Trobriand Islands

The work done by the social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski between 1915 and 1918, and published in the 1920s and 1930s, made the Trobriand Islands one of the parts of PNG best known to Europeans. These flat coral islands in Milne Bay Province, were contacted by European traders, missionaries and colonial officers in the 19th century. The main activities are gardening, fishing and wood carving. Fish from the coast are traded for yams with people inland. The islands are part of the kula exchange network. There are four matrilineal clans, each with a chief.

In the early 1970s an anti-Administration movement, the Kabisawali Association, led by John Kasaipwalova, attempted to organize the people to be self-reliant. Trade stores were set up to make the villagers less dependent upon expatriate-owned stores, and Association members refused to pay taxes to the Local Government Council which had been established by the colonial Administration. In 1973 riot police were sent to quell a confrontation between supporters of the Association and supporters of the Council. The dispute was also among rival clans and chiefs. The only significant cash crop has been copra. Copra production declined as world prices collapsed. Today the only export is carved wooden bowls and other objects, sent to shops serving the tourist trade in Port Moresby.

Trobriand village. Wekuku hamlet, Yalumgwa. 21 May 2010.
A group tour gets an ‘up close’ encounter with Trobriand villagers, Yalumgwa Village. 23 July 2013.
Attending a sagali (funeral feast) is a highlight for many cultural tourists to the Trobriands. 8 July 2010.
Young girls fetching water, Vakuta Island. 10 December 2009.

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