Sagali and the Kula: A Regional Systems Analysis of the Massim

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This thesis is concerned with developing a consistent regional perspective on the Massim peoples of southeastern Papua New Guinea, a task largely neglected by earlier anthropological studies, it is claimed, or, when sometimes attempted, unsuccessfully accomplished for a number of reasons, both methodological and theoretical.

The author uses a comparative approach for investigating a selection of Massim societies. Any differences in social and political organization are understood as variations on a common theme or underlying logic, which implies, of course, that they are linked in a transformational sense. What distinguishes his approach from the main current of structural analyses, however, is its focus upon those mechanisms responsible for generating concrete local forms and how the latter may select for a wide spectrum of alternative political strategies. Fundamentally important in this respect is the relative position of each particular society within the larger kula network, which allows for different opportunities to control crucial wealth objects for internal transactional purposes, such as marriage and mortuary payments. Variations on more centralized and decentralized modes of political organization are considered a consequence of the articulation of general structural and local positional factors. However, it is argued that, because of the larger dynamics of the kula ring, there is a tendency for individual societies to feature an oscillatory pattern similar to that which is characteristic of most Melanesian big-man systems. Cosmological beliefs and ritual mechanisms are used to account for the way Trobriand chiefs have been more successful in stabilizing their positions than other leaders within the area. What results finally is an explanation of Massim regional variation as based on a structural model of social reproduction.

To attain its empirical goals, this book makes use of a wide variety of published and non-published sources, ranging from early missionary reports to contemporary monographs by professional anthropologists. Its main purpose, however, is analytical rather than ethnographic. It is argued that a consistent regional framework has much to contribute to the general field of social anthropology when it comes to explaining how local societies might operate as component parts of larger systems.


  • Johnny Persson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Anthropology


  • political organization, exchange systems, structural transformations, reproductive models, regional analysis, kula, Trobriands, Massim, Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Cultural anthropology, ethnology
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1999 Dec 11
  • Department of Sociology, Lund University
Print ISBNs91-89078-87-X
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 1999-12-11 Time: 10:15 Place: Edens hörsal, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Godelier, Maurice Title: Directeur d'Études, Affiliation: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales ---