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Pathways of change

Anton Ploeg

Chapter 2. Moni

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1Moni and Me were neighbouring ethnic groups, with the Moni living to the east of the Me. In the northeast of the Me territories the boundary was the Isa River, a southerly tributary of the Kema (Roushdy 1940: 63-64; Boelen 1955: 4 and map on outside back cover; De Bruijn 1978: 90-91, 100). Farther south lay an inhospitable, very sparsely populated area that bordered on the high mountains of the southern range. It is unclear to me to what extent the Isa River was also an ideological boundary. In any event, Boelen reported that, east of the Isa tributary river, the Kema Valley was populated by Moni, but that, west of the Isa River, enclaves of Moni and Damal lived in that valley (1955: 4). This phenomenon is in accordance with the general westward movement of people in the western parts of the highlands. Further, an enclave of Moni lived in Kugapa, in the upper Wea Valley, east of Lake Paniai. Van Nunen, their ethnographer, wrote that they arrived there probably from somewhere south of the main range (1966: 11-12, 1973: 7). He was aware that claim jarred with the oral account of their migrations, which put their origin in the Dogindoga, northeast of Kugapa (Roushdy 1940; Van Nunen 1966: 53-54, 1973: 43-44). As a result of quarrelling and fighting, a secondary off‑shoot moved from Kugapa to the Kema Valley, hence farther west, to settle among Me speakers (1966: 41, 1973: 33).

2Moni and Me spoke languages belonging to a single family, regarded each other as “brothers” and did not intermarry (Van der Horst n. d.: 38). The Moni were less numerous than the Me. Europeans and Indonesians fleetingly contacted the Moni early in the twentieth century. That probably happened first with Moni living south of the main range (Ballard 2001b: 30), in 1907, and afterwards in the north eastern corner of their territories, in 1926, when the American-Dutch Stirling expedition entered the highlands via the upper Tariku River (Le Roux 1948-50: 7). These meetings show that the Moni lived scattered dispersed over a number of valleys. At the time, the very large majority lived north of the main range, and a majority in the valleys of the Kema and Duga rivers, according to De Bruijn the central territories of the Moni (1978: 153). The dispersion of the Moni may have resulted in part from their inclination to escape fighting by moving elsewhere (Van Nunen; pers. comm. 2010). From the late 1930s, contacts intensified due to the exploration efforts of the colonial administrators, researchers and missionaries based at Enarotali. The colonial arrivals noticed cultural differences between the Me and the Moni, and found it easier to get along with the Moni, especially given the demand sharing that the Me presumed to be entitled to:

A distinct difference in mentality is noticeable between the [Me] and the Moni. The suspicion of the one contrasts with the spontaneity of the other, the curiosity of the Me with the aloof interest of the Moni, the often offending rudeness of the one as against the hormat [Indonesian: respect] of the other (De Bruijn 1939-40: 198; see also Roushdy 1940 and Van Eechoud 1938: 133).

3Accordingly, Moni played an important role in the early colonial exploration of the highlands. The ethnic and geographic names that the colonials started to employ were often the names used by the Moni. Examples are: Kema River, and Uhunduni and Dani people. In his wide-ranging report on the establishment of the patrol in Enatorali, among the Me, Van Eechoud knowingly used the Moni word for cowry (1938: 169).

4Nevertheless the anthropological literature dealing with the Moni is modest. Le Roux’s massive reports contain data he collected during both the 1926 and the 1939 expeditions (1948-50, 3 volumes). During both, he had contacted Moni. Alfons (Bernard O.) van Nunen, a Franciscan missionary, published his M.A. thesis in anthropology based on his research carried out in 1957-58 among the enclave of Moni in the Wea Valley, east of Lake Paniai. Since the published version (1973) contains changes that Van Nunen regretted (pers. comm.), I also quote from the 1966 thesis. Another Franciscan missionary, Jan van der Horst, wrote a short, 122 pages ethnography, in Dutch, based on his work among Moni from 1971 to 1984 in the Kema and Duga valleys. This monograph has remained unpublished. I also rely on a short, unpublished report, an “auto-ethnography”, by Elias Japugau, a Moni, written in 1995-96 and appended to a mining-impact report (Golden 1997).

5In my view, Van der Horst’s monograph is a major source, notwithstanding its briefness and selectiveness. Moreover Van Nunen reviewed a draft and generally agreed with its content. Van der Horst was not the first Catholic missionary to work in the area, the post having been opened in 1957 (Severins n.d.). He wrote his ethnographic text because he was convinced that he needed to understand the people among whom he had to work. Except for Van Nunen’s 1973 monograph, brief references to Murdock’s Social Structure, and a 1972 paper by Gordon and Mildred Larson, dealing with linguistic relations in the Ekagi-Wodani-Moni language family (n.d.: 38), Van der Horst did not refer to other scholarly publications. In addition to basic information about territories, livelihood and the life cycle, he focused on leadership, the dance-house institution, and house building and its religious connotations. Overall the text suggested that the foreign presence – of the Dutch, the Indonesians, the Americans and members of yet other nationalities – had had little impact on the Moni: the religious connotations of house building had remained those of the pagan religion; fighting continued; and there is no mention of leaders appointed by the Indonesian government.

6As reported by Van der Horst, Moni leaders, sonowi, were men who:

were able to make a success of their life. A sonowi is rich; he can enrich himself further, because he usually has two or more wives who enable him to have larger gardens. Because of his larger gardens he can keep more pigs and hence he has access to more shells. His gardens yield conspicuously well. He is healthy and has a relatively large number of children. He is successful in all or most of his undertakings. In short, in the sonowi a Moni sees his ideals realised (n.d.: 85).

7Van der Horst described Moni leaders, sonowi, as leaders of clans. However he was not completely clear about clan organisation. He described these clans as exogamous, patrilineal and internally subdivided (n.d.: 55-56), and I assume that many of the units that socially and politically mattered were local sub-divisions of clans. This was the case among the Me, and I also take into account what Van Nunen has written about clans among the Kugapa Moni: “there is little organised unity on the clan level and the esprit de corps is confined to the subgroups and their localisation in restricted areas” (1966: 82, 1973: 69). Accordingly I use in my account the word “clan” for such sub-divisions as well. In many paragraphs of his monograph, Van der Horst pointed to the Moni’s concern that the clan they belonged to was and remained a strong one, as measured in people and in wealth, that is to say, in numbers of pigs and in numbers of high-quality cowries. Cowries were needed in bride prices, and pigs were needed to obtain additional cowries. In order to strengthen their clan, members took in outsiders, whose children became members of the host clan (Van der Horst n.d.: 64; Van Nunen pers. comm. 2000). Van Nunen pointed out that marriages by sister exchange occurred among the Kugapa Moni, but that the people did not favour this practice. In at least one case, the “marriage was afterwards confirmed by the payment of shells” (1966: 88, 1973: 85 n. 24).

8Both people who violated the rule of clan exogamy and adulterers were to be killed. The rationale given was that these people thus endangered the life of the clan and had to square the account with their own lives (Van der Horst n.d.: 62, 67; Van Nunen 1966: 82, 86, 1973: 69, 73). In 1943, De Bruijn accidentally witnessed such a killing while travelling in the Dogindoga to escape the Japanese military (1978: 236-239). Moni concern about the well-being of their clan was also behind their conception of leaders: sonowi had to exercise their leadership to the benefit of their clan. The important role of sonowi in the circulation of wealth items is in conformity with Lemonnier’s definition of Big Men. Like the Me, the Moni graded, and sub-graded their cowries, and bride prices had to include specimens of the highest grade (Van der Horst n.d.: 67; Van Nunen 1966: 88, 1973: 74-75,). Japugau reported that this grade was divided into twelve sub-grades and that the shells in these sub-grades were individually named (1997: 44). They were also in short supply: Van der Horst estimated their total number at about 75. Most, if not all, were in the hands of sonowi, so sonowi had to contribute them. However, whereas, among the Me, cowries were the most cherished wealth items, among the Moni their rating is less clear-cut. Admittedly the Moni used pigs as means to acquire cowries. At the same time, Van Nunen commented (pers. comm.) that the Moni were less preoccupied by cowries than were the Me. Moreover they accorded pig’s blood ritual value. “In all ceremonies” the Moni applied pig’s blood as “representation, replacement of human life” (Van der Horst n.d.: 49), a statement that recalls Lemonnier’s opinion that such a notion was a necessary condition for the emergence of Big Men (1993: 36).

9While a sonowi obligated people by helping them out with high-grade cowries, Van der Horst wrote that these shells belonged “to the clan” and that the sonowi’s role was to manage them (n.d.: 83). This formulation suggests that a sonowi was not free to dispose of them as he pleased, but had to do so in the interests of the clan. Van der Horst’s insistence that clan members expected their sonowi to promote the strength of their clan and its continuity across the generations is also manifested by the fact that a woman who had borne many sons and so had increased clan membership might be called a sonowi. A sow might also be called a sonowi when she had borne many piglets and so had enabled its owner to collect many cowries that in turn could be used to finance bride prices (Van der Horst n.d.: 84). Another quality that the Moni, just as the Me, sought in their sonowi was skill in adjudicating disputes, thus preventing quarrelling, if not fighting, among clan members and among different clans (1995: 86). That skill was a marker of the mego, the “intelligence”, that in Moni opinion their leaders had to have. Other markers were the propensity to pay one’s debts and the willingness to contribute to marriage payments. In other words, for the Moni, an intelligent person used wealth not only to his own, but also to others’ benefit (Van der Horst n.d.: 53). Moni conceptualisation is reminiscent of how Me viewed “intelligence”, dimi, as a prerequisite for leadership. According to Hylkema, the Me “glorified” intelligence (2012: 105-106). It strikes that Me and Moni used seemingly unrelated terms to denote this phenomenon. Adjudicating disputes seems a skill that many people, among them also a sonowi’s sons, did not command. Yet, sonowi attempted to promote the careers of their sons, for instance by passing valuable shells on to them (Van der Horst n.d.: 49).

10A sonowi who failed to exercise his powers in the interest of his clan ran the risk of being killed, just like a Paniai Me tonowi who was stingy with his wealth. In a case study, Van der Horst relates how, in the course of his stay among the Moni, a prominent sonowi had provided high-quality cowries to members of other clans so as to acquire dependants among these clans (n.d.: 87-89). Since his dealings resulted in a shortage of such shells for members of his own clan, the latter put him under pressure to recoup the cowries he had made available to outsiders. He conceded, and, when his debtors were slow in returning the shells, he let it be known that he was prepared to use supernatural means to harm them and their clans. In the case of one debtor, the threats were perceived to be effective, so co-villagers of this debtor urged his own son to take the lead in killing him. Other debtors died, and were equally presumed to have been killed by the sonowi whose interests they had harmed. These deaths created hostile relations between the clans concerned, and in addition the high quality cowries were not returned. Among his own clan members, the renown of this sonowi suffered accordingly.

11Other features the case highlights are the supernatural capacity that a sonowi might possess and the possibility that clan members might turn against one of their own to preclude further aggression against them. The idea that a death could be compensated by transfer of wealth was not foreign to the Moni (Van der Horst n.d.: 101). Nevertheless the idea did not prevent them retaliating with a new killing. If in war the two parties had suffered an unequal number of deaths, the party with the smaller number of casualties might kill one or more of their own to make the numbers even. A likely target was a person deemed to have endangered the continued existence of the group. But also at risk were handicapped persons, such as cretins, of whom there was a sizeable number as a result of the geography and the geology of the Kema and Duga valleys (Van der Horst n.d.: 4; Van Rhijn 1969: 19, 25).

12Pospisil and Hylkema both reported that a Me tonowi was expected to let others benefit from his wealth. But neither stressed that especially, if not exclusively, the members of their own clans were so to benefit. While among the Moni clan continuity was supposed to be the major concern of a sonowi, among the Me such continuity seems to have been a less weighty consideration. A similar conclusion follows from the rituals and other usages that accompanied the construction of dance houses among the two ethnic groups.

1. Moni dance-house ritual

13The extant Moni ethnography on “pig feasts” is modest. While Van der Horst described at length the construction of dance houses and the attendant celebrations, he did not mention any “pig feasts” that might have been associated with them (n.d.: ch. 10). Accordingly I conclude that, among the Moni, the two institutions were not combined. Among the Moni, the decision to build a dance house and start the attendant proceedings was a major one, occurring at long intervals, about fifteen to twenty years. The sequence of events could take several years. It seems that dance-house construction was less frequent than among the Me. Van der Horst wrote that the people built a dance house “first and foremost because [the members of a clan] experience a decline in influence and general well-being in relation to other clans” (n.d.: 90). They assessed this in terms of the availability of high-quality cowries, the low occurrence of disease and fatalities, and the bountifulness of harvests. The decision implied the admission that people had seriously deviated from ancestral ways and needed to make amends. In Victor Turner’s conceptualisation, the celebrations constituted the ritualised “redressive” phase in a social drama (Turner 1986: 293).

14In 1981 Van der Horst witnessed at least part of the celebrations, in Bilogai, in the Duga Valley. The dance house used measured some ten to twelve metres by six to eight and consisted of two parts, a dance room, or hall, with a sprung floor, and an anteroom. The building was oriented towards the east, the direction from which, in the conception of the Moni, their ancestors had come. As among the Me, its construction included a series of rituals. Among the building materials, the tree that was to become the ridge pole was treated with special precaution. It should not touch the ground, so men intercepted it when it fell and carried it from the forest to the building site. Women and youngsters cleared the site.

Pict. 4. A young Moni woman

Pict. 4. A young Moni woman

It is unclear whether Le Roux took this picture during the 1926 or the 1939 expedition. It shows an unmarried Moni woman wearing a number of long, many-stranded necklaces. Le Roux commented that he observed this with many Moni women. Confirming the trend noticeable in picture 3, the materials used appear to be local.

Source: Le Roux (1948-50, vol. 3, pict. 242).

15Van der Horst continued his account with a ritual which I wonder if it ever indeed took place. He wrote that a young couple, the woman of which was to be a virgin, had public sexual intercourse on the building site. I am sceptical, since to my knowledge this is the only report about such behaviour among western New Guinea highlanders. I asked Van Nunen about it and he too was sceptical (pers. comm. 2009). The account does not read as if Van der Horst had witnessed the event, while several other passages of his monograph make it clear that he was present at the proceedings (n.d.: 15, 98). Yet I am reluctant to disregard Van der Horst’s account altogether. The contrasts he implicitly drew between the Me and the Moni ways of life are intriguing. I return to the matter below.

16To come back to the ritual, Van der Horst wrote that the virgin concerned impersonated Maimina, the mythical earth mother, who had to be impregnated by humans in order to bear fruit. Subsequently a sonowi, the leader of the undertaking, went at night into the forest to hunt animals and to gather leaves, from which he prepared four kinds of medicine: one to bring about peace; one to attract wealthy members of other clans to the dance house; one to attract many girls, potential marriage partners; and one to create partnerships with other clans. Each medicine bundle was buried in one of the four holes readied for the corner posts of the dance floor. Only thereafter did people start the construction of the house. After construction had been completed, a man, presumably a sonowi, spoke from the ridge of the house, urging people to amass wealth and produce, in preparation for the festive period that was to come. A pig had to be sacrificed before people were allowed into the house. They then sang and danced in it for nights in succession. Men danced in the centre of the floor and attempted to get it to bounce against the ground. Moni told Van der Horst that the proceedings served to promote fertility, of the clan land and of the women who had married in. Japugau added to the account by pointing to the importance of the singing that accompanied the dancing (1997: 22).

17After the nights of dancing, the house was closed, and it remained so for six to seven months, during which people undertook to settle their debts. Only when they had made some degree of progress in this matter was the dance house to be reopened. Reopening was a four-day event during which various medicines were once again buried. In the course of these days, consumption of pork was bound to rules. The first day only men were allowed to eat pork; the second day women exchanged and, presumably, ate pork; while the third and fourth days were spent negotiating bride prices, both to start finalising the payments for marriages that had already been contracted and to begin negotiations concerning marriages to come. For Van der Horst the proceedings were a religious rite serving to bring about internal peace, so as to make a new beginning of a clan’s social life. He summarised the events as follows:

Before the feast for the closure [of the house] can be held, all debts have to be paid off. This is the time of purification. The old tales are told in the houses and sung in the dance house. It is the time the ways of the ancestors are again brought to memory and people are summoned to remain faithful to them (n.d.: 97).

18With their attempts to attain and retain prosperity by clinging to their cultural heritage, Van der Horst characterised the Moni as a distinctly conservative people.

19Closure of the dance house entailed another celebration: people brought food, including pigs, to the dance house. And guests from other clans arrived. The next day at sunrise, the leading sonowi climbed to the ridge of the dance house and stood up on it. Van der Horst continued:

He looks to the east, to the rising sun. As if in trance he jumps up and down on the roof. Apparently the roof is for him similar to the dance floor of the house. Singing aloud, he relates the tale of origin. At its conclusion, it culminates in naming the settlements far away to the east, with each name reiterating that the ancestors have now arrived there. [His song] closely follows their journey from the east to the settlement where the celebrations are held (n.d.: 97-98).

20Japugau also pointed to the importance of clan histories among the Moni (1997: 8). Van der Horst, however, presented a more complex picture. In his view the Moni had three separate accounts of their past: a general history, clan histories and histories accounting for the clan-specific food taboos (n.d.: 65). Like the Hubula, the Lani and the Damal, the Moni posited that their ancestors had a chthonic origin (n.d.: 33).

21After his address, the sonowi jumped from the house, cut off the top of the ridge beam with its leafy crest, killed the largest pig by shooting it, dipped the leafy crest in its blood and sprinkled it over the door posts of the dance house. Then women and young men started demolishing it, using some parts as firewood to heat the stones for the earth ovens. After their meal, people took other parts of the house away with them for immediate use as domestic fuel. The next day, all parts of the dance house should be gone (n.d.: ch. 10). Van der Horst attended the ritual, but was asked not to bring his camera and his tape recorder. He did not comment, but the request attests to the great significance the events had for its Moni participants. Van der Horst did not report selling of pork and other items during a final market on the feast ground. He interpreted the proceedings as a return to the primordial situation that “in its diversity carries the basis of the overall social and natural order”. According to the Moni concerned, their recent conduct had led them away from that order (n.d.: 98). In Van der Horst’s account, the celebrations were festive and open, as was the case with the Me yuwo. The members of the organising clan welcomed visitors. Men and women co-operated and enjoyed the dancing. They seemed to expect a positive outcome of their efforts: a revitalisation of clan life.

2. Pig feasts among the Kugapa Moni

22Van Nunen observed what he called a pig feast in 1957, in the course of his research among the Kugapa Moni, of which he has given a lengthy account (1966: 76-80; 1973: 64-68). The proceedings show a number of differences with Van der Horst’s account that I presented in the previous section. This particular feast was prompted by youngsters playfully mimicking a pig feast. Members of the older generation then decided to organise a real one. Van Nunen gave an additional reason, perhaps the main reason, namely that they wanted to resolve a dispute between the two organising sub-clans, “lineages” in Van Nunen’s terms (pers. comm. 2009). The decision required fattening pigs, making taro gardens and erecting a feast house that combined under one roof a section for dancing, also here with a sprung floor, and living quarters with compartments for the organisers and their guests (1966: 78). Since the feast aimed at reconciling the two organising lineages, their living compartments in the feast house faced each other.

23While the preparations for the feast went on, dances took place regularly. The conclusion, the “feast day itself” (1966: 79, 1973: 67), included slaughtering pigs and selling the pork for cowries. With this formulation, Van Nunen suggests a greater resemblance with Me yuwo than with the dance-house celebrations described by Van der Horst. Between 600 and 800 people were present. In addition, community affairs were dealt with. On the feast day itself, there was no communal meal; people took their pork back home and consumed it there. They also took with them the building materials they had contributed to the dance house. In contrast to what Van der Horst described, they allowed the remainder of the house to decay. In Van Nunen’s view, this feast and pig feasts in Kugapa in general “reveal no religious or ritualistic purposes” (1966: 76, 1973: 64), unlike the dance-house celebrations of the Moni described by Van der Horst, and more like the Me pig feasts. Van der Horst claimed (n.d.: 91) that contacts with their Me neighbours had brought about these changes, but Van Nunen denied this. He viewed the Kugapa pig feast as a separate type of Moni celebration, a result of the people’s provenance from south of the main range (pers. comm. 2010).

24As mentioned, Le Roux reported (1948-50: 587) that he attended a Moni pig feast in the “mid-Kema” Valley in 1939. He did not specify the exact location. Nor did he mention differences between these feasts and the Me yuwo. Hence it is possible that, in this particular area, Moni had adopted this Me institution, either partly or wholly and either in addition to, or instead of the celebrations that Van der Horst reported. It is also noteworthy that De Bruijn mentioned (1940: 18-19) that at a yuwo in Timila, in the Wea Valley not far from Kugapa (Le Roux 1948-50: map in back pocket of vol. 3), which he attended in 1939, Moni and Damal also took part.

3. Moni ritualization

25In this section, I focus on Van der Horst’s account of the Kemabu and Dogindoga Moni. In both leadership and the rituals concerning the dance house, they expressed a far greater concern for the continuity of their (sub)-clans than did the Me. Whereas both Me and Moni leaders ran the risk of being executed if they did not make their wealth available to others, the Moni emphasised that it was especially the clan that was to benefit. And whereas among the Me wealthy leaders owned highly valued cowries, among the Moni the clans owned them, while the sonowi merely managed them. Moreover, while both the Me and the Moni built dances houses that had many features in common, they had made them part of radically different celebrations. The Moni erected a dance house and celebrated in it to repair the well-being of the clan to which they belonged, but the Me had subordinated its construction and use to the self-aggrandisement of leaders, and their supporters. Hand in hand with the concern for clan continuity, went the greater ritualization of social life among the Moni. A comparison of the construction and the demolishing of the Me and the Moni dance houses shows the greater ritual elaboration that the Moni had effected. The pig sacrifices they had made part of the ritual were a noteworthy detail. While the Me often clubbed their pigs to death (Le Roux 1948-50: 592; Pospisil 1963: 208), the Moni, according to Van der Horst (n.d.: 28), shot them with arrows (Le Roux 1948-50: 592). Hence their blood could be employed in the ritual.

26The Moni also ritualised part of the construction of their houses and the making of their food gardens. This included pig sacrifices, especially when the sites concerned had previously been covered by primary, or seemingly primary, forest (Van der Horst n.d.: 9-22). I single out the construction of the fire place, according to the Moni “the most important part of house building.” The floor of Moni houses was raised off the ground, while the fireplace was located in the centre and consisted of blue clay placed in a rattan basket that formed a shallow depression. The first fire had to be very carefully made

because the clay should petrify, but should not crack. In that case an opening forms through which Maimina [the Earth Mother] would take away the life-giving warmth and the coldness of death would enter. Children rapidly die and the gardens remain infertile. [...] A female informant compared a cracked fireplace with a woman who has a series of abortions (n.d.: 14).

27Only in the last phase of his lengthy stay among them did people allow Van der Horst to witness this final stage of house building, and, again, he was not allowed to take pictures. No such rituals have not been reported for the Me.

28For the Moni, cowries were primarily a means of fostering the continuity of their clans, since they were an important ingredient of bride prices and compensation payments (Van der Horst n.d.: 71-72, 101-102). The Me were more ambivalent in this respect. Among the Me too, cowries were part of bride prices and compensation, but at the same time cowries were a means whereby men could achieve prominence and become tonowi. The numerous pig feasts too provided ample opportunity to transact with cowries. Men who proved to be adept at handling these transactions, in Hylkema’s terms: men who were winners in the contests that these transactions amounted to, were on their way to becoming, or had already become, leaders.

29As I mentioned above, Hylkema argued that, in the era preceding the incorporation of the Me into the colonial state, the importation of cowries had increased sharply. The argument seems plausible to me. It accounts for the utter fascination of the Me for cowries, a novelty, and for their search for subtle physical differences among them. But in addition, the argument suggests that the Me way of life that Europeans encountered in the late 1930s was in flux and, at least in part, a creative response to the greater availability of a wealth item that lent itself well for use as a currency in a wide range of transactions. The “individualism”, the organisation of the pig feasts, and their large number, were, in this perspective, novel developments that the Me had brought into being, or had elaborated on, to provide opportunities for cowry transactions.

30By contrast, the Kemabu and Dorabu Moni had taken another course. They had made cowries part of their efforts to promote clan continuity, hence had made them part of a common endeavour. High-quality cowries were clan property, even though they were managed by individuals. I am not sure how to account for the contrast. An important factor may have been that the Moni territories were located farther away from Cenderawasih Bay, the most likely entrance point via which hunters and traders spread cowries into the interior. They were therefore less well placed to import cowries. Van Nunen told me that Moni had received their cowries from the east (pers. comm. 2008). That may account for the greater prominence of cowries in their ritual life as compared with that of the Me. What also may have mattered is the possibility that the Moni concern for the continued existence of the clan derived from the proto-culture the ancestors of Moni and Me once shared, a concern that the Me had started rating lower when they came to foreground cowry transactions in their social life. Unfortunately there is no evidence for such a course of events. Moreover this scenario implies that the Moni, unlike the Me, were loath to make changes to their way of life. In view of the variety in the Moni way or ways of life, I see no reason to suppose that they were so disinclined.

31To conclude the discussion of the Moni, I examine whether the sonowi fits one of the leadership modes as devised by Godelier and Lemonnier. It seems clear to me that the Moni way of life does not conform to a “Great Man logic”, given the occurrence of unequal exchanges in contracting marriages and in settling disputes and homicides. Cowries could substitute for human life. I also point to the Moni notion that pig’s blood could substitute for human life, the notion that Lemonnier viewed as contributing to the emergence of Big Men. Moreover Moni leadership did not show the pronounced compartmentalisation that Godelier associated with Great Men.

32Nevertheless, when I characterise Moni leaders as Big Men, I realise that I widen the definition of that term. I nevertheless do so because Moni insisted that the actions of their leaders, their role in the circulation of wealth items, especially the most valuable ones, were to serve clan continuity. When discussing Me leadership, I quoted Godelier’s remark that Big Men represent the polity and symbolise its capacity to “produce and/or amass wealth and to redistribute it” (1991: 278). That remark applies well to Moni sonowi, with the proviso that the redistribution primarily concerns marriage payments and dispute settlement. But with regard to Me leadership, I also quoted Lemonnier to the effect that in a Big Man society “large-scale ceremonial exchanges are a basic institution” (1991: 16). Apparently for the Moni such exchanges were not a basic institution; instead, their sonowi were leaders in large-scale ritual that served common interests.

33Finally the variety of cultural forms that flourished in the highlands would be underscored by comparing the contrast between Me and Moni leadership with the contrast between what Marilyn Strathern and Rena Lederman have called Hagen and Mendi. That analysis is beyond the scope of this book, but I will mention a few points. As regards Mendi, Lederman pointed out that, during Mendi Pig Kills, “unlike Hageners, all Mendi men (not just the big men) kill pigs in their own names” (1991: 224, also Strathern & Godelier 1991: 202), just as Me men killed pigs, and sold pork, in their own names during a yuwo. Lederman also observed that, in contrast to Hagen, in Mendi and other “southern” ways of life male collectivity is “less positively defined”, with a “partial withering away of the clan” (1991: 232). While Roscoe warns that the contrast she drew “may be at least partly an artefact of Western contact” (2000: 100), the two points that she made seem to apply to the Me as well, but much less to the Moni. Moreover she observed that Mendi Big Men “are not nearly as big as are their counterparts up north” (Lederman 1991: 221). As regards the Me and the Moni, I am unable to decide whether Me tonowi were “bigger” than Moni sonowi, or the other way round. But it seems clear to me that they represented two different modes of leadership. While noting the differences between Hagen and Mendi leaders, Lederman nevertheless kept using the term Big Men for both. Her usage prompts me to do the same, and not to coin yet another concept to characterise New Guinea highlands leadership.

Table des illustrations

Titre Pict. 4. A young Moni woman
Légende It is unclear whether Le Roux took this picture during the 1926 or the 1939 expedition. It shows an unmarried Moni woman wearing a number of long, many-stranded necklaces. Le Roux commented that he observed this with many Moni women. Confirming the trend noticeable in picture 3, the materials used appear to be local.
Crédits Source: Le Roux (1948-50, vol. 3, pict. 242).
Fichier image/jpeg, 712k

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