Procuring game, procuring money: dilemmas of relationality with outsiders among Febi people Western Province, Papua New Guinea
Abstract© 2017 Dr Anaïs Gérard
This thesis examines issues of social change, relationality and ontological compatibilities of practice, through analysis of how Febi people of Papua New Guinea seek to draw into their world resources understood to be governed by external forces. While at one level such forces may be experienced as emanating from a world of ‘other-than-human’ sociality immanent in the land, in more recent times Febi have become aware of resources that seem to be controlled by forces that originate from far beyond their own land. Encounters with representatives of extraction industries, religious missions, or academic research, intermittent since the late 1960s, have increased dramatically in the past two decades. Those encounters with agents of modernity have exposed Febi people to new visions of how life might be lived, and new desires for the resources needed to reconfigure lives in those ways. Ultimately, the thesis explores how Febi people are negotiating relationships with those new outsiders, in an attempt to draw the resources they control into the Febi world and facilitate “development” in place.
The first part of the thesis (Chapters I and II) introduces the assemblage of various beings, human and nonhuman, that comprise what I have termed, following Descola’s usage, the Febi collective. It also explores the morphology of time, space and relations that give the Febi local world distinct form.
The second part of the thesis (Chapters III and IV) analyses the modes of relationship that pertain between human and nonhuman beings in the Febi collective. Febi men seek to establish, with their nonhuman counterparts, relationships of alliance – in which reciprocity is paramount – in order to procure the prestigious game animals of whom those beings are guardians. But the reality of predation is one of destruction, and Febi men cannot reciprocate the lives taken. This tension between reciprocity and predation makes procuring resources a practice intrinsically grounded in a dilemma. This leads to the emergence of skilled specialists to manage these relationships and thus gives shape to a specific way to conceive leadership and authority among Febi people in relation to the invisible realm.
The third part of the thesis (Chapters V and VI) traces how the focus for Febi people, in the procurement of resources, has shifted from local nonhuman counterparts (spirit beings and animals) to God and the agents of modernity. It starts by analysing continuities in the mode of relations and strategies Febi people implement to elicit a flow of resources. It then analyses the nature and consequences of change in the terms of relationships of procurement. This analysis reveals a discrepancy between schemas of practice followed by the representatives of modernity who now, it seems, control access to desired resources, and those of Febi people. For the agents of development, relationships and negotiations need to be depersonalised and based on contracts, while authority needs to be personified and reified. For Febi people, these expectations are reversed: authority needs to be depersonalised and dispersed, while relationships and negotiations need to be personified. That discrepancy leads to deeper moral dilemmas – both for the Febi who remain on their own land, who do not see resources flowing to their land as a result of the new relationships being negotiated, and for those Febi “specialists” charged with venturing to distant places to engage in those negotiations, who have failed to return to their own world and thus facilitate the flow of goods.