Cards on Kiriwina: Magic, Cosmology, and the 'Divine Dividual' in Trobriand Gambling

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    Trobriand Islanders adopted card gambling from Europeans in colonial times alongside a growing familiarity with introduced money and commodities. Most ethnographic reports of gambling elsewhere in PNG have concentrated on its secular aspects. Here I focus on its ritual dimension summarized by the notion of laki ('lucky') as expressed in the agentive capacities of a new player, the 'divine dividual', who synthesizes elements of Sahlins's 'divine king' and the 'dividual' of the New Melanesian Ethnography. In accord with the local understandings of spiritual agency, many Trobriand men have adapted pre-existing magical practices for courting, kula, fishing, sorcery etc. to gambling by seeking to encompass the perceived powers of exogenous Europeans, acknowledged as the sources of laki, money and commodities, into their own persons in ways analogous to traditional magicians' reliance upon baloma spirits. Trobriand gambling thus exemplifies how change following from the introduction of novel Western practices can be effectively accommodated to preexisting religious and cultural practices through indigenous modes of personhood and agency.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)239-255
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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