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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

A$44.00 | US$29.95 | 2013 | Paperback | 978-1-922064-45-5 | 324 pp 

FREE | 2013 | Ebook (PDF) | 
978-1-922064-44-8 | 324 pp


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. 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, Lihirians nevertheless 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. The symbolism of Melanesian sociality does not encompass the practical reality of what it means to be Lihirian. This book considers emotion, which is a ubiquitous part of life in Lihir, and 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. Hemer highlights and interrogates emotions for their relationship to psychological understandings and definitions, and understands emotions in a historical context and as connected to social changes wrought by interactions with global phenomena.


'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, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2016).

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