by Jo Tumbe Mangi

Many explanations have been offered for the development and maintenance of trade and exchange relations. For Melanesia these different approaches can be sufficiently discussed under two broad categories; namely those that take an ecological approach and those that emphasise a sociological interpretation.

The Ecological Approach
The ecological approach views trade as a development that resulted directly from the need and desire of goods that were ecologically dispersed. The main advocates of this method of explanation -although differing in emphasis – in the Melanesian context are Harding (1967), Rappaport (1967), Hughes (1977) Lauer (1970), Oram (1982) and Allen (1982). Hughes (1977: 1) for example argues that:

Trade goods and they travelled responses to environments the route over which were viewed as different natural.

Thus trade developed because of the demand for certain resources that were restricted in terms of natural distribution . It views trade basically as the vehicle by which the desire and need of the people who did not have these resources were served. The argument is neatly summed up by Hughes (1977:211) in the conclusion to his work on trade in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

The study has shown that the linkages that made up the basic network as well as the flows of goods which passed through them not only extended across physiographic, ecological and cultural divisions but were most vigorous there, for that was where the potential for trade was greatest. The origins and destinations of the flows of goods traced by observation and interview supported the initial hypothesis that in inland New Guinea as elsewhere, resource differences made it possible for trade to develop [my emphasis].

Harding’s study of trade in the Vitiaz Strait and in particular the role played by the Siassi Islanders as middlemen, is a classic case in point. The Siassi depended on, and to a large extent took advantage of, the ‘geographic differences of production’ (Harding 1967: 242). In this instance it is clear that the Siassi Islanders did benefit materially by trading (see Sahlins 1972:283 and Strathern 1983:76)

A similar case can also be made for the participants of the Huon Gulf exchange network described by Hogbin (1951) as well as some of the participating communities in the kula ring network. Here the case of the Amphlett Islands is important. The Amphlett Islands were small and impoverished in natural resources. From the work of Lauer ( 1974) Egloff (1971) and Irwin (1974) we have a clear case of the Amphlett Islanders emerging around 600 years ago as specializing in pottery to hold complete
monopoly over pottery production in the immediate Kula region.

Another case could very well be made for Hiri participants in covered this to some 1982:16-17). very terms extent well be made of pottery. above (also for the I have see Oram

In the highlands Meggitt (1974:86-7) has argued that the Laipu Enga took advantage of differing values of their neighbours, namely the Mae Enga to their west who valued pigs more than pearl shells and the central Melpa to their east who valued pearl shells more than pigs. Being in the middle they appear to have benefitted from this situation.

All these accounts appear to paint a picture that these people were middlemen in an entrepreneurial sense taking advantage of both a natural scarcity of resources and differing values and desires of different peoples. This lineal or directional approach gives the undertones of a modern capitalist type economy from the producer to the consumer as highlighted in Strathern’s (1983:76) interpretation of the Siassi Islanders:

They can be seen as entrepreneurs, bearing the cost of dangerous travel and extracting various kinds of classic and risk thereby direct profit by manipulating exchange for products. rates Hughes (1977:211) implies the same: The greatest potential for trade was where the network crossed physiographic, ecological and cultural divisions.

Given this line of reasoning the question now is: What were the underlying motives as far as the different parties were concerned bearing in mind that each party stood to gain in the transaction? If we are to accept reasoning put forward by ecological approach then following assumptions:

(1) From the viewpoint of the producers, production was sustained to meet the demand from people not only around the but those in far off places where the goods finally ended up.

(2) As far as those people in the middle were concerned one Pould have to assume that they participated in the network with two motives, firstly to meet their own needs and secondly to trade with people further away because there would have been a high demand for the item there.

However, I believe that this situation is more complex if one takes into consideration the producers’ side of the story. Burton ( 1984:233) argues that in the case of the Siassi Islanders this was possible because they enjoyed a high degree of mobility (sea travel) but that a similar case cannot be made for trade in the highlands as Hughes (1977) has tried to do, taking the point of view of the producers Burton ( 1984:233) disputes the prime assumption underlying the ecological approach.

It is often assumed that an abstract demand is sufficient to ‘pull’ goods into areas where they are scarce but I would argue that the articulation between · the producers and the remote consumers was too weak to give adequate explanation of how producers were motivated to sustain high output.

A similar view is expressed by Sillitoe (1978a:265-8. See discussion below). The underlying motivation of either the primary producers such as the Tungei axe makers (Burton 1984) or the people of between different areas of production such as the Wola (Sillitoe 1978, 1979a) was not to sustain production for some distant market nor to act as middlemen in ensuring a lineal movement of goods from area of production to areas of scarcity. Rather they demonstrate that the impetus and motivation was provided by internal factors. This study is based on a people who live between two areas of production so what was their role?

The Sociological Approach
With some variation in emphasis, the basic stand taken by the advocates of this approach is that trade and exchange are mechanisms that serve a social function. While more emphasis is given to the more formalized ceremonial exchange systems the gist of the argument is that trade and exchange systems primarily serve the function of maintaining and ensuring harmonious relations between people. Sillitoe’s (1979a) study of exchange is a good case in point. By monitoring the quantity in which different goods and valuables changed hands in a whole variety of social interactions over the lifetime of his informants he clearly demonstrated (1978a) that a high proportion of the goods and valuables that entered the Wola area came not through trade but through exchange and other forms of payment systems. He went further to demonstrate that some of the goods in fact moved back – through these exchanges to the area where they were produced. Therefore the flow of goods is not a one directional thing as we are led to believe by those that advocate the ecological scarcity approach. He concluded that the movement and directional flow of goods into the Wola area were side-effects of personal relationships rather than intended outcome of direct trade (Sillitoe 1978a:274). In short, exchange was an important aspect of society and it was to serve these social functions that goods and valuables were circulated.

While the above provides a general picture of the sociological aproach there is a difference of opinion worth mentioning. Different emphasis has been attributed to the role of exchange within society. Strathern (1971, 1981) and Meggitt (1974) view exchange as a mechanism of attaining and maintaining political recognition (power) through the ability in acquiring, harnessing, and redistributing wealth commodities.

On the other hand, Sillitoe (1978a, 1978b, 1979a) – following Malinowski (1922) views trade and exchange as the binding force between the individual and his group. His point is that in the general absence of any centralized power structure and where the individual freedom of its members is highly valued, exchange and the subsequent bonds of obligations to other members of the group aots as a binding force between the interest of the individual and that of society. In a sense it keeps the individual in harness. Exchange maintains stability and ensures harmonious relations in an otherwise acephalous society (cf. Sillitoe 1978b).

Having briefly summarised some of the possible explanations to the development and maintenance of trade and exchange relations within and between different people the discussion moves on to taking a closer look at the term ‘trade’.

The word ‘trade’ loosely, in places using it to refer to all movements of a particular product, elsewhere using it to refer to all inter-personal transfers of goods unaccompanied by ceremony.

Pospisil (1963:18) differentiated barter, gifts and trade. In this context the ‘acquisition of goods by money’.

Hughes (1977:210) elaborating on Schwartz (1963:78) tried to overcome this problem by defining characteristics for trade and prestations as two extremities of a continuum. His {Hughes 1977:209: Table 17) list of characteristics for prestations include goods exchanged as often being the same, return give usually delayed, transaction in most cases between relatives, transfer involving prestige and status, transfer being public and ceremonial with stress on socio-political benefit rather than material. Trade is the other extremity with the opposite characteristics.

Any type of transaction that did not have all the characteristics of either trade or prestation fell some-where in between. For example, in traditional Huli society a relative might have contributed a pig to help in a bride price. While the recipient did not have to pay back immediately he was obliged to do so whenever the donor was in need or whenever. he himself was in receipt of some payment made to him, say a sister’s bride price.

Malinowski (1922:177) expressed the same concern:

I have on purpose spoken of forms of exchange, of gifts and counter gifts, rather than of barter or trade, because, although there exist forms of barter pure and simple, there are so many transitions and gradations between that and simple gift, that it is impossible to draw any fixed line between trade on the one hand, and exchange of gifts on the other. In order to deal with these facts correctly it is necessary to give a complete survey of all forms of payment or present.

Sahlins ( 1972: 185-220) took a slightly different approach by considering kinship distance of partners, relative wealth and needs as well as the type of goods exchanged to differentiate between the various types of reciprocity.

Sillitoe (1978a:271) correctly points out that there is really no one definition for ‘trade’ because the whole issue is complicated by the intricate relationship between the nature of the transaction and the social backdrop in which these transactions take place. In discussing this problem of definition Healey (1977:7) suggests another alternative.

The distinction might be more clearly drawn if we consider not only the nature of the transaction but also their antecedents and consequences. Thus we suggest that trade can be distinguished from prestation by being more involved with the production of goods to satisfy a demand, and aimed at the continuation of the supply of desirable goods. Ceremonial exchange may involve the same goods, but is more concerned with the establishment or continuation of social relationships between the parties exchanging goods.

In that sense the reasons for the development of trade relations cannot be solely sought in terms of the material aspect without considering the social benefits. However, it is nonetheless important to bear in mind Healey’s comment when looking at the relationship between barter trade per se, for which I will use the Huli term yole (see below) and other exchange systems as far as the issue of the development and maintenance relations go.

There are many avenues in which scarce products, valuables, and other coveted items move within or through a society; each avenue having different underlying motives which in turn influence or determine the social context in which these transactions take place. The different types of exchange carried out among the Huli are described under four headings.

Yole deals exclusively with that aspect of trade which can be termed ‘formal barter-type trading’ therefore restricting the social context to that encountered in formal barter type systems. This is characterised by planned journeys to other areas to get the desired item with the goods for payment prepared in advance and carried on the journey. Transactions are generally between non-relatives and the transfer is usually private and unceremonial (cf. Hughes 1977:210). The Huli refer to this form of transaction as yole. Yole literally means ‘paying for something’. This is the opposite to pa me giru which literally means ‘I give you nothing’, which literally means ‘I give you nothing’, that is, ‘it is a gift’. Nowadays the term yole anda, (yole house), is used to refer to pay offices.

Yole is similar to Malinowski’s (1922:189) gimwali of the Trobriands he states is ‘the conception of pure barter’, Strathern’s (1983:74) mel rop roromen, rarop roromen, Healey’s (1977:8) muggoi rigima, or in my own language (Wahgi) yap top. Yap top literally mans, ‘something exchange’. The term ‘top’ means exchange. For example, amb top literally means ‘woman exchange’, a term describing sister exchange. The method of barter described by Oram (1982) on the Hiri trade bears some resemblance to ~ although the scale of operation is far vaster.

The Huli term yole has been adopted in thesis because it i:=1 a specific term that is already loaded with meanings. Thus it overcomes ambiguity of the terms like ‘trade’, or ‘barter’.

Yole Partners. A very important aspect of yole is that this transaction was confined to non-kin.
Yale transactions were conducted with people other than the ones they were related to. When the Huli had to go into other areas within Huli all the informants claimed that they used their kinfolk network for accommodation, shelter, protection, and often as guides. It was also through their kin that they often got in touch with potential partners. A token gift was always made to the host but was between people that were not related. Tapuku Tamele of Komo has this to say.

My grandfather was from the Tari area. When I went there to do some ‘ yole’ (trading), I would trace my ancestry and go and sleep in the homes of those that I was related to there. While I always brought them small gifts such as a small gourd of tree oil or a piece of black palm palm, they were not the people that I ‘traded’ (yole) with.

A similar pattern seems to have been in operation when the Huli went to do yole with the Obena. The nature of reception and hospitality between the Huli and their Duguba yole partners was slightly different (see Map 1).

There is little doubt that yole trips were major undertakings for the Huli participants. Initially it was their social structure that enabled them to move with minimum hindrance within their own territory. Upon reaching the end of Huli domain they then relied on the strength of their party members and the goodwill of the host. However, this does not explain why people 1ike Pokayar ia Mina went all the way to Mt. Bosavi (hari Poro), got tree oil and other items there, walked back to Tari and then set off after some time of course to Obena. An equally viable option would have been for him to remain in his home at Hoiebia and waited for whatever he desired to reach him via other Huli closer to the sources, for example the Huli of Komo. Indeed the Huli in Komo did bring these items over to Tari.

Unlike Rappaport’s (1968: 107) chain-like transactions the Huli went out of their way to go to the sources. Given this it is only logical to postulate that there must have been some underlying motive.

The inevitable question is. Was there any gain in this undertaking? Here one encounters the difficulty of how to gauge what may be termed as ‘gains’: these ranging from idiosyncratic perceptions to the forging of new relations for the good of society and from social gains to material acquisition.

The Relative Importance of Yole. The amount of items obtained through formal barter-type trade varies from society to society. Sillitoe (1978) calculated that for the Wola neighbours of the Huli to the southeast – only 10% of the items used in trade and exchange were passed on by means of trade. Furthermore, of the things acquired through trade only one in forty – 2.5% – of such purchases were done with economic motives, tha is, to secure something from somewhere else. The rest were for other forms of payments. This appears to be a small percentage of the total flow of goods. On the other hand, for the Duna – neighbours of the Huli to the west – Modjeska (1978:278-8) calculated from a sample of 130 axe blades a total of 32% was acquired through trade: 17% from external trade and the other 15% through internal trade.

Healey (1977:466, Table 18.2) calculated that of 583 occasions for trade 327 (56. 1%) of these occasions were special trade visits to other areas. On the coastal frontier it was only possible to obtain certain goods only by trading, as for example in the Vitiaz Strait system (Harding 1967), the Huon Gulf (Hogbin 1951) and in both the Kula and Hiri instances.

(This extract is from a thesis by Jo Tumbe Mangi, Yole: A Study of Traditional Huli Trade. in full requirement for the degree of Masters of Arts in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology: University of Papua New Guinea. 1988. pp. 6-15).

(Picture courtesy of Trans NiuGini Tours)

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