his parental sources. This resurrectionconstitutes the firstact in performingthe reversal of conception itself (see also Mosko 1985), and it projects materially separate futures for the clanic units once linked in marriage alliance. Note, then, that this "corpse," composed of only feminine products, is a pretext for social reconstruction which stands in synecdochic relation to the person. Indeed, all of the substitute "corpses" inscribe images of potential for "completing" the person as a memory in segaiya; all are also "screen memories" that elicit a temporary forgetting-an obviation-of cross-sex parts and productivities in another gender mode. The Third,Fourth,and Fifth"Corpses." The central emblematic exchange feast, called Moni, or Sago Pudding, is held from one to several years after the Hanlekeleke. It is officially opened by a delegation from the paternal clan, led by the tohan segaiya. The clan heir receives the delegation inside the dead man's house, where the tohan segaiya presents him with five ceremonial axes, named for his services as undertaker. The tohan segaiya's axes are placed on a path of mats behind an ax the clan heir has put there to "lead" the line. Then maternal clan supportersare called to "match" their ax blades against the "father's" on the path. When the maternal clan contributors have matched all five of the paternal clan blades, the heir removes the substitute blades to a hidden spot in the back of the house. At this juncture the clan heir summons the junior affine workforce to add their wealth to the path of mats. One by one, the affines enter the house and lay down wealth, announcing as they do which debt to the dead they are "forgetting" (publicly cancelling) or on whose behalf they are contributing and why; afterwardthey remain by the path. By the end there is a line of overlapping axes from junior affines behind the heir's leading ax on the path. In effect, the display of axes-largely an artifactof "forgotten" debt and its shame-is a fabricated "memory" of the maternal clan's continuing support force, aggressively imaged as the wealth weapons backing up the heir on this occasion. The concrete measure of his influence, they re-present social relations: relations that could well have preceded his birth, could continue well beyond his death, and must now be marked and witnessed. In short, this is a moment of no little political truth in a Melanesian society where persons oftener than not achieve renown by virtue of their histories of persuasiveness and decisiveness at critical moments. However, the action on the path of mats is influenced not only by the compelling attributes of the heir but also by his performance as the present embodiment of an ancestral personage. It is this convergent personhood, achieved by pulling together historical relationships and sequences of commitments and ordering them as overlapping moments of support, that is constructed in the artifactprocession as a memorial of the occasion. Sabarl liken the "line" of wealth to a procession of supporters moving along a path behind their leader, "evenly spaced, orderly," "all of them heading in the same direction," not "confused" or "mixed up" (galawin). More than strength in numbers, the image conveys unified, coordinated, masculine movement, and like all concrete images it is considered the "mark"of "mind" (nuwatu), suggesting for Sabarl the mental organization or forethought characteristic of leadership. The heir, as leader, must transform discrete relationships and discrete objects into a public display of collective strength at this time. In the line of wealth we also see material


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evidence of how men appropriate, re-image, and "direct" or "straighten out" (logugui) women's wealth, with the result that it becomes not a freestanding aesthetic and economic force but a "support"for their own mode of productivity (the procession of durable objects). Such relationships between male and female-equal and complementary, unequal and rivalrous-are expressed and constituted, constructed and deconstructed, throughout the segaiya series. At this point, with the wealth of the living on display, the dead are approached for their donations. Taking up the five maternal clan axes that were matched to the tohan segaiya's-including a miniature "mother" and "father" blade tucked into the binding of one of them-the heir quietly and behind the scenes sets about building yet another "corpse" of wealth, propping the axes up against one another to form a kind of pyramid by balancing them on their blades and points. He places the tovelam wealth around this construction and then uses a mat as a screen for the "corpse," which is left alone to reproduce magically, at its discretion, more ax blades. In short, the "corpse" is invested with the capacity of a living body: gendered and performative,even spontaneously, discursively so, it reveals itself as anything but an inert, passive object. Laterin the afternoon, the "corpse" is disassembled and the wealth is moved to the path and again laid out on top of it and counted. "Path" wealth conveys the central rhetorical theme of this feast, and of the entire segaiya enterprise: that paternal care (in undertaking, as in life) substantively makes the person (the ancestor, as a material presence); but, as foreshadowed in the story of afterlifetransformations, it does so only through the reconstructive agency and substitutive capacity of the maternal clan. Here, the corporate body (the wealth on the path) is depicted as the material out of which the particularsocial person (the "corpse") arises as an ancestor; its later presentation to the ritual "father"will complete the deconception of the person. Meanwhile, another "corpse," this time a food display, is assembled by junior affines in the public area behind the house. This corpse is a massive display of comestible and bulk wealth. The widow and junior affines are seated around it, partof the display. Thus, the widow and her supporters, bulk wealth and food-that is, all valuable people, things, and food subordinated to more highly ranked people and durable objects, along with the "memories" of transient affinal shame-are offered up for consumption. Frominside the house the maternal clan heir suddenly appears at the back door, armed with a ceremonial ax, his male clan followers behind him. The clansmen rush down the ladder into the clearing, brandishingvaluables (including the axes that made up the magical "corpse") and tossing them onto the ritual foods or leaning them up against the seated widow and her circle. They sometimes gesture as if to cut the widow's neck before relinquishing an ax blade to her (see also Battaglia 1983). The intermingling of food and wealth creates a new "corpse," one that is all-gendered but also "jumbled" or "mixed up," it is said, like the parts of a forming fetus not yet "come to place" (not yet a coherent bodily form). As such it is an image of potential generativity (indeed, one of the displays of uncooked yams is symbolic of unborn children). In this situation, masculine wealth comes to be "ruled" by the dominant feminine aesthetic of the junior affines; as such, it joins in the display of pollution and shame of the widowed spouse. This "corpse" too is concocted to be decocted. As the heir and the other maternal clanspeople retreat,the tohan segaiya prepares to collect what is owed him for his past gifts of nurture and for his services as undertaker. One by one, he approaches persons in the widow's circle and removes the valuables leaning up against them, returningwith the wealth to his group at the edge of the clearing. In this grand act he disassembles the defunct marital alliance as a relationship with a future (a "pregnant" relationship). Thus, it is the process of subtracting wealth-an enactment of bodily partibilityas a counteraction of gender obfuscation-that effectively "finishes" the taboo on the widow's engaging in sexual relations. So too begins anew the process of redesignating "the apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established" (Butler 1990:1 74). Cleaned and dressed in a new fiber skirtwhich is then trimmed by a female tohan segaiya, the widow is reborn to social and sexual life. The knife lifts her

the body in the gift


hemline as she stands, leaving on the ground a ring of fiber out of which she steps to have her face painted with the designs appropriate to a newborn child. After the polluted bulk wealth has been removed together with the ritual foods, the tohan segaiya makes a final tally of what he or she has received, laying out the durable, unit-value items (gogomwau) on a "path" composed of skirts just liberated from the mourning affines. This final tally is what circulates through the interisland community when people speak of the success or failure of the Moni: it is the quantitative "memory" of the event. Significantly, only one item of bulk wealth (the skirts)and only the blades of the ceremonial axes-their economically reproductive component-are on display at this moment: more than redaction, memorability requires abstraction. Yet this adumbration of gendered wealth is interesting beyond its function of carryinga memory forward in oral history. Forthe path of wealth advertises that the decomposition and recomposition of ongoing social potential (and not of social cohesiveness) have been achieved. Justas the current owners and recipients carry away this evidence of corporate dismemberment, so each item, each trace of this memorial record, will carry with it into future use (domestic use for feminine wealth, political use for masculine wealth) a latent text of this event and these relationships. TheSixth "Corpse." The feasts of Vetantanand Gebyuwas, which are usually combined, may follow many years after the Moni. Vetantan,or For Crying, revolves around one primarydistribution, in which the maternal clan heirs present pieces of raw pork and sago cake to women of the widow's group. These gifts acknowledge the psychic pain and the "work" of mourning. Porkand sago cake served in this way are called genita-"human flesh"-and are said to be "payment for their eyes" or "like tears from their two eyes." An old woman told me, "One eye cries for the dead man's clan, one eye for the affines." Thus, the foods are consumable "memories" of the display of emotional distress. As people accept and later incorporate this "corpse," suffused as it were with their own emotional pain, they nurtureforgetting of both the affect and the shame of its exhibition.

a postscript on "finishing"
We have seen how for the Sabarl, forgetting is an accomplishment of remembering, an accomplishment that emerges from the mortuaryactors' concern with assembling food and object wealth in order to make a show of then disassembling and distributing them.9 However, it is not until the final feast, Gebyuwas, or Burn to Clear, which may take place many years after a person's death, that clanspersons themselves publicly "finish" their grief. They do so by distributing cultivated food from lineage gardens, pulling up from the roots the still growing "memory" of seed yams. Ownership or use of residential space is also formally settled at this time. On this occasion not the maternal clan heirs but the widowed spouse and the seveseve, the close kin junior affines (here, the man's children), take control. In large-scale, contestive performancesthey will sue for the rightto "look after" the dead man's most enduring property. But more than releasing the hold of the matriclan over the property of the deceased and freeing it up for use by the affines, this phase of commemoration "finishes" the spiritual and emotional hold his property still has over persons closely related to him. Sabarl "finish the memory" (for more on this notion see Battaglia 1990; Foster 1990; Munn 1986; Wagner 1986; Young 1989) by burning personal things which until this time have been stored inside the dead man's house and which, from their place in the eaves, have exerted the power of material reminders to "direct" the thoughts and behavior of the people living there. One of the dead person's own pigs, which "sleeps" inside the house the night before the feast and represents the person's corporeal remains at Gebyuwas, is burnt along with them. Thus are eradicated what Sabarl identify as the most painful memorials. The exchanges begin when the maternal clan heirs position themselves on the back-door veranda of the house, blocking the entrance with their bodies as if preparing for a siege. The


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impression is not inappropriate. Foroutside on the beaches a group of junior affines from each of the guest villages is organizing to storm the maternal clan stronghold with ephemeral wealth. They cut a sapling and hang it with items of bulk wealth. A "houseful" of garden produce and more sago bundles are amassed. Pigs are lashed to carrying poles and taken up onto the shoulders of the men. With the blast of a trumpet, the affines launch their assault on the heirs by "dancing" the emblems of their history of "affinal support" to the back-door veranda. Heading up the procession is a man with a spear called "Debt" (Vaga). As they near the house, the spear-bearer sends Debt over the heads of the maternal clanspersons and into the roof of the house. This act "kills" the relationship between the junior affines and the maternal clanspersons by symbolically "killing" the dead person-in one man's words, "so that he cannot get up to give again." Aggressively hurling food and wealth onto the platform, the affines then shout, "Eat!Eat!"In this way they enact their viability-Sabarl live so long as they can give-and moreover vengefully "finish," by supplying overwhelming counterevidence, the shame they acknowledged by accepting food at earlier feasts.1' The clanspersons retaliate by exactly matching each item of food with food from inside the house and returning it to the affines. The food the junior affines receive is thus exactly what they gave, but different. Yet whereas the affines can carry theirs away for future use, the maternal clan heirs have no future through their food: by feeding the villagers and guests, retaining only the ephemeral wealth, they "finish" what they have received. Laterin the ceremony the dead man's pig is burned and distributed. Afterwardthe clanspersons sing and dance through the night, "closing the place" with their "final drumming" (sidae mwemwenewa). People said that doing so was "like covering over the hole of the grave that the first feast opened." However, the effect is to create a clearance: no one will dance on this spot so long as they remember the event and the person it commemorates. Thus, although Sabarl themselves speak of "eradicating" (maleleka) the material "marks"left behind by their ancestors,1 and although they "forget"debt by deliberately blocking or cancelling it, "finishing" also creates a felt and active "absence" or "vacancy" (wasim). To repay the maternal clanspersons for dancing, the junior affines make yet another bulk wealth prestation, "emptying the house" of any contributions of theirs still stored within it. A large chunk of affinal sago is burned at this time, or occasionally at an additional feast, in an act known as Wasi Nakanaka, or Clearing the Yam House. As explained, this moment is "like planting time, when you don't need the yam house anymore. It is finished, like a person." The emptiness afterward is almost palpable.

It is importantto appreciate how for the Sabarl, the body of the dead contains and locates the problematic of memory's relation to inscription. The place/object of or for (re-)membering social relationships, the dead body is also the site of the transformingof such relationshipsof the "finishing" or forgetting or counterinscribing of relations-in the constructing of social futures from its gendered parts, presented as wealth substitutes. Overall, counterinscription here takes the form, to turn to local images, of burying or scattering or burning the things that concretize meaningful relationships, of "killing" them as observably coherent relationships (cf. Munn 1986; Wagner 1986). Social memory and forgetting are accessible to us to the extent that we understand their analogic relation to such transformative acts of partition, a relation which (as Strathernargues) is fundamental to the engendering of exchange in Melanesia (1988). Thus, to the extent that the partitioningof the body produces from its intended course a cultural imaginaryof gifts and debts-witnessable and felt traces, respectively-inscription for the Sabarl is essentially alienable from the feature commonly ascribed to it of stability in space: en-

the body in the gift


snared in social context but not permanently set, the imprintof exchange is always only a draft of a corrigible social reality which the physical person "locates" for a time as a coherencean image of society. We see then how the distinction between the inscribed and the noninscribed is of limited use to us in understandingthe indigenous pragmatics of such enacted texts. The distinction may actually obscure our appreciation of the place of inscription (and counterinscription), as indigenously defined and valued in exchange contexts, in performances of "living history" that constitute an ideology of personhood (see also Caton 1990:250). Indeed, it may be that we should look firstto recent high-quality, high-yield investigations of the differing biases of literate and oral cultures, particularlyas regardsvaluations, modes, and consequences of knowledge preservation (see, for example, Bourdieu 1977; Goody 1986, 1987; Ong 1982), for the sources of the lacunae in our understanding of social memory and forgetting. For acts of erasure and obviation and intentional non-preservation in general are rarely systematically explored in such works, just as in the literatureon social memory, "active," purposeful forgetting is rarely considered systematically (though one finds the genesis of an approach in some important nonanthropological works, notably Casey 1987; Lowenthal 1985; Smith 1985; Wright 1985). For the most part, if it is mentioned at all, forgetting in its social dimension is treated either as forgetfulness, an unintended "social amnesia" (Boyers 1985; Jacoby 1975; Rappaport 1990) that has potentially frightening or undesirable results-that is at the very least the enemy of knowledge-or else as a coercive weapon, implying forced compliance with official versions of the truth.While the issues it raises must be acknowledged and examined, this approach effectively excludes consideration of forgetting as a willed transformationof memory12and thereby also the possibility of a collectively performed forgetting that actually has constructive social effects.'" In short, such an approach blinds us to situations in which forgetting is linked to social reconstruction and cultural revaluation,'4 or further yet, in which persons actually approach forgettingas a desirable social goal. Gift exchange performances make such a process explicit in that they foreground objects which embody the relations to be forgotten and sequentially articulate the course of their transformation and substitution. It is in this sense, for example, that the Sabarl themselves problematize memory in performances of deconstructing gift-based relations located in a body which is only apparently dead, having been re-imaged as wealth substitutes whose images are their substance, through gendered giving and receiving. Iffor the Sabarl, then, forgetting the body as of society is a goal of gender performances and also a pretext of sexuality, we are faced with important questions concerning the latter, and concerning the necessity for distinctions we tend to view as essential for social, as for biological, reproduction. And if the recreated body is revealed as corporate (clanic) only insofar as its gendered parts are "alienable" (Weiner 1986), incorporation is itself revealed as a mirage of social memory, and not a thing or object at all. The question to which we return,then, is not why people in this part of the world do not typically erect stable memorials,'5 but what such forms would accomplish or, rather, to what they would reduce (constrain and formalize) a mourning process that takes positive forgetting as its goal-in short, what the consequences would be of not achieving forgetting concretely in a world of pervasive "memory."

I am grateful to Marilyn Strathern, Acknowledgments. Caseyfor theircomRoyWagner,and Edward mentson earlierdrafts of this article,but above all fortheirextraordinary vision. I also wish to thankthe

anonymous American Ethnologist readers for help in crafting the argument, and Don Brenneis and Kris

Fossum formuch-needed exceeded the boundsof duty. patienceand editorial delicacy:theirefforts 'Asdevelopedin the social sciences, the studyof "socialmemory" addressesproblemsin the "living and ongoingculturaltraditions of collectivitiesof persons,specificallyin oppositionto written history" and focus on timesof greatest contemhistory's singular authority change.Manyof the mostprovocative


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poraryworks have considered how cultural forms situate collective memory in time and space; some have looked at the reproduction of knowledge in the cultural performances and public representations of "oral" societies (see, for example, Boyer 1990; Kuechler 1987, 1988), others at popular cultural imagery in predominantly literateones (Debord 1977; Foucault, cited in Baker 1985:134; Lipsitz 1990; Lowenthal 1985; Popular Memory Group 1982; Wright 1985). Such studies vary in the extent to which they attempt to determine what precisely is retained and recalled and what is forgotten; they vary too in the extent to which they explore the personal and political motivations and intentions of social actors. Yet they all view memory and forgetting as a social phenomenon in which the past is reconstructed in the contemporary consciousness either of groups or of particularpersons (Popular Memory Group 1982:206). The present article shares this general orientation. the Sabarl occupy several islands in the eastern Calvados Chain (or Saisai) area of the Louis2Currently, iade Archipelago, but they continue to trace their ancestral roots to the coral atoll of Sabarl (more properly Gui). People of the Chain speak "event-dominated" Austronesian languages: Misima in the "lower" or western islands, Saisai in the "upper" or eastern islands, of which Sabarl is one. The Saisai language group remains the broadest unit of cultural identity for the Sabarl, and marriagestake place predominantly within it. While the focus here is on the Sabarl, they must be understood as being socially and culturally enmeshed in the Saisai "customs" through which cultural identity is enacted. I conducted fieldwork in the Saisai area between 1976 and 1986 in three separate visits totalling 18 months. "Becker(1979:223) uses the notion of foregrounding to indicate how certain parts of a scene in a dramatic performance are prolonged and thereby come to dominate other elements. As I use the term here, foregrounding is the general effect of a performed "mnemonic presentation" (Casey 1987:68-76), set off by its content as well as by the way the event is framed and by what Casey terms "aura": that is, the temporaryatmosphere and "imaginal margin" that present exchange events as culturally "held moments." Insofaras they act in general to efface existing relations and orders, such exchange events are lived icons of the process of manifest forgetting. 4By government order, graves are now located on hamlet or village peripheries, adjacent to residential sites. They are marked by rudimentarywooden crosses or else by small, temporary structureson the model of a yam house, and they are rarely repaired or replaced when they fall apart. 'As Butlerhas suggested in words that echo Strathern's(1988) on Melanesia, and as I wish to underscore here, "That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality" (1990:136). "Thunenotes for another southern Massim society that removing marks of historically created individuality, of which the skin is an encompassing image, "is necessary for all of the persons centrally involved in mortuarypractices if they are to become again, first and foremost, members of their own matrilineage" (1989:157). Strathernexplores the broader implications of such encompassment (1988:ch. 9). 70f course, this fate is invariably denied by reputed sorcerers' surviving kin, for whom the story lives on primarilyas an allegory of retribution. "Here I wish to note, in spite of reservations about abstracting such constructs from their social and historical contexts, Freud's concept of the "substitute formation" (1927:13n), which, he suggests, "screens" distressing memories in the individual's unconscious mind. For more on the notion of cultural screen memory, see Battaglia 1991. 9Theemphasis on partibility,decomposition, disassembling, and so forth is evident in mortuarypractices throughoutthe Massim, where particularemphasis is placed on symbolically consuming the dead body as food and as object wealth. Fordiscussion about the southern Massim in these terms, see Macintyre (1989), Thune (1989), and Young (1989). '"Notingthe larger implications of the prescription that affines give both food and object wealth on such occasions, Liep (1989:232-233) remarks on how the "delayed exchange of like for like" tends to "neutralize" hierarchy in southern Massim societies. "The examples given were erasing a mark, unravelling a basket, and "throwing out" or destroying the contents of a house. '2However, Casey notes Nietzsche's discussion of willed forgetting as a weapon in, paradoxically, the "struggleagainst the forces of forgetfulness" (1987:8). "Focusing on "retentions" and "protentions" in her discussion of witchcraft attempts, Munn discusses how Gawans (in the northernMassim) "stop witch-engaged event sequences by 'finishing' the continuative power of hidden anger" (1990:13). Her point is that "not all historical operations continue the past into the present (or into the future): some procedures attempt to cut off undesirable pasts felt to be currently active" (1990:13). The pain of remembrance in Sabarl commemoration could not be strictly described as undesirable, since properly dealt with it forms the core of an exquisite aesthetic experience that Sabarl speak of as "heart-piercing" in its combined beauty and pain. '4Thisdimension is implicit in Sahlins' argument that, "informed by the received meanings of persons and things, people submit ... cultural categories to empirical risks" (1985:ix), as well as in Wagner's investigations of symbolic obviation in cultural practice (see especially 1978, 1986); also see Foster's argument that in the matrilineal Tanga Islands of New Ireland Province "the lineage is a practical reality only in so far as it materializes in the project of 'finishing' the dead" which is the precondition of replacing lineage leaders (1990:63).

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"See also Kuechler's work (1987, 1988) on the trade in malangan imagery, as apart from its material vehicles, in northern New Ireland.

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submitted 13 March 1990 revised version submitted 13 August 1990 accepted 6 October 1990


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