Climbing a Mountain Without a Ladder:
Chronologies and Stories

Jennifer M. Blythe

1992. Blythe, Jennifer M. Climbing a mountain without a ladder: cosmology and oral traditions. Time and Society Vol. 1(1): 13-27.

ABSTRACT. Local oral traditions do not provide the chronologies and verified facts that are characteristic of literate traditions. Oral historians either treat local traditions as reflections of culture and/or social structure or they concentrate on isolating facts from fiction. But people create their pasts and generate their futures from their own ideas of time, space and causality so it is also important to understand indigenous 'stories' in these terms. In Unea Island, three narrative types, each focussing on a different area of space-time, provide some understanding of basic orientations that underlie decisions that islanders make

'If you don't have a history,' I say to her, 'how am I going to tell your story?'

"Is a ladder the way to climb a mountain?" she says


(Leguin 1985:181)

Although Leguin's anthropologist was attempting to tell the story of a fictional people, her problem is shared by all historians who work in societies without chronologies. Are they to regard traditions as data for elucidating culture or social structure? Should they seek temporal clues and kernels of truth in myth and legend that will allow them to translate indigenous traditions into the ordered accounts of Western histories? Or are they to try instead to find alternative organizing patterns which are meaningful to the people of the culture studied? Each approach has its merits and drawbacks.

A number of influential early twentieth century anthropologists, including Van Gennep and Lowie believed that local accounts of the past were completely unreliable. Lowie (1915) declared, 'I cannot attach to oral tradition any historical value under any conditions whatsoever.' Most writers were less adamant but many American writers rejected a literal acceptance of tradition.

Instead, some, including Boas, accepted their value as a means of understanding culture. British functionalists were also opposed to interpreting traditions literally, and studied traditional tales and legends as a means of understanding contemporary kinship organization, politics or religion. The virtue of these approaches was to emphasize that the past serves the present, something we often forget in dealing with our own history. The drawback lay in their stress on the functions of the traditions rather than the traditions themselves. Reduced to epiphenomena of current institutions, the dynamism of traditions was muted. Later, in structuralist studies, the temporal dimension was eliminated. Levi-Strauss' powerful image of "cultures without history" accorded with his vision (1976) of anthropology as equivalent to the exposed strata of a geological formation - time arrested in space.

A few writers did not discount local versions of past events. An alternative approach searched for 'history' in traditions. Sapir, Goldenweiser, and Herskovits accepted that local stories contained elements of historical truth. Evans-Pritchard (1957) approved the careful use of traditions and drew on them in his own historical reconstructions. Vansina (1960) was the first writer to make a serious evaluation of the uses and limitations of oral history for the historian and his monograph, Oral Tradition, offered a methodology whereby texts could be judged for historical content. He, and those who have built on his pioneering work, have shown that the sifting and analysis of stories can provide historical evidence of population movements, wars, and the rise and fall of dynasties. The drawback of Vansina's analytical approach is that although his reinterpretations are relevant to the Western discipline of history, they do not represent indigenous traditions. They are not the versions of the past to which local people turn when conceptualizing their present or planning their future.

Oral historians have often been preoccupied with discovering facts and dates, and in doing so they have stripped away myth and symbol, the rich fictional aspect of history. After they have done this, the historical corpus is slimmer and less meaningful to the owners of the history. If, as Aron (1962:43) says, "The important thing (about history) is the consciousness of the past and a desire to understand oneself as a product of it" then what remains is an impoverished form of history. It is in no way equivalent to Western history in which myth and interpretation remain embedded in their own cultural matrix.

Functionalists and structuralists alike have been criticized for suppressing history in the service of Western imperialism. In contrast, Marxist writers such as Wolf (1982) have offered their interpretations of the past as a means of restoring history to colonized peoples. Yet it would be ironic if academics ignored local visions and used only Western models in an attempt to give back the past to its owners. Many societies lack Western concepts of history but all have ideas about their place in time. When colonized peoples make assertions about rights, it is often the indigenous version of the past that is submitted as validation. For Australian Aborigines the sacred sites of Dreamtime wanderings, not archeological reports, furnish evidence for land claims.

A third approach is to write accounts which neither suppress the past nor offer a Western model. These are accounts that are true to an indigenous vision of the past. There are of course serious problems in achieving authenticity. In fact true authenticity is impossible, for anthropologists inevitably resonate Western bias and anthropological culture in everything they write. However, they can attempt to present alternative world views in their work.

Students of oral tradition need to solve many problems before they commit them to writing. These include using writing as a substitute for oral presentation. They must be aware that representative versions of variant texts acquire a false authenticity when committed to print and there is the problem of using a serial mode of communication to present versions of a story without appearing to rank them. Moreover it is difficult to write in a way that emulates the local style. The texts themselves must be organized to be compatible with the local world view including orientation in time and space and ideas about causality. Commentary for a non-local audience, in contrast, must ensure that the cultural context of the history is comprehensible. Ideally, small societies should produce their own stories but at present they often do not have the facilities. So oral historians find themselves cast as facilitators in presenting traditions in some written form. The responsibilities of committing oral traditions to writing are great but many societies are changing so rapidly that long preserved traditions and specific ways of looking at the past may be gone in a generation.

Western historians are subject to certain constraints. The facts that underlie interpretation are supposed to be given and immutable - even if they are really partial and selective - and there has to be a chronology. But historians also have considerable freedom in some areas of their art. Writing about historical texts, Hayden White (1978:83) suggested that they were works of fiction and that "histories gain part of their explanatory effect by their success in making stories out of mere chronicles." He noted that Collingwood had also insisted that historical sensibility was manifested in the "capacity to make a plausible story out of a congeries of facts."

Lévi-Strauss (1962) had argued that history is mythologised. Certainly there is scope for alternative emplotments in which significant cultural themes are developed in stories that reflect contemporary intellectual paradigms.

In the West there are numerous facts and dates on which historians can hang their stories. The problem for collectors of traditions is that there are often plenty of plots but a shortage of the 'facts' and chronologies that Western historians demand. If writers accept only verifiable dates and facts, tradition is distorted. If they substitute frameworks which take into account local realities and temporal schemes, they are not doing 'history' in terms of the modern Western discipline because facts and dates are not given priority. The solution may be to accept that writing a history is only one way to tell a story. The citation from Leguin seems to make an equation between story and history. Yet, 'story' is often used in a more inclusive sense than history. A story may be a narrative in which no judgement is made about the validity of facts or dates. The term 'story' also draws no firm line between history and fiction. If the result of historicizing tradition is to devitalize it, then societies without chronologies should have stories as well as histories.

This paper attempts to show how traditions in the small island of Unea in Papua New Guinea reflect the way that local people orient themselves in time and space. The Unea people have no chronology in the European sense. They do have stories of the past and these are relevant to their image of themselves and their society and provide guides for action and for thinking about the world. I suggest that understanding their orientations makes the kinds of decisions they have made in the past more comprehensible.

The Spacial Dimension

Unea is one of the Vitu Islands, a group which lies some 40 miles off the coast of West New Britain. Unea itself is a rugged island ringed by an old volcanic crater inside which three newer peaks rise to over 500 metres. The island has an area of 25-30 square miles and a present population of approximately 4000. Yams are the major crop and fishing provides the major source of protein. Before first contact with Europeans, some time in the 1880s, their known world consisted of the Vitu Islands and the coast of West New Britain. Within this area the Unea people travelled by canoe. They knew of the existence of mainland New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands to the northwest but probably never visited these lands. Like many Pacific peoples they perceived the sky as an upturned bowl which met the horizon at the end of the world. After contact, they learned of many other peoples, but their belief in a flat world was never replaced by the concept of a round one. The relative positions of Germany, Australia, Japan, Israel, and the USA, nations which feature in their past, were no more clearly defined as places in space than was the kingdom of heaven. Both heaven and distant lands existed somewhere beyond the known world.

Within the island, the most important territorial group in pre-contact time was a named parish where men and women descended cognatically from a known ancestor lived with their in-married spouses in scattered hamlets. Residence was predominantly virilocal. A number of parishes formed an alliance which fought periodically with one or more of the remaining three alliances on the island. Lineages which shared a more distant ancestor had local branches in several parishes, cross-cutting territorial ties and providing a refuge during hard times and opportunities for mediation when opponents tired of war. Today, parishes are scattered among thirteen nucleated villages but political groups and land ownership have not changed. People who would once have lived in the same hamlet now occupy adjacent houses.

Traditionally, the parish was the centre of religious as well as political life. The land was associated with a number of supernatural creatures, vuvumu, who were responsible for the fertility and protection of the land. They were regarded as related to lineage members and some of them were revered as lineage ancestors. Their assistance was requested in war, ceremonial activities, canoe building, love magic, and other matters of importance to the lineage and its members.

Today Unea people still make a distinction which corresponds approximately to the anthropological dichotomy between culture and nature, regarding humans and domestic animals living in settlements as tame (uneapa) and animals and other entities inhabiting the bush as wild or uncontrolled. In the village, life is predictable and ruled by custom. Supernatural beings rarely enter its precincts. In contrast, the bush is not under human control. Here vuvumu live in their sanctuaries of virgin bush or pursue their private affairs in other parts of their territories. People sometimes encounter these usually invisible entities when they manifest themselves 'in the open' in animal form. In the mountains live ogres who cause disorientation or madness, another form of wildness, in those that see them. The dead also roam the bush, particularly wild preternatural areas such as mangrove swamps, pandanus groves, and rocky overhangs which are regarded as gateways into the spirit world. The bush forms an interface between the village and the world of spirits and both human and non-human beings coexist there. The space beyond the gateways, and the distant lands over the sea where the ships of the dead sail, are essentially the realm of the spirits.


Having lived under German and Australian colonial regimes, the Unea people are by now quite familiar with the Western obsession with time and they hasten to explain that they had no "time." By this they mean that they do not regulate their lives by the clock. Their assertion is accurate. Most Uneapa wear watches as ornaments and regulate their lives by daylight, weather conditions, and the rhythms of daily tasks.

Much of the Vitu past is not regulated by 'time' either. Uneapa have no fixed point against which they could measure time passing. They do not understand the European system pivoted between BC and AD and have no alternative scheme of their own. Unea's past can best be appreciated in terms of space since the island itself resembles a social, political, and sacred map where events are recorded. I often collected texts during or after walks in which trees, gullies, worked, and unworked stones were identified as testaments to the past. The text of the story of Unea is written on the landscape and natural features are mnemonics, stimulants for skilled story tellers. The deeds of ancestors and vuvumu occur in particular places and mementos such as a stone crushed by a mythical snake, or a gully made by a culture hero in flight from his vengeful brother were shown to me as irrefutable evidence of these events in the same way as a piece of metal embedded in a tree was proffered as evidence of bombing in World War II. The stories of Unea projected on the landscape give a great sense of immediacy but little feeling for temporal depth.

If the landscape refers to all the past of Unea simultaneously, then it is comprehensible how, in the bush, vuvumu and the dead are perceived to coexist with contemporary humans. The landscape not only records the past; it contains it. Those who enter altered states of consciousness or encounter non-human entities enter this temporally unconstrained realm. In dream or trance they can seek for sorcery materials or a patient's soul stolen by a vuvumu.

Yet Uneapa are not oblivious to time. While the bush and the realm of the dead are timeless, social life is processual and orderly. While they rarely measure or count units of time, temporal sequences structure their lives. There is no indigenous word for year, but the local seasons of winds and calms are named and the repetitive movement of the Pleiades and the progress of the sun in relationship to the mountains of the mainland are correlated with the planting and maturing of gardens. The month is rarely used to measure time but the waxing and waning of the moon are recognized. They have adopted the week as a sequence of distinguishable days and explain that it is similar to the six days which customarily elapsed between a ritual event and its associated feast. Temporal sequence also establishes the individual's place in the community. Uneapa do not know their ages but they know when they were born relative to other people in the community and birth order in a sibling set determines social rank. Life itself is sequential as people are born and progress through named stages of childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age. Time is most regulated when events can be associated with genealogically known characters. The Unea people include good genealogists who can place their ancestors in sequences eight to sixteen generations deep. These demonstrate the social relationships of persons associated with particular areas of land and trace alliances between kingroups in different parts of the island. In essence, the world of social relationships centred on the political community was a bubble of temporal/spacial stability in an essentially atemporal world.

Time and the story of Unea

The islanders regard all narrative as part of polea or speech. Within polea three major categories of oral narrative are relevant to a consideration of the past. Each has a different relationship to time and space. They are manaka, vuvumu, and tuni pulei. In a sense, these types form a sequence. Some manaka refer to a period which preceded that of all vuvumu while some vuvumu refer to a period which preceded all tuni pulei. But in general, the narratives are not divided by clear-cut temporal boundaries. Assignment to a category depends on the human or non-human status of the protagonists in a story.


Manaka is a category of narrative which includes both myth and folktale. A few manaka are especially significant to the Uneapa since they deal with the origins of their island and the beginning of culture. The islanders refer to these as manaka pulei or true manaka. Bascom (1965:3) would classify these as myths rather than folktales since Uneapa believe that they describe true events but the islanders themselves do not make absolute distinction between these accounts and folkloric stories whose purpose is mainly to entertain. There are also a number of stories about whose veracity people disagree. No genealogical relations can be traced between protagonists in manaka and living people, and only a few stories are firmly located in the island. In fact, actors in manaka belong to no particular time, much like characters in European Märchen (fairy tales). The stories are true only in the sense that they represent significant social concerns. Themes include quarrels among close kin, the conflicting loyalties women feel for their husbands and brothers, problems arising from marriage, and fear of the dead.

Manaka seem to belong to an atemporal world which pre-existed humanity and continues to exist parallel to the human world in the bush and perhaps beyond the horizon. Some manaka evidently refer to a pre-human world since without the discoveries described in the stories humanity would not exist. Most of the stories assume a pre-contact culture but others are about Europeans and feature recently introduced technology. The Unea people themselves claim that the characters in manaka are not human but vuvumu, the creative spirits of Uneapa religion whose sphere of existence partially overlaps their own.

The word manaka is cognate with Polynesian mana. Besides its connotation of myth or folktale, manaka also implies a kind of self-manifesting force. Things that come into being are manaka. Some people translated God in the sense of creator as Manaka. "Manaka taruqia vulovulo" ("Manaka put the earth"). This equation between "myth" and deity is not unique to Unea (see Lawrence 1964). Manaka as stories also have a creative aspect. A man from a neighbouring island suggested that " Manaka are pictures of what humans do now." He implied that manaka were in effect templates or origin sources for human behaviour. They told the stories of how certain cultural artifacts and behaviours first manifested themselves. People acted the way they did because of manaka. So manaka comprised the records and explanations of why humans have the culture they do.

The Unea worldview accommodates cultural change. In the tradition of many peoples, culture was established in some earlier mythological age. The islanders seem rather to regard culture as continually manifesting itself, first in the non-human (manaka) dimension and then amongst humans. Some new cultural item or institution manifests itself in a particular place, then spreads by diffusion over time among human groups. Hence the presence of modern technology and European actors in some manaka is not anachronistic. Since the creative impulse resides in the non-human sphere it seems that for Uneapa, manaka remains a creative cultural force. It pre-existed human time but also co-exists with it, continually feeding creative culture into the human sphere.


Before humans came into existence, there were only vuvumu in the world. Eventually some vuvumu had human offspring who became the ancestors of the contemporary people of Unea. There is no explanation in Unea tradition as to why humans developed. The stories referred to as vuvumu concern relations between vuvumu and humans. Most recount the events which led to marriages which enabled particular vuvumu to found contemporary Unea lineages. The transformation from vuvumu to human sometimes took several generations during which super-human power inherited from the lineage founder gradually diminished.

In their own dimension, vuvumu live their secret lives. In the phenomenal world, they usually take the form of animals, or stones, or clumps of bamboo but occasionally they appear in human form and it is then that significant encounters take place with true humans. Stories of vuvumu often tell how human or near-human men captured vuvumu women and eventually married them or how a vuvumu woman took human form with the intention of marrying a particular man. Occasionally a human child was born to two vuvumu.

Opinions differ as to whether vuvumu are immortal but their lives certainly do not conform to human schedules. In stories, vuvumu did not die. After they had children by their human spouses they either transformed themselves into animals or natural objects or went back to their former homes after quarrels with their human affines. They rarely left without presenting some cultural item as gift to their descendants and the bond between human and founding vuvumu was maintained. Vuvumu became the focus of traditional Unea religion, receiving offerings in return for protection and favours. Crop failures were blamed on their displeasure but usually they could be relied on to support their human kin in battle, help them abduct women, and visit sickness on their enemies.

While modern Catholic or Seventh-Day Adventist islanders do not often ask vuvumu for assistance, they still believe that they exist and take an interest in human affairs. If they encounter animals in unusual places or behaving in a purposeful manner, they identify them as vuvumu. Moreover, they believe that marriages between humans and vuvumu can still occur even though none has taken place for some five generations. In Unea there is no clear break between a mythological age and a human present. Instead, there is continual interaction between two separate spheres. Non-human entities manifest themselves in the human world and humans penetrate the non-human dimension in dreams, trances, and near-death experiences.

Tuni Pulei

Tuni pulei can be translated as "true humans." These stories concerned human rather than non-human actors although the latter may appear in minor roles. Some tales involve entertaining incidents or natural disasters. Often these do not refer to genealogically known humans but unlike manaka, they were considered to have occurred in the phenomenal world within the past few generations. While they are of sufficient intrinsic interest to be remembered, they are not of such political significance that they needed to be precisely located. For example, there are several accounts of tidal waves. These are difficult to place in the local time frame even though one of them can be dated from external sources as recently as the 1880s. Another story which could not be located in time was the "Time of Darkness" which the islanders share with many other New Guinea people (Blong 1981:141). The darkness lasted several days and was accompanied by an ash fall. Some informants believe that it resulted from a volcanic eruption: others suggest that it was the darkness following the death of Christ.

In contrast, those events that are of political importance to contemporary people are precisely located in the sequential framework of genealogical knowledge. In Unea, a skilled genealogist will begin with an ancestor, often a vuvumu, and trace his descendants to the present day in a systematic manner, orienting his account as far as possible through succeeding first-born children. In the past, those who traced their lineage through an unbroken line of senior children were respected as tumbuku or chiefs. Today, with the decline of ceremonial life, this status is fairly nominal. But genealogical knowledge remains important since it provides justification for the use of areas of land. Much intergroup politicking and hostility relates to genealogical interpretation. In fact, some claimants of disputed land refused to give me certain genealogies on the grounds that if they ever became public knowledge, people who were uncertain about their links to an ancestor or local vuvumu would discover these linkages and be able to press their claims.

Stories that involve genealogically known people include accounts of alliances, marriages, feuds, major wars, and the exploits of famous 'bigmen' and chiefs. Remembered incidents cluster round those characters who fill structurally significant places in genealogies. For example, a story might revolve around the abduction of a high-ranking woman which resulted in the formation of a new sub-lineage in a distant part of the island or the arrival of migrants from the mainland. In most of these stories the chief characters are human, and their activities are in our terms almost entirely believable. Nevertheless, these stories do not always exclude non-human persons or unusual events. For example, women who founded new sub-lineages when they married men in distant communities often brought stones with them from their old villages. In their new home, these memorial stones would mysteriously grow to huge dimensions. The people of Unea have different ideas from Westerners about what is possible.

Genealogical sequences are the nearest Uneapa ever came to portraying linear time but genealogies do not really represent temporal maps. Anthropologists draw their charts on paper and so see relationships which are not apparent in a mental model. Unea experts are able to trace the ancestry of individuals from an ancestor many generations back through sequences of parent-child relations but find it difficult to envisage relationships among sibling sets within generations. Consequently actors in historical events are placed in a genealogical sequence but the events can not be related to the activities of contemporaries who are not close kin. Difficulties in correlating genealogical information means that there is no general history of Unea. History is multilinear rather than linear in nature. While the islanders make a point of remembering connections between separated branches of a lineage, they do not attempt to correlate events in different parts of the islands by using genealogical data. Each local lineage has its own story.

Contemporary interpretations

Foucault (1973:xi) has suggested that epochs are culturally unified by an 'unconscious of knowledge' which comprises certain implicit rules and regularities. Adjacent epochs are organized differently and the transfer from one age to another occurs within a relatively short period of time. Differences of knowledge among cultures are similar to differences between ages. Similar knowledge is interpreted to conform to different unconscious rules in different cultures. By studying the stories of people without chronologies, we are studying alternative methods of ordering space and time and attempting to understand paradigms that consistently relate disparate facets of culture in a way that is alien to the West. In order to understand decision-making in any culture it is necessary to know how reality is constructed.

In Unea, the most structured area of the past is organized by genealogical knowledge. The primary actors are significant ancestors; their activities are for the most part believable and there is little obviously supernatural activity. One way of understanding the past in Unea is to concentrate on these accounts of "true humans" (tuni pulei), attempting to assimilate them to a Western chronology. Another means of understanding is to allow that there are other ways of organizing time and space than the historical model and that these models are important for understanding how cultures relate to the present and the future. If we take this option, it is impossible to ignore the importance of manaka and vuvumu in the story of Unea.

In order to write a history of Unea a conventional oral historian might relegate manaka to the realm of folk literature. But it is in terms of manaka that Unea understand the processes of creation. Stories of vuvumu might equally be identified as legends or given functional justification by showing how they provided charters for the ownership of lineage land. Relating vuvumu to land tenure is appropriate, but the stories are not merely charters. They are hotly contested pieces of political property, variously interpreted by those anxious for power or prestige. They are most consciously used to manipulate and interpret the present and make projections about the future and they have to do with self-image and cultural identity. Ideas about time and space and causal relations that underlie Unea society are manifest in manaka, vuvumu, and tuni pulei, and the values which they reveal are continually implicated in decision-making and in the ways that people behave. To understand Unea "secular" history or even daily life without taking account of the non-temporal dimension is like omitting God from the Old Testament.

For modern Unea islanders, everything is not revealed in the phenomenal world. A hidden world connects and overlaps with the manifest world. Local villages represent stable islands of space and time but the universe is predominantly extra-temporal. The immediate world of the settlement is bound by sequential time but beyond this domestic world structured by genealogical and territorial relations time has different properties. Uneapa do not believe in a changeless past. Creative culture, artifacts or ideas, has always been channelled out of the hidden world into the phenomenal world when vuvumu, the ancestral dead, or living dreamers cross the boundaries between the worlds. Advances in human knowledge appear in the hidden dimension first.

In spite of fifty years of Catholicism, of travel beyond the island, modern media, and a high rate of basic literacy, Uneapa still plan their futures in terms of a cultural paradigm which has been modified rather than radically changed since contact. Since contact, Uneapa have merely come to the conclusion that the hidden world is larger and more complex than they previously supposed. Much theological and philosophical speculation is expended to reconcile new knowledge with the old cosmology. All Uneapa do not view the world in quite the same way, for here as elsewhere theories and philosophies compete. Moreover, views change in the context of new evidence about the world. Nevertheless, common assumptions about orientation in time and space and about causality provide discourse with a grammar so that new knowledge is interpreted within a common paradigm. Decisions about subjects as diverse as education, health care, and economic development are reached against this cultural background, and history is created as a result of these decisions.

Unea people are particularly perplexed about the extent to which foreigners - Europeans, Japanese, and Americans - are constrained by time and space. These people live beyond the traditional limits of the known world. Some people believe that these areas are those where modern technology and institutions first manifested themselves but many equate these distant and powerful places with the "heaven" in which the dead and the vuvumu move unconstrained by space or time. Essentially this is the world of manaka. The notion that those who die in New Guinea might be reincarnated in America is not restricted to so-called cargo cultists.

These beliefs explain why Unea people do not share the Western vision of a pastoral, rather archaic heaven. Accounts of near-death experiences reveals heaven as a city full of great buildings and multi-lane highways crowded with cars. Ghosts in the island itself are believed to own cars, run businesses, and attend parties at which they play records and drink beer. Members of Perikuma, the modern syncretist cult, equate senior ancestors, vuvumu, and Catholic saints. These powerful entities can be contacted through such modern communications systems as the telephone and the Post Office Box numbers kept by leaders of the movement.

A few Uneapa, those who have attended university, no longer live in the same intellectual world as the majority of the populace. Having undergone a paradigm shift which aligns them more or less with the Western visions of the world, such people find it difficult to relate to the philosophies of their elders. Speaking of his encounters with the leader of Perikuma, his uncle, the vice-president of the local government council told me: "I hear what he says, and while I'm with him it all sounds logical but when I leave I can make no sense of it."

A history of Unea based on a Western model would teach us something about the island's past, it would tell us comparatively little about the motivations of Unea actors. The history of the past hundred years since contact could be supported with facts and dates but the actions of Unea people - allowing the best land on the island to be alienated without a struggle, obediently abandoning warfare, inviting a Catholic priest to their island, providing a visiting anthropologist with particular stories about their island - can best be comprehended when the stories are related to the local cosmology revealed in the full range of oral traditions. Telling a story of a people by making use of indigenous ideas about time may enable the oral historian to put away the chronological ladder and find more appropriate aids for mountaineering.


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