THE SACRIFICE OF THE YAMS: Tubers, Procreation, and Chiefly Hierarchy in the Trobriands Mark Mosco, ANU

James Scott (Against the Grain, 2017) has famously argued that tuber- as distinct from cereal-based agriculture offers an escape from political subjugation in archaic states. In this chapter, I describe how, through sacrificial bwekasa reciprocities with ancestral baloma spirits, Trobriand Islanders attribute distinctive quasi-human creative and procreative capacities to cultivated taitu yams that are essential to the life, death and rebirth of spirits as well as living people and thereby to the maintenance and distinctive form of indigenous guyau rank and chieftainship. Though falling short of formal “state” status, the spirit-embedded Trobriand yam culture demonstrates how tuber agriculture, rather than ameliorating political hierocracy, can serve as its foundation.

Mark Mosko is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology in the School of Culture, Language and History at the ANU. In recent years, he has offered racial reinterpretations of the Malinowskian canon and challenged many of the findings of previous investigators and commentators who followed in Malinowski's wake (e.g., Ways of Baloma, Hau Books, 2017).

Zoom Details:
Meeting ID: 812 1179 0732
Password: 968025

Date & time

Mon 19 Feb 2024, 3–4pm


Room 3.72, Research School of Social Sciences


Mark Mosko


Trang Ta


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