PAPUA NEW GUINEA

TROBRIAND ISLANDS YAMS

The typical Trobriand Island village is divided into a number of parts with the division expressing certain sociological rules and regularities. Basically, all the houses in the inner row comprise store houses and bachelor's establishments. The outer ring comprises household dwellings which are normally occupied by married people. Thus the inner row consists of yam houses, personal huts of the chief and his kinsman and bachelor houses. The outer ring is made up of matrimonial homes, closed yam-houses and houses belonging to widows or widowers. The difference between the two rings is a taboo on cooking which is not allowed in the inner ring.   

The central place in the village with the chief's large yam house in the center and to the left is the chief's personal house.

Historical and cultural images available on request

These three houses, with the chief's wife standing in front, represents the annual dowry as the store houses have to be filled at harvest time by her brothers and maternal kinsmen.

When a marriage takes place, the girl's family give a present of considerable value at the next harvest, and from then on at every harvest, they will have to help the new household with a substantial contribution of fresh yams.

The first present of this sort, however, has a special name (vilakuria), and is surrounded by a ceremony of its own.

Prism-shaped receptacles (pwata'i) are constructed of poles, in front of the young couple's yam-house and the girl's family, after selecting a large quantity, a hundred, two hundred, or even three hundred basketfuls of the best yams, arranged them in these receptacles with a great deal of ceremony and display. 

The harvest of the main gardens, inaugurates a long and elaborate series of activities, associated with the offering of annual gifts. The members of each household dig up the yams from their own garden plot within the large, communal enclosure. The yams of the small variety, which are by far the most important of all native vegetables are then dug up by means of pointed sticks and carried to a shaded area made of poles and yam vines. The yams of the small variety, which are by far the most important of all native vegetables are then dug up by means of pointed sticks and carried to a shaded area made of poles and yam vines.

                   

 Here, the family group sit down and clean the dug-up yams, shaking the earth from them and shaving of the hairs with sharpened shells. Then a selection is made. The best yams are placed in a large conical heap in the middle of the shaded area while the rest are stowed away in the corners in less regular and much smaller heaps. The main heap is constructed with almost geometrical precision, with the best yams carefully distributed all over its surface, for this heap will remain in the little shed for some time to be admired by people from the village and neighbouring communities.     

Historical and cultural mages available on request only

All this is done because the chief pride of a Trobriander is to gain renown as a master gardener. To achieve this, he will make great efforts and till many plots of land in order to produce a considerable number of heaps with a large of quantity of yams in each. It must also be remembered that the marriage gift is the main products of the garden work. 

Boys working the yam garden
 
 
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