Accepted paper:

The sacredness of the gift: Personal partibility and sacrifice in Melanesian Christianity


Mark Mosko (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I substitute classic Durkheimian notions of sacred and profane as enacted in North Mekeo (PNG) and Judeo-Christian acts of sacrifice for Marilyn Strathern’s (1988) treatment of personal partibility in gendered terms of same- and cross-sex relations, thereby extending the New Melanesian Ethnography to situations of social change.

Paper long abstract:

It could be argued that Marilyn Strathern's The Gender of the Gift (1988), rightly credited as the foundational work of the New Melanesian Ethnography, has left unconvinced those scholars who are less interested in gender than other dimensions of Melanesian sociality and also who are primarily concerned with processes of change. In this paper, I seek to extend Strathern's treatment of personal partibility beyond their strictly gendered aspects to additional dimensions of personhood and sociality and also to the dynamics of social transformation. Accordingly, first, I retreat from Strathern's focus on same- and cross-sex aspects of persons/relations in favor of the classic Durkheimian distinction of the sacred and the profane as explored in anthropological treatises on sacrifice, beginning with Hubert and Mauss (1964). Sacrificial rites, I argue, dwell on the dividuality of persons and the transactability of their detached sacred and profane parts to an extent exceeding that which is noted in Mauss's The Gift (1967) or Gregory's Gifts and Commodities (1982). In this instance, I juxtapose 'traditional' North Mekeo chiefly rituals of mortuary and installation sacrifice and Old and New Testament narratives and Christian rituals of prayer, the confession of sin, the singing of praise, and charismatic possession of Holy Spirit which have been introduced by missionaries. These materials illustrate, second, the further suitability the New Melanesian Ethnography perspective, reconfigured around sacrificial transactions over sacred and profane, to explain processes of change and transformation.

panel P17
Anthropological relationships as appropriations and investments: ASA-sponsored panel in honour of Marilyn Strathern