The Sibling Incest Taboo: Polynesian Cloth and Reproduction

Annette B. Weiner

in Inalienable Possessions

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 1992 | ISBN: 9780520076037
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520911802 | DOI:
The Sibling Incest Taboo: Polynesian Cloth and Reproduction

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This chapter first examines the elementary principles in Lévi–Strauss's theory of marriage exchange to show that although actual sibling incest may be culturally disavowed, it remains intransigent and politically vital. Turning to Polynesia, where questions regarding political hierarchy have long been argued, it takes up these issues by reanalyzing ethnographic data from three societies—Samoa, ancient Hawaii, and the Trobriands—that differ politically in terms of rank and hierarchy. The selection is ethnographically arbitrary, based solely on the author's own fieldwork in the Trobriands and Western Samoa; it then draws on the Hawaiian material because it represents the most elaborated Polynesian political hierarchy. In each case, whether sibling incest is overtly practiced, disguised, or latent, the reproductive power in brother–sister intimacy gives women as sisters an impressive domain of authority and power. The variation in the political extent of that domain among these three societies correlates with the way inalienable possessions are used to substantiate difference through the authentication of sacred origins and genealogies.

Keywords: marriage exchange; sibling incest; Polynesia; Samoa; ancient Hawaii; Trobriands

Chapter.  12841 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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