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Tracing the Melanesian Person

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Tracing the Melanesian Person

Emotions and Relationships in Lihir

by Susan R Hemer

$44.00 | 2013 | Paperback | 978-1-922064-45-5 | 329 pp 

FREE | 2013 | Ebook (PDF) | 
978-1-922064-44-8 | 329 pp

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20851/lihir

26 colour illustrations

This book explores what it means to be Lihirian through an analysis of everyday life in the Lihir Islands, Papua New Guinea. Atop four volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean east of New Ireland, Lihirians are living in a world that has rapidly changed in the last century through the work of Christian missions, government administration and the development of a large gold mine (Lihir Gold Ltd). Being Lihirian in the context of these changes is challenging, yet Lihirians retain a strong sense of themselves and their islands as distinctive.

This book aims to reconcile what has been termed the ‘root metaphor’ of Melanesian sociality as based on relational or composite personhood with the strong individualist tendencies and sense of self that are found in everyday practice in Lihir. In looking beyond the ideals of moral conduct to the practice of relations and emotion, it can be seen that the symbolism of Melanesian sociality does not encompass the practical reality of what it means to be Lihirian.

Emotion is a ubiquitous part of life in Lihir. Emotions are motivations, reactions and remarks on the state of self and other; in short, emotions are integral to relations and persons in Lihir. This book considers emotions both through their performative contexts as well as the more usual lexical analyses of emotion terms and commentaries. In moving beyond lexical analyses, Hemer argues that the strong focus on the semantics of emotion in anthropology has been at the expense of the embodied practice of emotion that was apparent in Lihir.

Through this engaging ethnographic account of connections, conflicts and loss in Lihir, Hemer’s own fieldwork journey of making relationships, experiencing disputes and finally leaving the field, is mirrored. Structured into three parts, the book works through the complexities of creating and sustaining relationships, the evaluation of conduct as moral and the practices of conflict, and the experiences and transformations of death and grief. Throughout these parts various emotions are highlighted and interrogated for their relationship to psychological understandings and definitions: love, anger, jealousy, sadness. Emotions are also understood in a historical context and as connected to social changes wrought by interactions with global phenomena such as religion.

Review

'There is much beauty in Hemer’s ethnography; she presents very personal, intimate accounts of human experience as she and her collaborators lived it, and imparts an honesty both in her positioning and her interpretations. (...)

It is this close, personal and sensitive engagement with the everyday that makes this ethnography so valuable.'

Kirsty Gillespie, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Volume 17 Number 1 (2016)

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