Indecorous, Too Hasty, Incorrect: Market and Moral Imagination in Auhelawa, Papua New Guinea
Malinowski quotes a typical Kiriwina man in Argonauts of the Western Pacific: “He conducts his Kula as if it were gimwali” (1932 :96). This analysis of the difference between ceremonial exchange and barter—not Malinowski’s, but his informant’s—is one reason Trobriand kula practices resonate with so many. In this article, I suggest one consider the informant’s statement as an action, rather than description, and an attempt to construe who is exchanging what with whom. In this light, I argue, value can be defined as a reflexive stance toward the performativity of exchange itself. This suggests new ways to think about how different kinds of exchange, like markets and gift systems, are articulated. In Auhelawa (Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea), for instance, the term gimwala is used today to denote buying and selling in contrast to traditional forms of trade. Auhelawa rely on both earnings from an informal cash economy as well as gardening. Yet they also attach stigma to gimwala as selfish. How then do Auhelawa market traders exempt themselves from the stigma of the market? In this article, I argue that gimwala denotes not so much a distinct sphere of exchange, but a horizon of moral imagination against which buyers and sellers define themselves, and thus bring their own cash-earning and consumption closer to valued modes of transaction based in kinship and reciprocity. Traders do not struggle to overcome a conflict between spheres as much as embody the conflict itself, positioning themselves at the margins of moral exchange. In so doing, these traders create a new context for alternative kinds of economic behavior.