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Use the link below to share a full-text version of this article with your friends and colleagues. Learn more. Trobriand dance is a key cultural expression and a means of communicating subjectivity in a of ways: it expresses aspects of kinship, gender, morality, and ideas about modernity and primitivity.
Primary among these is the Tapioca Dance, famed far beyond the Trobriands, but problematic in local discourses and practice. In the Trobriand Islands, performances of traditional dance are perhaps the most emblematic of cultural expressions. Trobrianders are fiercely proud of the beauty and skill demonstrated in the bodies and traditional finery of dancers. Generally, traditional taboos and Christian morality ensure that sex is a private matter. This paper examines Trobriand dance, especially the often locally controversial performances of the provocative and infamous Tapioca Dance, as a site in which the private is made public in distinctly gendered ways.
This is by no means unproblematic for Trobrianders themselves, who are torn between a reflexive awareness of their unique cultural and anthropological heritage, a desire to have fun, and a sense of obligation to follow Church teachings. At public meetings, in church groups and on verandas throughout the islands, Trobrianders assess and re-asses their priorities and allegiances as they debate the rightful place of Tapioca dance as an aspect of Trobriand culture.
In this sense, it represents a moral dilemma, the examination of which can, following Barker : 1 , make visible key value orientations of a society and local responses to changing social conditions. Dance is compelling because it communicates at affective and embodied levels as well as cognitive ones. Important messages are conveyed in performances through adhesion to, or departure from, tradition in movements, musical accompaniment, lyrics, and elements of dress.
And these messages are in turn interpreted by those who observe the performance, with or without the cultural knowledge held by the performers. Culture-as-performance reflects or comments upon self and others. Performers project and register images and interpretations of themselves, of others, and of the life of the community itself … Participants see or imagine the larger image in the collective performance, and they see themselves within that performance as actors, as conceptual products of its enactment, and as the targets of cultural commentary fashioned by performance.
The event of performance is interpreted in a culturally-specific context and can be seen, in a way analogous to material objects, as having a meaning that can only be elucidated by reference to the system that creates and produces those meanings Strathern : Normative sexuality, it must be noted, is in the Trobriand context both inside and outside the Christian framework highly dependent on a male-female gender dichotomy, with heteronormativity of key importance to ensuring affinal linkages and securing the perpetuation of matrilineal clans.
Further, dancing is also associated with feasting, and excessive consumption is also associated with women cf Munn : However, as I explain below, the creation of masculinised forms of this generally feminine activity is an inversion that raises concern among many Trobrianders. In this paper, I present an analysis of gender relations, and in some cases discomfort, about the moral righteousness of dance performances. My analysis is based on ethnographic fieldwork wherein I attended and participated in, in various ways the full spectrum of Trobriand dance performances in a of different venues school cultural days, community and church-sponsored events, tourist performances , as well as attending community and church meetings, and listening to the gossip that sometimes followed particular performances and events.
I examine not only how people display themselves—their bodies, as representative of Trobriandness, clan affiliation including rank , and gender ideals—but also how others interpret that display through the discourses that surround public performance. For example, the sometimes graceful, sometimes ribald movements enacted by the dancers may be received with appreciation, mirth, or even outrage. I look at the ways in which the ideals of Christianity, especially in the Revival or Pentecostal religious movements, create an understanding of femininity as morally threatening and in need of containment see also Eriksen, this volume.
Though he never used the term, the publication of Malinowski's The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia made famous the sexual freedoms enjoyed within ificant limitations by young, unmarried Trobrianders Malinowski The trope has since been perpetuated though provocative presentations of Trobriand culture in popular media, such as magazine articles and films, as well as through promotional material for tourism Pfund ; Allen ; Senft ; Bennett ; McKinnon et al.
While the Western idealisation of a place of unfettered sexual freedom has provoked much interest in the islands, it is neither accurate nor the kind of attention most Trobrianders today wish to receive. As Christianity plays an important role in the lives of Trobriand Islanders, many are actively resistant to this stereotype. In the Christian context, unclothed bodies take on new connotations as sinful and in need of covering, even as idealised views of Trobriand sexual freedom depend on the exposure of those bodies.
Of particular concern are the embodied actions and often explicitly sexual lyrics associated with mweki , specifically the Tapioca Dance see also MacCarthy Tapioca Dance is a ribald performance of pelvic thrusting, buttock-slapping, hooting and gyrating, often accompanied by sexually explicit lyrics Fig. It is usually performed in public by groups of young men, though mweki may be incorporated into dances performed by both genders, and even very young children often imitate this dance.
The act of mweki , a pelvic thrusting movement it can also be used to refer to sexual intercourse , has in fact been incorporated into public performance since time immemorial; when young men and women carried yams from the gardens to the village at harvest time, an activity referred to as gogebila , and in nighttime dancing during milamala, the period of dancing and other social and sexual activity accompanying and immediately following the yam harvest Malinowski : However, in the past, certain restraints were also expected.
While discreet sexual freedom was both permissible and even encouraged for unmarried adolescent boys and girls alike, this was always to be carried out outside the public gaze. Trobriand and Christian moral standards are in agreement on this matter. However, Malinowski does not suggest a difference between the moral codes for women and men, which, I suggest, become ificant only in the Christian context. Tapioca Dance was created during a period of innovation in dance and song following World War II, influenced by the presence of Allied soldiers on Kiriwina, the biggest Trobriand island.
It was one of many dances created specifically for performance during inter-village cricket matches, in which each participating village had its ature dance. It must be remembered that this development was firmly within the era of a thoroughly missionised Trobriand milieu, and thus is a creation that rather explicitly challenges, while being understood and interpreted in the context of, Christian moral values. The dance represents a long history of moral politics and debates about attitudes towards gender, sex, bodies, and pleasure.
It is perhaps the very fact of missionisation and the introduction of Christian ideas that facilitated a new and innovative way to break the rules—both those of rigid Christian ideals of morality, and even deep-seated Trobriand moral precepts. If, as Mosko : argues, Trobriand dancing is considered to be an essentially feminine activity, Tapioca Dance is perhaps the most masculinised expression of a feminised expressive form and can be seen as an expression of complementarity of gender relations cf Strathern , Sanders ; see also Mosko : It is also problematised as transgressive in various ways.
Tapioca Dance uses the basic form of mweki , but exaggerates the forward thrusting movements of the pelvis and incorporates slapping of the buttocks to be explicitly and unequivocally not only sexual, but sexually aggressive. This in itself is considered by many, especially those closely aligned with one or another of the churches, to push the boundaries of public propriety. But it is not only the eyes that face moral corruption by witnessing a performance of Tapioca Dance. The ears are also susceptible. He translates some of these, and it is not difficult to determine why religious leaders might take issue with them.
For example, Senft describes one stanza of a mweki dance he saw performed for visiting tourists and translates it thus 27 : Iutu beya akeya vila It pokes inside, I fuck cunts Nupisivau iutu beya akeya vila New full beautiful breasts, it pokes inside here, I fuck cunts Ipaisewa nupisivau akeya vila It works, new full beautiful breasts, I fuck cunts. It is therefore not necessarily synonymous with the word taboo, but sometimes carries the same connotations. This connotes pleasure, and the freedom that young people enjoy to pursue unencumbered sexual encounters; it is not appropriate to use it to describe sex between a husband and wife.
It also suggests a certain wildness that is not inherent in euphemisms like i masisisi kasiteyu they sleep together. In the lyrics above, it is clearly the man's perspective, as penetrator, being described. The aggressive male action is accompanied by aggressive male language, which is rather in contrast with Trobriand ideals of equality in sexual freedom and pleasure.
It is also in contradiction with the still very salient cross-sex sibling and father-daughter sexual tabu , which dictates that nary the slightest whiff of anything sexual in nature should transpire in the shared company of people in such a tabu relationship. Nonetheless, the church is both a forum and a justification for advocating behavioural change.
Indeed, in many ways Tapioca Dance comes to stand for, and even parody, all that is not proper, morally upright Christian behaviour. United Church leaders, too, are clear about the moral risks of salacious public performances. In fact, the pastor insisted that no yobuwa the pandanus or areca-leaf wrap covering the male genitalia or doba generally, textiles made from banana leaves, but in this case the distinctive short red skirts worn in traditional dancing by women -and, in a few particular dances, men be worn, as this was sure to instigate mweki or other unchristian behaviour.
Pentecostal church leaders are also adamant about the need for propriety, and are more likely to make gendered distinctions. Patrick, a local Pentecostal pastor, told me that when women dance in traditional dress, they do so to attract attention from men. This tempts men to sin. It is necessary, at this point, to digress briefly to outline the historical development of Christian conversion in the Trobriand Islands.
Christianity both is, and is not, a monolithic entity in the islands. It is pervasive and unified in that virtually all Trobrianders, like most Papua New Guinians in this avowedly Christian nation, identify themselves with one or another of the Christian denominations represented in the islands. Most Trobrianders are quick to point out that despite the plurality of churches, all worship guyau tetala wala one and the same God. The first missionary to establish a mission station in Kiriwina, the largest and most densely populated of the Trobriand Islands, was the Methodist Rev SB Fellows in Young : Now under the banner of the United Church, this protestant denomination boasts the greatest of adherents throughout the Trobriand Islands.
In the s the Sacred Heart Catholic mission built a small settlement near the government station of Losuia. Later, a second Catholic mission was established further north, and at present there are twelve Catholic churches organised into two parishes. With the arrival of Christianity, the Trobriand norms of sexual freedom for young people and self-expression through traditional dance were suddenly made perverse.
During the colonial period the churches supported government endeavours to change certain behaviours, especially those considered particularly unsanitary or unsafe—like exhuming dead bodies and wearing the bones of the deceased Malinowski : and practising extensive warfare see Malinowski , famously by introducing Trobriand Cricket Leach and Kildea as an alternative to warring with neighbouring villages. While young children may be encouraged to wear traditional dress, different rules apply for those beyond the age of puberty. Young men might still wear their yobuwa or mimiye'o a plant-derived wrap to cover the genitals and a red cloth wrapped around their waist, but young women will be expected to modestly cover their breasts, and married women will wear long, shapeless t-shirts or meri blouses 2 2 Meri is Tok Pisin PNG pidgin for woman or wife derived from Mary, the Biblical mother of Jesus, and suggesting the purity and devotion that Mary is seen to represent.
These long, loose calico tops are ubiquitous throughout PNG as appropriate and respectable women's wear for both formal and informal occasions. In the context of church meetings, the sexuality of participants in dances must be contained.
In general, as Eves : 93 points out, dancing in the Pacific was a particular target of intervention for many missionaries he discusses Methodists, in particular. The Catholic Church leadership is largely non-indigenous. Only at the level of lay preachers, or catechists, do Trobriand Islanders serve in the Catholic hierarchy.
The United church leadership, on the other hand, tends to be local. The vast majority of pastors, as well as the Convener of the United Church congregations throughout the Islands, are all Trobriand Islanders. Within a few years, a second CRC church was established in the southern Kiriwina village of Sinaketa. While guest preachers may be from Australia or the USA, these churches were brought to the Trobriand Islands by island residents themselves, exposed to the new forms of evangelical Christianity while spending time in urban centres like Port Moresby.
Pastors, all of whom are indigenous, rely on their own charisma to establish and lead congregations, with new breakaway churches regularly established, and many find ways of pursuing Bible training programs in various parts of the country. While only a relatively small of Trobriand Islanders have ed Pentecostal congregations, and there is much fluidity of movement back to the longer-established churches, the of congregants belies the influence of the Pentecostal message and style of worship. Defining and distinguishing between terms like Pentecostal, evangelical, Revival, and so on can be difficult; theological definitions often do not suffice, nor do self-identifications provide consistent and unified agreement on what these terms connote.
In the Trobriand context, the movement towards a Revival form of Christianity has resulted in a more fervent and embodied religious experience than was practiced before the introduction of Pentecostal forms of worship. Perhaps paradoxically, this indigenously propelled movement towards more fundamentalist forms of Christianity as opposed to largely foreign-imposed Catholic doctrines has instigated a locally originated re-evaluation of the morality of many cultural practices.
Instead of dressing in the alluring costumes of traditional dancers and performing songs some consider sinful, Revival Christian women wear calico skirts and meri blouses or long, loose white t-shirts, while men wear long pants, button-up shirts, and shoes if they can access them and sing a well-known set of religious songs, often with actions such as clapping, jumping, waving the hands, and so on see e. Webb Fig. Prayers in Revival churches and fellowship meetings are collective and cacophonous, with adherents simultaneously articulating their prayers, in contrast to the silent prayers of parishioners and lone voice of the priest or lay preacher in Catholic services.
Crusades, in which pastors use sound systems and electric instruments like keyboards and guitars as well as drum kits to accentuate their messages and to encourage participants to become born again, are common. These often carry on for several consecutive evenings, attracting large crowds. They then fell to the ground as the Holy Spirit overtook them. While the United Churches in the Trobriand Islands now generally practice a similar Revival Christianity to the various Pentecostal denominations, the Catholic Church remains set apart, both in its resistance to a more collective and embodied church practice, and its continued embrace of many aspects of Trobriand cultural expression.
For example, Father Homero, current priest of the Waipipi Mission in the northern Kiriwina circuit, stresses similarities in Trobriand and Christian beliefs, takes part in traditional mortuary exchanges, and encourages young people to engage in dancing in full traditional dress—though the Catholic church stands with all other churches in the Trobriands in condemning the public performance of mweki.
The body and public performances that display them are, as the foregoing discussion has tried to demonstrate, key sites for understanding ideas about morality and gender relations. We can understand the body, for analytical purposes, as having several dimensions or levels of experience: the individual body as the domain of personal embodied experiences and thus phenomenological analyses; the social body, which addresses the ways the body and its products blood, milk, semen are symbolic and represent social relationships like gender, kinship, and production; and the body politic, wherein power and control are embodied Van Wolputte : In this last sense, the body can become a tool of domestication, discipline, subjection, or resistance.
Whilst many Trobrianders greatly enjoy the ribald performances of Tapioca Dance, and recognise the appeal of this dance to visiting public servants and tourists, others feel ashamed at such brazen public displays of sexuality and the reputation it perpetuates. Moreover, while men are provided a certain licence to perform mweki at public events, women are very much discouraged from doing so. As an example, Reed cites Wagner's historical of a long-standing opposition to dance in the USA since the seventeenth century, primarily propagated by male Protestant clergy and evangelists based on a fear of women and their bodies.
A recent controversy in my own ethnographic setting exemplifies the double-standards at play, which I argue are in contrast to Trobriand conceptions of sexuality which are not explicitly gendered, while Christian discourses like Pastor Patrick's cast women as wanton Eves who must be restrained from tempting inherently good men to sin.
In March , I found myself in the concrete and corrugated iron structure that serves as the Catholic Church in Yalumgwa village on the island of Kiriwina. Specifically, they were upset about several sexually provocative dance performances at a Cultural Show, held the November. Outraged community members had written letters or verbalised their objections to the PPC in protest, urging church leaders to take measures to stop such presentation of implicitly or explicitly erotic dance performance.
The women in the group were much more severely condemned than their male counterparts. The concern was not just about the performance itself, but also for the scandalous behaviours that followed, which were interpreted by my informants as proof that the temptations created through the public performance of women's sexuality lead directly to sinful action.
In this case, some of those dancers who had participated in the particularly licentious Cultural Show performance then went on to perform at fundraisers in urban centres on the mainland, where they became embroiled in extra-marital liaisons. When they returned to the village, the affairs continued, causing considerable strife within their families and communities.
The morality of the young girls was in danger, and they would be responsible for any moral failings on the part of men. Despite the temptation of the tourist dollar, the trend is towards using shame and immorality—both in terms of inherently Trobriand, and Christian, values—to discourage public performances that are overtly sexual. Women have internalised such messages. But men are not exempt from the dangers inherent in sexualised public performance.
Some young boys and girls were summoned to the more private setting of the guest lodge in contrast to the outdoor village sports field where the afternoon performances took place after dinner to perform. The dance as executed was very tame and hardly qualified as Tapioca Dance.
The guests were underwhelmed, expecting a lascivious display. This suggests that in making sexuality public, quite a different set of moral rules are invoked than those that guide sexuality outside the public gaze. This was the first time I had seen a refusal to perform Tapioca Dance for tourists.
In her paper in this volume, Annelin Eriksen has argued that femininity, in the context of Pentecostalism and indeed, other forms of Christianity as well , becomes interiorised. The body, in a context of Christian ideology and practice, which places a greater emphasis on individuality than does the relational sociality of a society in which gifting is the primary form of exchange, takes on new connotations.
The body becomes the space within which femininity should be contained. It becomes less something one demonstrates in an embodied way, and rather something to be confined, hidden, and ideally invisible. In precolonial, pre-Christian times, aspects corporeal, material, cosmological of women's femininity were, indeed, much more visible. Beginning with the colonial era, but with an extra push from new Revival Christian movements, many of the practises which once celebrated and physically marked women's reproductive capacities are now downplayed see also Barker and Hermkens, this volume, and Hermkens : 55—56 for similar developments regarding female tattooing among the Maisin.
Only with Christianity and an imposed normativity of modesty and chastity do breasts become something that should be hidden from public view, though in the villages, it is still very common to see the exposed breasts of mothers. Among these are the rituals associated with pregnancy. Malinowski, though criticised by Weiner for paying too little attention to women, documented the elaborate ceremonial attending pregnancy and childbirth for a first-time mother.Encounter modern pacific sexual sexualities text.
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Gender and Sexuality