2final_Hillman - Brelan Hillman March 10, 2008 Professor...

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Brelan Hillman March 10, 2008 Professor Klaits Writing 20- Why Have Wealth? Seemingly Trivial The Trobrianders of Papa New Guinea have unique currency systems that give value to objects that normally are not used for monetary purposes. What gives these objects of exchange such great value in this society is the obligation to reciprocate gift-giving. Yams are objects of exchange that if possessed bring about political power and a greater authority over the society, while also serving as an essential component for the identification of matrilineages. Bundles and skirts are objects of exchange in this society that give women who hold them an abundance of “wealth” and are also used when death strikes someone in the society. It is hard for those outside the gift-giving community to understand how the perishable gifts of exchange continue to abstain from being phased out by paper currency. These perishable objects of exchange may not seem to hold immense value through the eyes of someone outside of the society, but an individual’s economic and social prosperities depend on the continual exchange of these goods. In this paper we will explore how the importance of these gifts has withstood the test of time and will continue to do so. In our capitalist society, it is very possible to achieve financial prosperity individually. With institutions like the stock market, a person can obtain items of value whether or not he is looked at with high regard by those around him. However, in the gift-giving Trobriand society,
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how one interacts with others determines whether he or she retains or obtains wealth. If a member of the Trobriand society disobeys the laws of exchange by either not initiating or reciprocating exchange, he will eventually extinguish existing and potential relationships that he can benefit from. The duty to initiate and reciprocate gift-giving is explained by Mauss when he says, “What imposes this obligation in the present received and exchanged, is the fact that the thing received is not inactive. Even when it has been abandoned by the giver, it still possesses something of him. Through it the giver has a hold over the beneficiary” (Mauss 1990:11,12). There seems to be some sort of authority that drives the gift-giving process. In order to not be “held” anymore, a receiver is obliged to give something back. In order to get a hold of someone a person must either give a gift back that is at least worth as much as the initial gift, or look for others to give to. Trobrianders and capitalists use different methods to pay for goods and services; however attaining success using the Trobriand method counts on “maintaining profitable alliance[s]” by exchanging perishable goods with those around them, while capitalists can use an institution such as the stock market to avoid the necessity of having to have positive social interaction with those around them (Mauss 1990:73). Yams are very important objects in the Trobriand culture because yam ownership and
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This note was uploaded on 05/05/2008 for the course WRITING 20 taught by Professor Marko during the Spring '06 term at Duke.

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2final_Hillman - Brelan Hillman March 10, 2008 Professor...

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