On Western and Indigenous Cargo Discourses in West New Britain (Papua New Guinea)
Frobenius-Institut, Grüneburgplatz 1,
ID-60323 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
This paper was published in the Anthropologica Forum, Vol. 14, July 2004, 117-139. Permission to put this paper on this website was given by Dr. Jebens and by Dr. Bob Tonkinson, editor. If you wish to cite or quote this paper, please refer to the published version.
'Predecessors' and discourses
In contrast to the so-called classic period of ethnography,
for some decades now many anthropologists have encountered situations
in which they have been told about colleagues who had previously
worked in the same area or with the same ethnic group. Such references
emanate not only from within the academic community but also from
the people visited, and offer an opportunity for attempting to
distinguish oneself by criticising ones predecessors. It is more
productive, however, to use the existence of such predecessors
to illuminate the historical dimension of the relationship between
the anthropologist looking through the theoretical spectacles
of his time, as it were, and his hosts and informants, or, more
generally, to highlight the relationship between Western and indigenous
The reflections offered here are based on two periods totalling 11 months (1996, 1997) that I spent in Koimumu, a village on the north coast of New Britain, Papua New Guinea . Koimumu's 600 or so inhabitants speak the Austronesian language Nakanai. Shortly after my arrival there in April 1996, when I delivered a prepared speech in order to introduce myself and my intentions (as I had done some years earlier during my first fieldwork in the Southern Highlands of PNG; see Jebens 1995, 1997, in press a), the reaction of the villagers was unanimous: "Yeah, Vali did that too. You don't have to say any more. We already know what sort of work youre talking about." Many more references to Vali were to follow, as people praised him for having lived and eaten exactly like themselves. In one case, however, he was also criticised for allegedly having just sat in his house, from which place he summoned the big men of the neighbouring villages and induced them to tell him stories.
Vali, my predecessor, was the American anthropologist Charles Valentine, who had first arrived in the neighbouring Rapuri some 40 years earlier. He had come to study cargo cults, socio-religious movements that had earned the West Nakanai a certain notoriety among Australian colonial administrators of the 1950s, and ever since have held a remarkable fascination for Westerners. It thus seems reasonable to view the relationship between Western and indigenous discourses predominantly as one between Western and indigenous cargo discourses. In the light of questions and concerns suggested by more recent cargo research (see Jebens and Kohl 1999; Dalton 2000; Jebens in press b), these discourses matter because they articulate a dialectic between cultural perceptions of Self and Other.
First contacts and a terra incognita
The West Nakanai live on the Hoskins Peninsula, not very far from the Gazelle Peninsula (the north-eastern tip of New Britain), which was the starting-point and centre for the mission and German colonial economy and government between 1884 and 1914. However the Hoskins Peninsula and adjoining Commodore Bay had off-shore reefs and several months of monsoonal storms that discouraged visits by European whalers, merchants, planters and so-called labour recruiters (who enticed villagers on board as workers for sugar plantations in Fiji or Queensland) as well as missionaries, colonial officers and members of research expeditions. As the chronicler of the Hamburger Südsee-Expedition remarked in April 1909, The plan to sail into Commodore Bay failed." Given the tremendous number of reefs and cliffs and the available light, after many abortive attempts, the captain no longer wanted to risk an entry (Hellwig 1927, 136).
The first more permanent contacts between Nakanai and Europeans took place on the Gazelle Peninsula, at a station run by the German-based Missionare vom heiligsten Herzen Jesu (MSC), located on the River Toriu. A mission ship had brought six Nakanai boys there in 1911, five of them West Nakanai. The station head, Fr. Friedrich Hees, wanted to educate the boys and learn their language as preparation for the missionisation of the Nakanai. Hees could perhaps fairly be labelled the forefather of Nakanai research or the predecessor of Valentine. Only one of his articles, published in Anthropos (1915/16), is known in the English-language literature, not those that had appeared earlier; not those that had appeared in the MSC journal, Monatshefte (Hees 1913a, b, 1914a, b).
Whereas information on the Nakanai had previously come only from various kinds of travellers and was thus second-hand, now for the first time the Nakanai were given their own voice: Hees illustrates his statements in an almost ethnographic manner with observations of his living together with the boys, with elements from their myths and narratives, and above all with quotations, increasingly rendered in the original language. Hees describes how his informants react to their new lives at the mission station, calls their attempts at explanation the results of their research (Hees 1913a, 105), and observes that "while I teach them lotu (religious services), they teach me their language, so that we are properly exchanging the roles of teacher and pupil "(p. 104). However, Hees proves to be far from such mutuality when he reports failed attempts by the boys to escape, and acts of physical violence against them: "Admittedly they were not yet able to pay regular attention, but here I occasionally helped things along quite effectively by use of a small pointer, without damage to our friendship that prevailed otherwise" (p. 107).
From a contemporary perspective, then, Hees appears in an oddly ambivalent light, and he himself viewed the Nakanai no less ambivalently. He writes that their large and strong men as well as their pretty and slim women are stressed admiringly by all travellers (Hees 1914a, 210), yet claims that the Nakanai, in all his magnificence, makes a revolting impression on the European, despite his tasteful body decoration (Hees 1915/16, 38). At the same time, Hees relates with some empathy how the boys stand on the mission station on the Toriu and look longingly in the direction of their homes. Noting the boys homesickness, Hees perhaps hints at his own wanderlust, when he states that the whole Nakanai area is a terra incognita (1915/16, 36).
In 1951, the American anthropologist, Ward Goodenough (1951, 37), echoes Hess when contrasting the wealth of ethnographic information on the Gazelle Peninsula with "the rest of the island [which] with the exception of only one or two tribes has remained terra incognita to this day". Goodenough apparently found the West Nakanai to be the most attractive on the island, which he explains with a reference to cargo cults. Before World War II, the area between the Dage and Kapeuru Rivers had been the home of the Batari movement, already mentioned in the literature in 1948, and, as Goodenough told me, when he first visited them at the end of 1951 the West Nakanai were talking about the so-called Kivung almost daily. The Batari movement was considered to constitute a cargo cult by colonial administrators and missionaries, but while, in the early 1950s, it had already ended, the Kivung -- or 'outbreak' as it was also called -- seemed to be its successor. According to a patrol report that had been classified as secret, but was known to Goodenough, the Kivung had the same leaders and the same origin as the Batari movement, and Patrol Officer E. S. Sharp (1952/53) made the gloomy prediction that, "Perhaps at some future date we will not be as lucky as the past and the outbreak will get out of hand."
In March 1954, Goodenough and two of his graduate students, Ann Chowning and Daris Swindler, arrived in Galilo, near Koimumu and Rapuri. This was not only the largest, and the only Protestant, village in the region but also the only one whose inhabitants had not joined the Batari movement. While Chowning was to focus on the social and economic life of the women and Swindler, a physical anthropologist, was to take body measurements and collect blood samples and impressions of teeth, Goodenough had planned to have the past Batari movement and the present Kivung examined by 25-year-old Charles Valentine, whom he remembers as "probably the brightest, most promising graduate student we had."
Charles Valentine: Cutting edge and defeat
At the end of April 1954, Valentine and his wife, Edith, arrived in a small Catholic village called Rapuri, the centre of the Kivung and the home of its local leader, Lima. Valentine, who stayed until the end of October 1954, took part in numerous Kivung meetings and summoned selected informants to him, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups, some of them only once, and others several times. He recorded brief reports as well as observations and quotations on an almost day-by-day basis. This was increasingly complemented by transcriptions of entire monologues, written in a type of shorthand of the Neo-Melanesian Tok Pisin. Altogether, there are around 480 pages of field notes on the Batari movement and the Kivung (Valentine 1954a). Using this material and a report written by Valentine (1955) for the Australian colonial administration a few months after his departure from Rapuri, I first summarise Valentines account, then give his interpretation of the Batari movement and the Kivung, before discussing Valentines fieldwork, which was to exert a decisive influence on his later development.
The Batari movement began in Rabaul, on the Gazelle Peninsula, before the outbreak of World War II. There, Batari met a White man who told him, The dead of the Nakanai and other natives go to Rome, where their skin turns white and they occupy themselves with the manufacture of cargo (Valentine 1955, 10), that is, Western goods. Furthermore, Batari learned that in order to "hasten the return of the dead, the living must defy their masters in every way. When the dead return they will bring with them all the material things of European culture, as well as European knowledge, social and political institutions, and freedom from European rule. The dead will come in great armadas of ships and planes, and they will be known as Nippon or Japan." (p. 10)
According to Valentine, these ideas picked up and elaborated on beliefs that must already have developed prior to the end of the German colonial period, while the Nakanai (here in the singular) increasingly "moved from valuing cargo as a thing in itself to conceiving of it as a symbol of all that he desired but did not know the means for attaining "(p. 4).
In any case, Batari was inspired, returned home from Rabaul, declared himself King, appointed subordinate officials and mobilised an army of some 500 men, which spread his ideas and directives from village to village. New marriages were arranged, and people not only distanced themselves from elements of their own culture but also propagated the rejection of the colonial administration, plantation work and missions. In Valoka, Batari's soldiers interned and abused the White priest, Fr. Josef Weigl (1913-1985). People danced on especially decorated cemeteries in order to come into contact with the ancestors and encourage them to return (pp. 10-15). Then the Japanese marched in and ended the Batari movement by compelling Weigls release and capturing Batari, only to be later expelled by US forces, who, in turn, were succeeded by the Australians.
Although the Nakanai were thus left without an organisation to put their beliefs into practice (p. 17), by 1946 they had developed these beliefs into what Valentine calls a complex mythology (p. 18), according to which they had once lived together with the Europeans, sharing the same knowledge, customs and material goods. Their only chance of re-enacting the lost way of life was to adopt Christianity and to draw the Americans back to New Britain (pp. 18-20). In the same year, his religious superiors ordered Fr. Heinrich Berger (1907-1986), a German-born MSC priest, to move to Vavua and occupy the central MSC station among the West Nakanai. Berger made the people reveal their mythology to him, and asserted that under his leadership Batari would have been successful, and that he (Berger) alone knew the 'true secret of Cargo'. He offered to "lead a new movement which would accomplish the goals of the Cargo Belief " and this was gladly accepted. Berger thus became, as Valentine puts it, "the organizing genius behind the present Nakanai Cargo Cult" (p. 21) as well as its supreme ruler. Enjoying absolute power, Berger not only took all important decisions himself and chose the local leaders, the first of them being Lima from Rapuri, but also, according to Valentine, was able "to lead the people in a successful eight-year-long campaign of passive resistance to all Administration policies" (p. 38) that prevented the introduction of either local government councils or administration-supported co-operatives.
The Kivung adherents attempted to live "like Europeans", that is, to re-enact the lost way of life of the ancestors. They followed "Catholic doctrine" and propagated obedience to one's parents as well as harmonious marriages. The villages, and the cemeteries in particular, had to be kept clean at all times, and village life was "regulated by gong signals summoning people for meals, work and church attendance" (p. 25). In addition, people sold copra to a White plantation owner who was a friend of Berger's, receiving in return "from one third to two thirds of the legal prize" as well as "a few sheets of roofing iron" and "one shipment of cheap manufactured food" (p. 26).
For Valentine, however, all this merely "provided a public facade behind which were hidden the covert doctrines of the Movement" (p. 23), namely, that all the Kivungs activities would ultimately lead to the acquisition of cargo. This was linked to what Valentine calls "a rather elaborate development of both oral and written double-talk," and at Kivung meetings "metaphorical language and double meaning" were carried to such lengths "that frequently the meaning of a whole speech" remained "quite obscure to all except the initiates" (p. 30). Although the few opponents of the Kivung apart from the colonial administration, the villagers of Galilo, thus lacked sufficient information to threaten the Kivung seriously, most of the local Kivung leaders had already served a prison sentence following accusations from Galilo, which, in turn, periodically and effectively served to confirm the necessity for secrecy preached by Berger (p. 36).
By 1954, after its beginnings as a "highly secret cult" shared only by Berger and a few local leaders, the Kivung extended "over a population of more than 5,000, which included four mutually unintelligible languages," and, according to Valentine, continued to grow because it was based on widespread ideas, embodied a "consciously Pan-Melanesian ideal and has shown a practical ability to unite peoples of disparate origin and ways of life" (p.32). Furthermore, Valentine writes, the Kivung leaders and many of its adherents, encouraged by Berger, were looking forward to "spreading their doctrine and organization over the whole of New Guinea and beyond" (p. 42).
I now move from Valentine's account to his interpretation. Notwithstanding the fact that he emphasises the continuities between the Kivung, the Batari movement and still earlier beliefs, Valentine also traces central elements of the Kivung back to Berger, such as its rejection of the colonial administration, its rigid organisational structure and its pervasive secrecy. In Valentines 1955 report, in particular, Berger appears like an autocrat with unrestricted power, almost like a character from a Joseph Conrad novel. The image of the Kivung as an authoritarian system of compulsion and of its adherents as the puppets of an omnipotent missionary recalls the view, common in the early 1950s, of indigenous peoples as the passive victims of influences breaking in on them from the outside in the wake of colonisation. This view also corresponds to an idea already outdated in those years but widespread among colonial officials, traders and missionaries, according to which cargo cults constitute symptoms of a disturbance to the peoples cultural equilibrium and mental health that had been triggered by such influences (Williams 1934, 377; Eckert 1940, 26); Guiart (1951a, 229).
Yet Valentine is at the cutting edge of his time. He writes that the Kivung succeeds in uniting larger groups, only a few years after Guiart (1951b) called cargo cults the "forerunners of Melanesian nationalism", and a few years before Worsley (1957, 228) reported this very integrative function as one of their main effects (see also Bodrogi 1951, 282; Mühlmann 1961, 7). While Worsley still understands cargo cults primarily as attempts to resist colonial oppression through the acquisition of Western goods, Valentines concept of cargo as a symbol already anticipates the insights of Burridge (1960) and Lawrence (1964) who, like Valentine but unlike Worsley, interpreted cargo cults on the basis of their own fieldwork as the expression of culturally specific orientation and value systems (see also Lindstrom  on Burridge, and Jebens [2001a] on Lawrence). Moreover, Valentine's stress on a continuous development from the earliest beliefs via the Batari movement up to the Kivung foreshadows the historical perspective with which Lawrence describes a single cargo movement as a succession of various attempts at explanation and action, following and building on one another, in his much-acclaimed 1964 classic, Road belong cargo. The very words "road belong cargo" appear, in a similar form though a decade earlier, in Valentine's field notes (23 Aug., 2). Valentine had met Lawrence, just returned from New Guinea, in Canberra, prior to beginning his own fieldwork.
However, Valentine's interpretation changed drastically in later years. After he and his second wife, Bettylou, returned to Rapuri for a total of five months between 1977 and 1979, Valentine saw the Kivung, a thing of the past since the violent intervention of the colonial administration in the late 1960s, no longer as an authoritarian system of compulsion directed by a White autocrat but as "the main modern voice of local people" (Valentine and Valentine 1979a, 65). The Kivung now had supervised community social life, preserved both Christian and Melanesian sacred traditions, and organized local politics throughout a sizeable region in order to protest against colonial expropriation and exploitation (p. 65). In Valentine's (1979, 100) view, however, those in power were stigmatising such authentic forms of resistance with the misapplied, over-used label 'cargo cult in' order "to dismiss them as primitive supernaturalism which must be suppressed".
This is a remarkable change indeed. From being victims of a powerful missionary, the Kivung adherents turn into victims of the capitalism that had been introduced in the course of colonisation. Now, the Kivung adherents oppose that capitalism and, in so doing, they are accompanied by the great sympathy of the same Valentine, who, in the 1950s, had worked in the interest of, and reported to the Australian colonial administration. In criticising the term 'cargo cult', which he himself had used earlier, Valentine is again ahead of his time. In later years, and in the course of a self-reflexive turn, cargo research came to view the term as a predominantly Western creation and to claim that various interpretations of cargo cults-whether as cults of goods or as expressions of culturally specific orientation and value systems-were actually expressing specific dispositions of Western culture itself (see Otto 1992, 6; Lindstrom 1993; Jebens and Kohl 1999, 11-12; Jebens 2004a).
By virtue of being so rich, differentiated and multi-layered, the ethnographic material presented in Valentine's report to the colonial administration, and more particularly in his field notes, could undoubtedly have made him a leading figure in the history of cargo research, on the same scale as Worsley, Burridge or Lawrence, although earlier. In my view, the reason why this did not happen lies neither in Valentine's account nor in his interpretation of the Batari movement and the Kivung, but in the course his fieldwork took in 1954.
In his 1954 field notes, Valentine (21 Aug., 2) writes of publicly complaining that people were not giving him sufficient information on the Kivung, and that he also had this complaint passed on to Lima, the local Kivung leader. Lima reacted immediately by visiting him over the next two days and by telling him, for the first time, that Berger had promised the arrival of cargo (22 Aug., 23 Aug). At the beginning of September, Valentine heard rumours that Lima and Berger were opposed to people revealing too much to him or speaking to him about the Kivung at all (7 Sept., 1; 8 Sept., 4). So Valentine delivered a speech in Rapuri on 14 September in which he presented his listeners with a choice between himself as a protagonist of enlightenment and autonomy, and Berger as a representative of stultification and exploitation. He concluded with an urgent appeal to opt for him and suggested that Berger should be taken to court and expelled from the land of the West Nakanai. According to Valentine, people reacted by "remaining nearly half an hour in complete silence" (14 Sept., 5), and he began seeking support from the neighbouring villages with what, in his report, he calls "a kind of campaign of limited re-education" (Valentine 1955, 50). Villagers reactions proved to be polite but reserved, and in Rapuri, although people tried to act as if nothing had happened, they showed signs of concern or embarrassment and increasingly kept their distance (24 Sept., 1). A week later, Valentine writes of "a campaign to keep people away from our house" (1 Oct., 1), and, by the end of another week, the entries, which are no longer being made daily, carry the heading "Reign of Terror", and he notes that, apart from his main informant, people have stopped visiting him (8 Oct., 1). Valentine's defeat seems to have been sealed when, towards the end of this last month of his fieldwork, Lima announced that there would be no court and that no White man could expel Berger, who would now rule over all the Nakanai.
Against this background, Valentines report, written only a few months after his departure from Rapuri, appears as a continuation of his conflict with Berger. By portraying Berger as the instigator of a longstanding "campaign of passive resistance to all Administration policies" and by stressing the growth in and hence the relevance of the Kivung, Valentine must have hoped to induce the colonial administration to act against Berger. Colonial officials, however, proved to be rather critical of Valentine: District Officer John Murphy notes in a letter (included in Foley 1954/55), "I am sure that his presence, particularly towards the end of his sojourn, and his open and violent disagreements with Fr. Berger only served to exacerbate an already uneasy native situation." and he sees Valentine's departure as contributing to an improvement of the native situation. Valentine's doctoral supervisor, Goodenough, was not pleased by Valentine's kind of campaign of limited re-education either, and he wrote him what he remembers as a rather sharp letter telling him that he was out of order and this was not the kind of thing you did when you were doing anthropological fieldwork. This led to a falling out between Valentine and Goodenough, and consequently Valentine's (1958) unpublished dissertation, completed after a second stay in Rapuri from April to November 1956, was not devoted to an analysis of his original subject but to a mere description of the general history of New Britain. Basically, Valentine was to use his 'cargo material' only to illustrate historically oriented reflections in an unpublished manuscript (1959) and two articles (1960, 1963a). Neither in his dissertation nor in any of his publications does he mention so much as a word of his conflict with Berger or of his subsequent report. In later years-unlike his former fellow students, Chowning and Swindler-Valentine withdrew entirely from anthropology, and is rarely referred to in contemporary writings on cargo cults.
Valentine's field notes for 1954 could be seen as revealing a drama gradually unfolding in which an anthropologist, although full of the best intentions, almost tragically manoeuvres himself into a dead-end situation that ultimately both isolates him from his hosts and informants and prevents him from obtaining his due recognition within the academic community. However, the relationship between Valentine and the inhabitants of Rapuri and its neighbouring villages also transcends the dimension of an individual persons fate, insofar as it constitutes an example of the relationship between Western and indigenous cargo discourses in the mid 1950s.
Kivung and Batari in retrospect
In the Koimumu I visited in 1996, unlike in Valentine's Rapuri of 1954, the Batari movement and the Kivung are as much a part of history since Papua New Guineas independence as the Australian colonial administration. With cash crops, stores and "public motor vehicles", the money economy is becoming increasingly important, though the villagers still also live from taro, fish and sago. They consider themselves committed Christians and participate regularly in Catholic services, but at the same time they continue, more or less in secret, their magical practices and, as before, their social relationships are predominantly mediated by and articulated in the idiom of kinship. As an official in the provincial capital told me, "Koimumu is a large traditional village".
I first heard about the Kivung in Koimumu in May 1996. When I asked Joe Sogi, the man who had introduced me there a month before, whether he could still remember the predecessors of the present priest, his answer included the following:
"There was Father Berger. He started the Kivung family, which then turned into a cargo cult and ended just like that. People wanted to learn something about the way of the whites (sindaun bilong waitman) and about our way (sindaun bilong mipela) .... However, it didn't work. Then the Whites introduced local government councils and quarrels emerged because the Kivung opposed them and the paying of taxes. Some adherents of the Kivung went to prison and the council won."
Soon afterwards, in June, during a conversation with Paul Gar, the purported big man of Koimumu, I indicated that in the future I would like to learn something about the Kivung family. Paul reacted spontaneously and with a heightening degree of agitation:
"The government repeatedly took us to court about this and so we stopped it. Lima and his people have changed it. It was brought up by Berger. We did what Berger told us to do. It was good. Later Berger went away and we stopped. We didnt do any cargo cult. Cargo cults have been done by others, like the people in Bali, Gloucester and Arawe. There was no family Kivung there. This existed only in Talasea and Bialla. There were no cargo cults among the Western Nakanai. The government repeatedly accused us of doing cargo cults, but we did not. Others were against us and they blamed us without reason. 'Cargo cult' means to bring food to the cemetery, to get money from the cemetery and cargo from the ancestors. This was done not by us but by others. We were just worshipping. We were against premarital intercourse, sorcery and theft. We built new houses for people who were newly married, we built a store and a big house in Vavua. Encouraged by Father Berger we planted coconut palms, we sold copra and we received cargo from Rabaul.... We did just that and that was good. Cargo cults are bullshit. Money and cargo do not derive from the ancestors, money derives solely from sweat. Berger said that, too."
Apart from a somewhat questioning undertone-money and goods do not derive from the ancestors, do they?--Paul's assertions already include certain topics that were to be repeated frequently in the following months, albeit with considerable variation in content and elaboration, and that can therefore be viewed as typical of indigenous representations of the Kivung: Berger's founding role, Christian and economic objectives, then a change, and finally conflicts with the government. Here the topic of change proved to be the most sensitive one. Whenever the inhabitants of Koimumu talked about it at all, they preferred, unlike Joe Sogi, not to speak of a transformation into a cargo cult, but to use the words 'exaggeration', 'deterioration' or a 'return to the times of Batari'.
In doing so, more often than not it was left unspecified what these words should mean or what exactly the people had believed and done in the times of Batari. As with the Kivung, however, certain topics tended to reappear, and can therefore be combined to construct a common narrative, according to which Batari had, following the instructions of a White man, appointed soldiers who marched through the villages, and had ordered single women and men to marry. This earned Batari a large following, but during World War II the Japanese invaded, put many of his adherents into prison and thrashed him, so that he finally gave up his activities. In addition, careful, informal and often rather indirect questions or remarks on my part gradually elicited references to Bataris adherents expecting the arrival of ships in which the ancestors would bring Western goods, and thus remove the differences between villagers and Europeans. Vavua-born Titus Mou told me that Batari's followers had brought food to the cemetery to offer their ancestors and had imprisoned a White priest in his station before treating him roughly. In Koimumu, this information was not confirmed to me until a year later, after my return in 1997.
According to the indigenous cargo discourses, the Batari movement and the Kivung have thus been both punished and suppressed, the former by the Japanese and the latter by Australians. In any event, the local government councils, apparently having been introduced by the colonial authorities with the promise that they "will make that something will get in order in the village", must have split the population into two antagonistic factions, and, in Joe Sogis words,"some adherents of the Kivung went to prison and the council won." Yet Tomuga, Lima's brother, told me that the official promises had eventually turned out to be lies and that he personally would have preferred to try out the Kivung just a little bit longer.
The adherents of Batari and the Kivung have certainly attempted first to explain their situation, or, as Joe Sogi had it, to learn something about their own way and that of the Whites, and then to change it. Irrespective of the specific form that these attempts may have taken in particular instances, they appear to have been based on assumptions that, in turn, correspond to certain contemporary ideas that I still encountered in Koimumu. Prior to the national elections of 1997, for example, I was sitting with a small group of villagers, including an old supporter of the Pangu Partys candidate, Brown Bai, who had already told me on previous occasions that Bai was rich and had often been to Rome where the Pope had revealed some secrets to him, and that, if he won, "something will happen". As the forthcoming elections were now being discussed, Bais supporter claimed that whoever produced a coloured visiting card with the picture of the candidate at a bank would be given huge amounts of money in return. One of the young men present replied spontaneously, "Hey, this is now a cargo cult!"
It seems that Western anthropologists have no monopoly on talking about 'cargo cults' or using that term itself (cf. Lindstrom 1993, 5; Jebens and Kohl 1999, 15; Hermann 2004; Jebens 2004b; Otto 2004). Western cargo discourses are paralleled by indigenous ones, and in my view the latter, whether articulated nowadays or during Valentine's time, can be characterised by a small degree of specification, or, to put it positively, by a ceertain degree of openess. When it is promised, for example, that through the introduction of local government councils 'something will get in order in the village', or that in the case of Brown Bai winning the elections 'something will happen', then in both cases the exact meaning of 'something' is very much left to individual interpretation. Moreover, because of its rich imagery, Neo-Melanesian Tok Pisin, the language of indigenous cargo discourses, seems to be particularly appropriate for a rather oblique, indirect way of talking that plays with allusions. This is very well documented in Valentine's Tok Pisin shorthand, and this is what, in his 1955 report, Valentine tried to capture with the words 'double talk' and 'metaphorical language'.
Accordingly, the inhabitants of Koimumu, Rapuri and the neighbouring villages do not usually define the term cargo substantially, but at most relationally and at the same time negatively: 'cargo' means no local government council, no government school, no Administration-supported co-operative and no Christianity; it is what the Japanese punished and then the Australians suppressed. This negative definition corresponds to a negative evaluation so that the transformation of the Kivung into a cargo cult can be seen as a 'deterioration', or, as Paul Gar expressed it more tersely, "Cargo cults are bullshit!" Hence, no one has ever participated in a cargo cult himself. The cargo cultist is always the Other. Only in Galilo, among the Kivungs former opponents, did I hear people considering it as a cargo cult. Not surprisingly, this view was vehemently denied in Koimumu, incidentally also by invoking Valentine. He had allegedly supported the Kivung, because "we worked with money, we did not wait for cargo. He saw that himself."
Mutual influences and cultural difference
Turning from the first contacts between Nakanai and Europeans, from Valentine and from present-day Koimumu to the relationship between Western and indigenous cargo discourses, the latter can be seen as articulating a dialectic between cultural perceptions of Self and Other. For example, when Kivung adherents attempt to live "like Europeans" or "to learn something about their own way and that of the Whites", they presuppose images of Self and Other which are closely related in that they are constructed as oppositions. With their goods and their Christianity, Europeans do possess what the Nakanai lack. At the same time, however, people willingly point out that Europeans in turn have no knowledge of shame or respect, of hospitality or generosity, that is, of the very values that are seen as particularly characteristic of Nakanai culture. Thus, the oppositions between Self and Other prove to be highly ambivalent.
Based upon these oppositions, inhabitants of Koimumu, Rapuri and the neighbouring villages often describe culture change as a unilinear process, which, having been triggered by Europeans and coming from the outside, impacts on a static tradition. Then, by causing its disappearance, it ultimately makes Nakanai become like Europeans, or leads to the emergence of a culture where, some believe, no culture had been before. Apparently, people picture this unilinear process of change spatially in that they associate every phase of it with a different local group. Thus, the inhabitants of the Gazelle Peninsula (incidentally, just like indigenous politicians) are generally seen as greedy and selfish, that is, "just like Europeans", only black on the surface. While not yet having gone that far themselves, my hosts and informants in Koimumu believed that, they had become more like Europeans than, for example, the inhabitants of the interior of New Britain, who, it is said, "still do not know anything" and who are thus seen to represent ones own past. Apparently, this unilinear process of change proves to be as ambivalent as the oppositions upon which it is based: to progress means simultaneously to step backwards, in so far as to assimilate to Europeans means simultaneously to re-enact the lost way of life of the ancestors. On the one hand, change leads to the emergence of culture as such. On the other hand, people also often talk about an equally moral and biological degeneration, partly caused by the very Western goods that are otherwise valued and sought-for as tokens of the desired way of life.
Unfortunately, there is no space here to compare indigenous cargo discourses with constructions of kastom, that is, with cultural self-representations, as expressed by the inhabitants of Koimumu, for example, in the context of the revived performance of masked dances (Figure 6; cf. Jebens 2001b, 2003). Here, I can only suggest that while such self-representations include the same images of Self and Other, constructions of kastom are oriented towards the past rather than the future and tend to foreground practices rather than ideas.
Just as Western anthropologists are not the only ones talking about 'cargo cults', the dialectic between cultural perceptions of Self and Other is not restricted to indigenous cargo discourses. In the history of 'cargo research', too, such perceptions appear to be closely interdependent. The self-reflexive turn, already referred to, had encouraged scholars to make their own texts an object of analysis and apply the term 'cargo' to elements of 'Western culture' itself. Rutschky (1992), for example, associated the Monday demonstrations prior to the so-called reunification of Germany with cargo movements and, in Wagner's (2000) view, Western beliefs about UFOs constituted our very own 'cargo cult'. These ideas were then answered with the criticism that, while the term cargo cult itself may actually be simply a product of the Western imagination, the same cannot be true for the phenomena that the term was supposed to refer to in the first place (see Valjavec 1995; Parmenter 1996). It would thus be insufficient to examine only Western discourses, leaving out ethnographic reality itself, the object of many of these discourses (cf. Otto 1999). Thus, the self-reflexive turn leads perhaps paradoxically to a sort of ethnographic turn, but the corresponding demand for ethnographic specificity-and this is perhaps even more paradoxical-eventually causes the Western view to fall back on the West itself, since the ideas and practices subsumed under the label 'cargo cult' often articulate indigenous views of 'Western culture' and its protagonists (cf. Dalton 2000, in press). Accordingly, not only our own but also the indigenous cargo discourses, as well as the corresponding phenomena themselves, do provide us with a mirror, and this may have contributed to the unbroken fascination that 'cargo cults' have exerted in the West until the present day.
Unlike the case in Valentines time or in the context of indigenous cargo discourses, anthropologists now understand colonialism less as an unilinear process of change coming from the outside and impacting on a previously static tradition, and more as what Gosden and Knowles (2001:xix) call a "single social and cultural field of mutual influence". Dalton (in press) emphasises that Melanesian cultures cannot be reduced either to the role of being victims of the West or to that of resisting it. Not unaffected by the West but, as already mentioned, also not just a product of its imagination, cargo cults are, according to Stewart and Harding (1999:287), an "artifact of entwined practices". In my view, the formula of mutual influence can also be applied to the relationship between Western and indigenous cargo discourses. It is virtually impossible to separate them clearly from each other, particularly because they both articulate a dialectic between cultural perceptions of Self and Other. This corresponds to the ambivalence that characterises both indigenous oppositions between 'black' and 'white' and, for example, Hees's representation of the Nakanai as simultaneously admirable and revolting.
As I put it at the beginning of this paper, the mutual influence between Western and indigenous cargo discourses becomes evident in the relationship between the anthropologist, caught up in the theoretical currents of his time, and his hosts and informants, whether in Rapuri in 1954 or in Koimumu in 1996.
From a contemporary perspective, it appears that Valentine could understand the openness of indigenous cargo discourses not as one of their specific characteristics, but only as a way of disguising a concealed core, that is, as a result of secrecy. While this may have been due to a search for essences, as already indicated, to trace such secrecy back to the figure of an omnipotent missionary corresponds to the view, widespread in Valentine's time, of indigenous peoples as the passive victims of external influences consequent upon colonisation. Valentine's "campaign of limited re-education", based on his assumption and explanation of secrecy, is a conscious and deliberate attempt -- again, with the best of intentions -- to influence his hosts and informants. I am not so certain, though, to what extent he was also aware of the fact that by taking up the 'cargo' accusation (which usually came from the direction of Galilo and the colonial administration) and by redirecting it against Berger, he was simultaneously reproducing the understanding of 'cargo' upon which those accusations were based. If, however, the influence was mutual, then the inhabitants of Rapuri and neighbouring villages must have explained and interpreted Valentine's campaign, as well as his goals of enlightenment and autonomy, predominantly in accordance with, if not determined by, their own ideas and needs, just as they had before with respect to the Christian teachings preached by Berger. Thus, Valentine's view that Berger had manipulated the Kivung adherents was certainly correct, but it was also only half the truth. However, in order to grasp how people interpreted what he and Berger had said in terms of indigenous influence, Valentine would perhaps have needed both an understanding of colonialism that still did not prevail in the 1950s and a self-reflexive disposition that likewise was propagated much later.
It would of course be pointless to blame Valentine for having been a [product] of his theoretical time. The same is also true of me; as in Valentine's case, my relationship with my hosts and informants was one of mutual influence. Without my stays in Koimumu and the neighbouring villages, for example, the revived performance of masked dances might not have happened and, furthermore, my somewhat reserved style of doing fieldwork might have contributed to the openness of indigenous cargo discourses, although this openness is already documented in Valentine's field notes. More time will be required to judge the effects of my living together with the villagers: to learn, for example, whether the children of the masked dancers will later remember that they had once followed video recordings of their fathers' performances with the utmost interest. A greater lapse in time should also reveal more clearly how I was influenced by my hosts and informants who, in the context of cargo and kastom, tried to differentiate themselves by attributing to others the status of cargo cultists, or producers of masks of inferior quality.
In focusing on the dialectic between cultural perceptions of
Self and Other in Western as well as indigenous cargo discourses,
and stressing continuities on both sides, I am responding to McDowell
(2000:274), who has criticised previous cargo research for its
tendency to ignore similarities and stress differences. However,
I would plead for scepticism whenever such similarities are held
to be the result of external influences. It is precisely such
an interpretation that might have led Valentine to see it as a
corroboration of his ideas when the Kivung adherents told him
what he already believed, namely, that Berger would promise the
arrival of cargo and press for secrecy. However, intentions do
matter. When people in Koimumu and neighbouring villages say that
'Vali' had lived and eaten exactly like themselves, or had sat
in his house, or had supported the Kivung, regardless of whether
such statements are 'true' or not, 'Vali' also constitutes a rhetorical
figure that enables people, in conversation with me, to take certain
positions, that is, to formulate praise, criticism or demands.
I am certain that Berger also had the same function in villagers
conversations with Valentine.
If, in the context of indigenous cargo discourses, the process of culture change is described as being triggered by Europeans and as unilinear in direction, and if this process is pictured spatially, one may be reminded of older anthropological models. However, to assume an indigenous evolutionism based on an importation would be an evolutionist idea itself. It would also neglect the ambivalence which, according to indigenous cargo discourses, is characteristic of this process: as noted above, in their context to progress means simultaneously to step backwards, and the emergence of culture as such also constitutes a degeneration.
When the inhabitants of Koimumu and the neighbouring villages define and assess the term 'cargo cult 'negatively and apply it solely to others, this seems to correspond to the beginning of 'cargo research', which saw 'cargo cults' as the symptoms of a disturbance to the people's cultural equilibrium and mental health. However, talking about an appropriation of the Western concept and an internalisation of its negative traits (cf. Hermann 1997) may once again evoke a distorted image of passive victims and neglect of the openness that is a specific characteristic of indigenous cargo discourses.
Similarities can be deceiving, and this is what the examples just presented should show. Somewhat in opposition to McDowell, I would therefore claim that a comparative analysis of the mutual influence of Western and indigenous cargo discourses that takes into account both the demands for self-reflexivity and ethnographic specificity should focus on one thing in particular: cultural difference. This is where the 'indigenous presence' articulates itself, this is what should be given a voice, and this is also what eventually would have to be made fruitful for a critique of Western culture.
Concluding with a personal remark referring to Koimumu and the neighbouring villages, I thank Valentine for the opportunity he has provided to examine mutual influence with a historical dimension. Regardless of whether or not my research represents 'progress' vis-à-vis that of Valentine-both possibilities could well be argued for-I hope I have contributed to the continuing existence of that opportunity in the future, when I have become a predecessor myself, and when the inhabitants of Koimumu might perhaps say to an anthropologist introducing himself, "Yeah, Holger did that, too."
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