ORATORY AND THE POLITICS OF METAPHOR IN THE NEW GUINEA HIGHLANDS*

ALAN RUMSEY

Abstract


The highlanders of Papua New Guinea were one of the last large, long isolated populations to be thrust into the mainstream of recent world history. This happened in the early 1930's, when the gold started to pan out in the eastern foothills and Australian prospectors ventured upstream in search of more. They expected eventually to reach a central cordillera of uninhabited mountains. What they found instead were broad, mile-high valleys with three feet of topsoil and upwards of a million people, whose ancestors- we now know- had been cultivating it intensively for at least six thousand years. After the anthropologists got there and their ethnographic reports began coming in from various parts of the highlands, it became clear that there were considerable differences among various highland societies, and some broad similarities. Among the latter, it was commonly observed that highlanders had segmentary social categories of a somewhat similar kind to the African lineages which had been described by such influential structural functionalists as Evans Pritchard and Meyer Fortes (Fortes 1953).


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