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They Make Themselves: Work and Play among the Baining of Papua New Guinea [Hardcover]

by Jane Fajans
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

August 4, 1997 0226234436 978-0226234434 1
For generations of anthropologists, the Baining people have presented a challenge, because of their apparent lack of cultural or social structure. This group of small-scale horticulturists seems devoid of the complex belief systems and social practices that characterize other traditional peoples of Papua New Guinea. Their daily existence is mundane and repetitive in the extreme, articulated by only the most elementary familial relationships and social connections. The routine of everyday life, however, is occasionally punctuated by stunningly beautiful festivals of masked dancers, which the Baining call play and to which they attribute no symbolic significance.

In a new work sure to evoke considerable repercussions and debate in anthropological theory, Jane Fajans courageously takes on the "Baining Problem," arguing that the Baining define themselves not through intricate cosmologies or social networks, but through the meanings generated by their own productive and reproductive work.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (August 4, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226234436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226234434
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,462,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The original workaholics March 9, 2008
Format:Paperback
The Baining, who live not too far from Rabaul on New Britain, are a society without priests, gods, kings, philosophers, doctors, teachers, warriors, police or judges. Nor do they have any institutions, aside from the nuclear family. They do not divide in moieties or clans, nor do they have elaborate genealogies.

Gregory Bateson, a famous anthropologist, considered them "unstudiable."

Fifty years later, Bateson told Jane Fajans, who lived among the Baining in the 1970s, "They broke my heart; have they broken yours?"

"No," says Fajans, who was associate professor of anthropology at Cornell University when this book was published in 1997. But it had taken her close to two decades to work out how to explain this strange society.

The answers she arrives at are a standing challenged to just about every generalization about human society than anyone ever made. "Despite the absence of social sanctions, political hierarchy or sacred authority," writes Fajans, "the Baining have managed to maintain a distinctive social and cultural identity for over a century in the face of varied and often violent pressure for assimilation and change."

Most observers, including Fajans, describe the Baining as boring. Their goals in life are few and simple: They work in their gardens, they exchange food, they nurture children and support the aged who can no longer work. They have hardly any traditional stories, though they have narrative songs. They perform no rites and they do not gossip.

On the surface, there is not much for an ethnologist to analyze.

But in "They Make Themselves," Fajans offers a radical interpretation of the "Baining problem.
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