by Jo Tumbe Mangi

Contact brought irreversible change to a lot of the societies in Papua New Guinea. This thesis is about one specific aspect of the traditional exchange network of the Huli which is no longer operating in the original manner described. It too has changed upon contact. It . is a study of the pre-contact trade network of the Huli people of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is the result of further investigation of a pattern observed during a reconnaissance trlp to the Huli people of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The initial proposal was to study the material culture of the Huli, concentrating on utilitarian tools, their acquisition and/or manufacture, use, maintenance, and subsequent abandonment within a given territory. However, during the reconnaissance trip I found that the bulk of the traditional utilitarian tools had actually been produced· outside of the Huli area and entered in to circulation with in Huli through trade and/ or some other form of exchange in more or less their finished form. Further enquiry – in a bid to trace the source of these items – revealed that barter type trade, (or ~ as the Huli refer to it) played an important role in traditional Huli society. My first impression was that the Huli were involved in large groups travelling long distances with the sole intent of doing barter or yole.

After providing a general background of the people I will present an outline of the trade network and the items used in trading before searching for explanation as to why the Huli were involved in these ventures. The study is primarily an ethnographic account of a particular aspect of past Huli life. Therefore I owe it to the Huli people to present their account in a manner that is just as meaningful to them as it would be to other readers. In the light of the above considerations the format and content of the thesis is as follows.

The Introductory Chapter is divided into five parts, starting with a brief review of work previously done in Papua New Guinea on trade. The second part addresses the theoretical issues by reviewing some of the possible explanations that have been offered in regards to the development and maintenance of trade and exchange systems. The third seeks a working definition for the term ‘trade’ by looking at some of the possible venues that scarce resources, valuable and other coveted items change hands within and between societies.

The fourth part outlines he aims and objectives of the study and the, final part I attempts to rationalize the alms and objectives. It is beyond the scope of the present study to present a thorough background of the Huli people and their trade partners. Chapter 2 provides only a brief account of the people, highlighting those aspects of Huli society that are important to the central theme of trade.

The third chapter sets out the methodological procedures adopted in this research. While Chapter 4 covers the different items that were used in trade and where possible describes the mode of production or manufacture of these goods the fifth chapter looks at the actual trade routes used by the people. This is complemented with a discussion on archaeological excavations of some of the rock-shelters that would have been used as transit camps along these routes.

Chapter 6 presents and discusses the interviews conducted on the actual trade and exchange rates in the light of the theoretical issues last part of Chapter 1. This briefly outlines the format and content of the thesis.

One final point needs mentioning. It is a common anthropological ploy to use local terminologies and I make no exception here by also using Huli terminology for two basic reasons. First, certain concepts are almost impossible to translate without losing their original meanings. For example, the Huli term, yole, is much more specific in meaning than ‘trade’. Second, this is a Huli account and as such deserves as much originality in terms and concepts.

In the final chapter the results in the light of the theoretical issues last part of Chapter 1. This briefly format and content of the thesis.


Enquiry into the subsequent maintenance antiquity, development and or dissolution of different forms of exchange institutions has interested archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, economists, and geographers. As this thesis is a contribution towards understanding the mechanisms of trade and exchange relations it is appropriate to include a brief review of the vast amount of material already in the literature and mention some of the pioneers in the Melanesian region. A regional rather than an historical approach is adopted; dividing the regions more or less along contemporary boundaries.

On the south coast of Papua New Guinea a lot of work has been done on the two big trading spheres, the Kula and the Hiri.

The Kula
Much of what we now know of the traditional Trobriand Islands exchange system, the Kula, is directly attributable to Bronislaw Malinowski a 1 though Selligimann (1910) was the first to report its existence. Malinowski’s ‘Argonauts of the Western Pacific’ ( 1922) brought into anthropology many of the theoretical issues in the anthropology of exchange that are still alive today; the main one being the role of trade and exchange in small scale societies. Malinowski’s work was extended by Fortune (1932) and Tueting (1935) with their Dobu version of the Kula story. From the 1960’s onwards other aspects of the Kula have been investigated. For example, Uberoi (1962) Weiner (1976) and Damon (1978). A recent update on the Kula recently comes in the volume entitled ‘The Kula,’ edited by Leach and Leach (1983). A different approach to the Kula story comes from archaeology. Lauer (1970-71) examined the pottery industry on the Amphlett Islands and established that, at least for the Amphlett Islanders the Kula exchange was essential for their survival. Hints on an earlier trade system comes from the work of Egloff (1978-79) in the neighbouring Collingwood Bay area. Irwin (1974, 1977, 1978a, 1978b, 1983) working on Mailu Island demonstrated the emergence of yet another trading system on that island, linking the Kula with the Hiri further to the west.

The Hiri
The preparation and undertaking of voyages by fleets of up to 20 lagatoi carrying about 1000 pots each and other items of exchange with villages in the Gulf Province must have been a sight for the early Europeans in the Port Moresby region. For example, Chalmers ( 1887:118) endless prose depicts the manufacture of pottery to be used in the Hiri. The Hiri, like the Kula also received prominent mention by early pioneers. A comprehensive account of this exchange system can be found in a recent volume edited by Dutton ( 982) Nigel Oram reviewed the Hiri as it existed in 1870, drawing on a lot of documentary and oral sources. He set out in detail substantial data on the perceived value or the goods being exchanged, an important issue in this thesis. Once again, it is the archaeologists who throw further insight into the antiquity of the Hiri. Allen (1976, 1977, 1982), Allen and Rye ( 1982) and Susan Bulmer (1982) are the main contributors. Their work indicates a shift in economy and settlement pattern leading to rapid specialization. In a general discussion on the two trading systems discussed above Allen (1977: 391-398) makes a good claim for a recent history of the development of the two trading systems.

For the north coast and the New Guinea Islands region it is the Vitiaz Strait trading system that has received most mention. The Vitiaz Strait Harding (1967) brought to the attention of the world the complex trade network of the Vitiaz Strait covering the areas from Karkar Island in Madang through Finschhafen, the Vitiaz Strait Islands and onto New Britain. Primarily an ethnographic account of the trade network it nonetheless provides some interesting discussion on trade and exchange {pp. 282-2, 238-251) in general. Sahlins (1972) used much of Harding’s work in his collected essays, Stone Age Economics which introduced many important ideas on prehistoric trade. The most important one as far as this thesis is concerned is his discussion on reciprocity and kinship distance.

The Huon Gulf

A lesser known exchange system is described in Hogbin’s work (1951) in the Huon Gulf area. This system includes the Tami Islanders who also, feature in Harding’s Vitjaz Strait network. Harding (1967:10) points out that even if the Huon Gulf one was on a much smaller scale it ‘was comparable in major respects to that of the Vitiaz Strait’.

In all these studies certain concerns are raised which can be paraphrased as follows: What role did these different trading spheres play? Were they to serve an immediate utilitarian cum subsistence need of the parties or w re they just social mechanisms of maintaining peaceful relations with ones neighbours. This is discussed in detail later on in this paragraph.

Indirect evidence of much earlier trade comes from the archaeologists. Archaeological evidence clearly demonstrates the antiquity of trade in Melanesia, with items moving considerable distances from their sources. Sea shells have been found in the archaeological sites of Kafiavana and Yuku dating to 9,000 and 6,000 years ago respectively. White (1972:93) in discussing Kafiavana mentions that ‘the presence of four
Cypraea moneta shells in Horizon VII documents trade with the coast some 9000 years ago. Obsidian from Talasea in New Britain has been found in archaeological sites in New Ireland (Ambrose, 1976, 1978) and as far away as Fiji in the Lapitaite of Naigani dating to about 2700 BP and in New Caledonia (Spriggs 1986 pers. comm.).

A lot of the work on trade and exchange systems in the highlands are referred to in different parts of the thesis. Only brief mention need be made here. On the mainland the work of Ian Hughes ( 1971, 1977) has been the best attempt to look at the trade network on a regional basis covering a wide range of ecological and cultural zones. Looking at the overall flow of goods through all the different forms of transactions, he provides an overview of the movement of goods in the highlands.

While much of the writing of the elaborate moka exchange system of the Melpa of the Western Highlands Province has been from Andrew Strathern, earlier reference to moka can be found in the work of Vicedom and Tischner (1943-8) and Gitlow (1947). Strathern has written extensively on the Melpa people. Aspects of Melpa trade and exchange are conveniently covered in his 1966, 1969, and 1971 contributions.

The tee is another ceremonial exchange system, this time involving the neighbouring Enga
people of the Enga Province. As Feil (1982:292) puts it, the tee should be “more appropriately called mene tee (pig tee)” where over 85% of the items of exchange involve pigs or parts of pigs. Meggitt (1972, 1974)
has also written on the tee. Recent contributions have been by Feil (1978, 1982, 1984). Although very different in emphasis further important studies in highlands trade and exchange come from Rappaport (1967) and Healey (1977) working among the Maring on the Madang and Western Highlands boarder. Further to the west ‘ a good summary of trade in the Ok-Mek Minisphere is provided by Swadling (1983).

Exchange in the Southern Highlands
For the Huli the earliest mention of trade is in the book by Hides (1936). Glasse’s (1968) ethnographic study was carried out at a time when most of Huli was still · regarded as ‘uncontrolled’ territory. While he covers some aspect of ‘ exchange’ his study was primarily of the Huli descent system and still remains the only ethnography of the Huli. The more recent work by Powell and Harrison ( 1982), Wood (1985) and Goldman (1983) do not mention trade or exchange.

The other extensive work on trade in the Southern Highlands is Sillitoe’s (1978a, 1978b, 1979a) ethnographic work on exchange amongst the Wola, to the southeast of the Huli. Diaries and patrol reports of the earlier pioneers are another invaluable source of information as demonstrated by Hughes ( 1977), Gorecki ( 1982), Oram ( 1982) and others. Later pioneers · and missionaries have also contributed to this wealth of knowledge, for example Vicedom and Tischner (1943-8), Gitlow (1947), and many others. These provide a brief glimpse of the system before the influence of the technologically superior European world brought irreversible change.

(This extract is from a thesis by Jo Tumbe Mangi in full requirement for the degree of Masters of Arts in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology: University of Papua New Guinea. 1988. pp. 1-6)

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