Ryan Schram Yawahigu ana amwahao

The Maki men: Hierarchy and its inversion in Atchin (Malakula, Vanuatu)

Unfortunately I am not able to find a complete copy of my submitted MA thesis, which includes an abstract. In place of this, here are the first few paragraphs, which have a good statement of the theme and a taste of my style of argument in my early days as a doctoral student.

His Pig’s Jaws

This thesis is an analysis of the cultural context of the ritual complex of the communities of Atchin, a small islet of the northeast coast of Malakula in the New Hebrides (what is today Vanuatu). It is based, for the most part, on data collected by John Layard during his fieldwork on Atchin between 1914 and 1915. During his field research on Atchin, John Layard recorded the following speculation from a senior, high-ranking informant. The informant observed that when a child throws a tantrum, adults will excuse his behavior by saying “he hasn’t gotten any pig’s jaws yet” (J. Layard \bibstring{nodate}). The statement alludes to male sacrifice of boars in a grade-taking ritual called Maki. In this ritual, boars’ jaws are removed with their prestigious tusks and displayed on racks in the central dancing-ground of the village. Maki sacrifice is compulsory for men. It advances men through a series of ranked grades, and is closely associated with maturation. The informant claimed that the Maki was an initiation of boys into the less aggressive, civilized ways of men. Thus, he argued that the Maki was a substitute for warfare.

This explanation has a certain appeal, given the nature of Maki, which is a high ceremonial feast of a ritual cycle of the same name. The cycle runs over the course of a generation. Men accumulate ranked grades over the course of their lives in successive Maki, hence Maki punctuates the male life cycle dramatically as the achievement of ever greater heights of prestige.

When himself observing a Maki sacrifice, Layard wrote that affines who gave boars for men taking grades later received the jaws and tusks of the boars the recipients had killed. Later, the sacrificer would visit his affines’ Maki in their village and give a pig to one of them to sacrifice. The informant’s theory that Maki sacrifice historically and developmentally takes the place of warfare is predicated on the idea that Maki is essentially a ritual of sacrifice. Why would it be then that a man taking a new grade would not keep the token of his achievement, namely the sacrifice of the boar? The reason lies in the logic of Maki. To claim the highest grades, a man must raise his own tusked, uncastrated boar himself. It is expected that a man will incur exchange obligations to his affines to reach the first two grades. Yet, he is not allowed to keep the valuables—the tusks—which mark his new rank. Only up to a certain point may a man borrow his way to a new grade. He does not really obtain “his pigs jaws” until very late in life. The role of exchange is the central ambivalence of the Maki. To explore the meaning of this ambivalence, and to understand how the Maki ritual informs male social life, I will examine Atchin culture overall.

The case of Tsan, known to John Layard as Atchin, still intrigues me for many reasons. As this passage hints, the feature of Tsan boar sacrifice which Layard thought made it dsitinctive was the sacrifice of a single tusked boar that a man raises and feeds himself. In a paper written years later, J. W. Layard (1936) says that this was not so much a unique formulation of the grade-taking complex but a specific response by elders to the historical situation of men returning from plantation work in the early twentieth century with money and goods they could use to acquire pigs for sacrifices.

My thesis, based on Layard’s 1914 fieldnotes and early manuscripts, relied almost entirely on a synchronic analysis of the symbolic categories that structure the grade taking process. I still think this approach has merit, and that Tsan Maki can profitably be understood as an encompassment of the contrary, to quote Dumont (as I did and still do today). If I were to revisit this material now, I would want not only to historicize the case itself but also to capture how Tsan people produce their own historical consciousness by mediating events through the lens of Maki and the economy of pigs.


Layard, John. \bibstring{nodate}. “The Atchin Maki.” Unpublished typescript. John W. Layard Papers. Melanesian Archive, Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California, San Diego.
Layard, John W. 1936. “Atchin Twenty Years Ago.” The Geographical Journal 88 (4): 342–51. https://doi.org/10.2307/1786338.