Social Transformation and Children of Interethnic Marriages in Dzifasing, Papua New Guinea
This ethnography is an account of children's place in social life affected by political and economic processes that are transforming the social relations among an unusually multiethnic population which occupies a peri-urban village ethnonymically identified as Wampar, in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. It examines processes of differentiation and how cultural categories and practices of inclusion and exclusion through which they are realized are used and/or transformed in deployment under circumstances subject to historical contingencies and dynamics of power relations. Drawing on Eric Wolf's analysis of culture and power relations in a historically informed political economy, this study situates the shaping of categories of relations and cultural identity in a population that has long been enmeshed in polyethnic kin relations. It emphasizes the complexity of these processes and the locally obtained outcomes as affected by larger socio-economic forces. It accounts for the interplay of long-term local and global processes, as with the increasing interethnic marriages and the demographic weight of children, and short-term events, as with a recent betelnut blight that destroyed the mainstay of the local economy, and a turn to cacao and cattle farming as more capital-, labour- and land-intensive forms of production. It explores the social positioning of the differently situated inhabitants, particularly the children of interethnic marriages, and the constraints and possibilities that shape outcomes and their future perspectives. It describes how children of intermarriages between Wampar and non-Wampar negotiate the effects of these transformations that have already informed the very formation of their sense of place, belonging and personhood. It situates cultural definitions of identity, as to who or what makes one Wampar and not, as they relate to marriage patterns and economic transformations.
In this thesis, I show that under specific circumstances, namely an original population in control of desired resources, increasing immigration and interethnic marriages, and socio-economic pressures resulting from interactions with a capitalist economy, something akin to ethnic differentiation and ethnic identity can arise in Papua New Guinea, reinforced by a turn towards biologically-framed patrilineal descent. By examining historically interconnected processes of social transformations, I contextualize how a repertoire of cultural and social categories of relations and differentiation, including but not limited to ethnicity, kinship, gender, language, generation, age, and birth order, become pronounced. The distinctions on the ideological level translate into constricting access to land for in-married non-Wampar men and their children, narrowing the criteria for those allowed to plant cacao and reside and settle in the village, and further regulation on women's marriage options and future residence. However, children are affected differently based on the specific conditions of their Wampar lineage (availability of land, need for labor and additional male members for increased negotiating power, absence or presence of conflicts), the individual identity of the children (in terms of gender, birth order, education, skills), and their affective ties and quality of relations they have with their Wampar and non-Wampar kin. Finally, individual actors' agency, positioning, and aspirations are inevitably constrained or enabled by structural and organizational dimensions of power.