Kula: the Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving

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:
Kula: the Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving

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This chapter takes up the most historically celebrated ethnographic example of exchange: the kula, an inter-island network of partners living on other Massim Islands with whom Trobriand Islanders exchange elaborately decorated armshells for necklaces. In the other kula areas of the Massim, kula activity provides a context for chiefly authority where actual ranking and chiefs do not exist. In these situations, ranking is sustained briefly, yet ultimately defeated because the shells are inalienable only for a limited time. But within that time period, exchange is subverted, keeping is paramount, and difference is politically flaunted. In the Trobriands, where difference is transformed into rank, brother–sister intimacy, materially expressed through exchanges of women's cloth wealth, provides the economic and cosmological resources that matter.

Keywords: exchange; kula; Massim Islands; Trobriands; inter-island network; authority; chiefs; brother–sister intimacy

Chapter.  7760 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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