Front cover image: Children from Gasumi Corners welcome the author upon his re-arrival in the community. What is it like for an indigenous people of the deep rainforest to confront the modern world? By the late s, Gebusi had seemed to give up many of these practices, had converted to Christianity, and actively pursued market activity, schooling, government programs, sports leagues, and disco music. More recently, however, problems of economic hardship have caused the withdrawal or closing of government services, and Gebusi have rediscovered or reinvented their culture more on their own terms.

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Start your review of The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World, 3rd edition Write a review Shelves: papua-new-guinea , world-books-challenge , pacific-islands , nonfiction , anthropology , sociology , 3-stars I am not the intended audience for this book; I read it looking for something set in Papau New Guinea from which I would learn a bit about the country and its people, while the book seems intended for assignment in undergraduate anthropology classes as a supplementary textbook.

It did fulfill my goal of learning about the lives of the Gebusi, a small tribe living in the rainforest of Papau New Guineas huge Western Province. On the other hand, its a shame that academic texts arent written or I am not the intended audience for this book; I read it looking for something set in Papau New Guinea from which I would learn a bit about the country and its people, while the book seems intended for assignment in undergraduate anthropology classes as a supplementary textbook.

Knauft is an anthropologist who initially lived with the Gebusi for two years, from to , accompanied by his wife Eileen whether she is also an anthropologist is unclear; though he discusses his feelings about developments among the Gebusi and relationships with individuals among them, this is definitely not a memoir. The Gebusi believed that all deaths were caused by humans, so deaths by sickness or accident led to sorcery inquests and often more death.

After his initial stay, Knauft returned to the Gebusi in , at which point their culture was transformed: many had moved to a nearby town with an airstrip and government services. They converted to various forms of Christianity, sent their children to school, and gave up sorcery inquests and executions entirely. The several tribes inhabiting the town mocked their own traditional cultures in Independence Day celebrations, and Gebusi practices such as dancing and initiation rites seemed to be dying out as young people attempted to embrace the modern world.

But spirit mediumship had died out, so that despite lingering suspicions of sorcery they were no longer able to conduct inquests, and many of the Gebusi continued to attend Christian services.

It is fascinating material, and the author seems to have made personal friends with many of the Gebusi and to respect them and their culture.

He is aware of his own fallibility and works to distinguish unique incidents from those typical of the culture. And he spends enough time with Gebusi to get to know them and to be able to tell stories in context about incidents that occur in the community.

Sometimes its information is incomplete, as if the author has made his point and is ready to move on, regardless of whether readers have more questions.

How common is this, as opposed to public or formal executions? Is everyone given the opportunity to exonerate themselves via trial by cooking, or only some people?

In one case described, the sorcerer purportedly comes from another village and the searchers lose the trail; is this unusual, or common? In other cases, it can be vague in a way typical of academic writing, obscuring specifics behind general language. Who raised the boys after that, and what was the dispute? These are human interest questions, but their answers also speak to Gebusi culture. And despite telling us about their terrible life expectancy in the early 80s, the author has nothing to say about how having and then losing a local medical clinic affected the Gebusi.

And bizarrely, he mentions only on his aforementioned website, in a caption to a longhouse diagram , that rigidly separate sleeping areas for men and women mean that sexual relations happened in the rainforest rather than in bed. But in the book he does mention a couple caught having an illicit affair in a house, so maybe the rainforest sex only applies to those few families who actually live in the longhouse?

His research is significant because it captures in detail the development of a culture over a longer period of time that showed despite failing at western industrialization, a strong social connectedness can be enough to have a well-functioning society.

The author uses an ideographic approach. The first time the author visited the Gebusi was for two years from Confronted with a language barrier, it took time and patience to learn how to communicate with Gebusi, at first by sign languages or gestures, and only later verbally. However, Dr. The wish for contact was matched by the high level of adaptability shown by the researchers, especially when it came to eating local food, attempting to learn the language to simply live amongst them and learn, rather than attempting to change anything about them.

During their first visit, Dr. Knauft discovered already Kogawayay, however, he struggled to make sense of it. It was already back then central to their culture and described their emphasis on close social relationships and a strong community feeling.

Besides gender inequality, Dr. Knauft also learns about agriculture, nutrition and the impact it has made on the life expectancy of the Gebusi people. While he explains the role of sexuality and the specific details about their religious belief and spirituality, the most important takeaway seems to be learning about societal structures.

Their religion and tradition which is based on spirits and sorcery is the fundamental base of the society. Interestingly enough, even though not technically always blood-related, clan members were not allowed to marry each other. Their perception of who to consider and class close relatives is extended to everyone who is part of their clan.

Power relations of and between clans were strengthened by marriages between different clan members to create alliances. By writing about the simple usage of women as a tool for an alliance by marrying them off shows once more the gender inequality in the villages.

Even though the emphasis in the communities is on Kogawayay, there is a lot of potential conflict because of the exchange culture. Especially close relatives are very likely to accuse one another of sorcery. However, it did not cause significant issues in society as one might think. With the diagram given constructed by Dr.

Knauft the concept of kinship within the societies helps understand the social dynamics of clans. But how does the society distinguish between its members when all of them are of kinship? Growing up in a clan, young men only become full members of society by getting initiated.

It elevates their status in their clan. The example of two teenagers in the fifth chapter shows that if you break societal rules as a young man growing up, a punishment could be to lose the opportunity for the initiation. Young women are mostly excluded showcasing once more their lower standing in society. The second time Dr. Knauft visits the Gebusi is in where he observed cultural changes that happened throughout the last 8 years.

When he left, it was a patriarchal society, Due to a very decentralized political order, and no authoritarian leadership position, decisions are made collectively, with very strict gender roles.

Now the predominant religion was Catholicism. Due to the shift to the catholic church women and men were now living along with each other. Also, marriage was no longer something they had to simply endure but were able to make choices. Instead of being bystanders in society, they were able to access education and participate in public markets. Overall, it became from a western perspective more civilized, not just clothing-wise.

Accusations of sorcery were put aside. However, the author notes that the ideas of sorcery were not fully eliminated but rather merged with the now predominant Christian belief. Nevertheless, just as women benefitted from the new opportunities given to them, the gender dominance of men increased.

Every new opportunity given to women was in comparison less to what men received. During his last visit in , Dr. Knauft observed the challenges common for developing countries.

The airstrip he would have usually arrived at the Gebusi was no longer working because the government ran out of money to pay for its maintenance. The development and maintenance of the infrastructure was therefore overall a challenge.

Overall, Dr. Knauft observes that the developments he had seen on his second visit were no longer intact. Markets were closed, the government closed.

Maybe because of the lack of western influence and guidelines, the past cultural traditions were reemerging. The level of violence remained low and sorcery did not cause further homicides. All in all, the development Dr. Knautz witness over the years shows the transition of the Gebusi from its original traditional life, adapting to western influences and readjusting and merging back to old values when globalization and economic growth reaches its limit. Indeed, this ethnographic research shows the limits globalization has when it comes to developing countries.

It cannot be assumed that they gradually develop their economy, infrastructure, and political system. In the case of the Gebusi, it showed that even though they were exposed to western influences, after all, it only resulted in them rediscovering traditions of their culture. Knautz does not seem to mind that too much since he seems to accept that western lifestyle, especially in emerging countries, does not necessarily have to be strictly beneficial to the society of the Gebusi.


Bruce M. Knauft



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The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World, 3rd edition


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