Book

Just Talk

Karen Brison

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 1992 | ISBN: 9780520077003
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520912182 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520077003.001.0001
Just Talk

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This book examines the often overlooked role of gossip and rumor in creating power in small Melanesian communities. The Kwanga of the East Sepik Province of Papua, New Guinea think that malicious gossip is almost as dangerous as sorcery, and spend hours in community meetings, looking into rumors about sorcery, adultery, and other sources of trouble. To understand how “talk” can create and ultimately destroy the position of Melanesian leaders, the book follows discussions of particular situations over time, and suggests that gossip and rumor are just as central to shaping and shifting power relations as are the public meetings which are more often studied. Kwanga community leaders build reputations by spreading rumors and dropping hints that they are confidants of sorcerers, but ultimately, the same men who build reputations through gossip and innuendo find themselves victimized in turn by malicious gossip. The book suggests that our understanding of both Melanesian leadership and the power of words to construct social reality is greatly enhanced by attention to gossip and rumor: words are dangerous weapons, which can have consequences the original speaker neither anticipated nor desired.

Keywords: gossip; rumor; Melanesian communities; Kwanga; East Sepik Province; sorcery; adultery; leadership

Book.  312 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

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