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More than a century of interaction with colonial and global agencies and forces have brought many changes to the lives of the Maisin people who live on the rtheastern coast of Papua New Guinea. Yet ancestral traditions continue to strongly inform their way of life. Their beautifully designed tapa cloth, made from the pounded inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, most vividly connects the past with the present. Using the various stages of tapa cloth production to frame a broader discussion of changes and continuities in Maisin culture (ecomic pursuit, social arrangements, gender relations, religion, politics, and the environment) Barker offers a nuanced understanding of how the Maisin came to reject commercial logging on their traditional lands. Viewed in isolation, the decision appears to be a confirmation of tradition over modernity. Yet the book shows that it is the most recent, and perhaps dramatic, instance in a long chain of improvisations and compromises that have allowed the Maisin to remain true to core ancestral values while participating in wider social, political, and ecomic systems. Ancestral Lines provides an important counterpoint to the stereotype of indigeus peoples as passive victims of impersonal global forces. While accessible to most readers, including those with little or kwledge of Melanesia or anthropology, Ancestral Lines has been designed with introductory anthropology courses in mind. Each chapter opens with a description of succeeding stages in the creation and use of a piece of tapa cloth. These, in turn, lead into discussions of dimensions of Maisin life that correspond to the sections and order of most standard introductory textbooks.
John Barker is a professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia. He has conducted anthropological fieldwork in Papua New Guinea and amongst the Nuxalk and Nisga'a First Nations of Canada. He has published extensively on Christianity amongst the indigenous peoples of Oceania and British Columbia, the history of anthropology, and the impact of environmental activists in Papua New Guinea.
University of Toronto Press
Date of Publication
Sociology & Anthropology: Professional
Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom