A Historical Background to Anthropology in the Papua New Guinea Highlands

Terence E. Hays

in Ethnographic Presents

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 1992 | ISBN: 9780520077454
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520912342 | DOI:
A Historical Background to Anthropology in the Papua New Guinea Highlands

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This chapter discusses the beginning of anthropology or fieldwork in what was then the Eastern Highlands District of the Territory of Papua New Guinea. The choice of a specific field site for research in ethnography is always the result of a combination of professional priorities, personal tastes, and chance. The chapter explores the Kainantu region as the focus (folk biology in a subsistence-based economy) and shows that James B. Watson's expertise and his continuing contacts there would aid in the logistics of fieldwork. Almost no intensive ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in the Highlands by professional anthropologists until the early 1950s. The chapter provides a historical perspective on how fieldwork was conducted in the earlier days. Both anthropologists and Papua New Guineans can benefit from a fuller and more accurate sense of what ethnographers were trying to accomplish in the Highlands during the colonial period.

Keywords: anthropology; fieldwork; Highlands; Papua New Guinea; ethnography; Kainantu; folk; biology; James B. Watson

Chapter.  15028 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

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