Coral Roads and their Sorcery: Lost Authority and Spectral Commodification in Buka

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    Sorcery in Buka, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, is understood as reprehensible in most present contexts, but it is also believed to have once played a constructive role in maintaining social order. This mytheme is important both to the analysis of how traditional systems of sorcery come to be rearticulated in postcolonial contexts, and as a means of understanding how villagers conceptualise social order itself. Here, an analysis of the selective means by which vernacular forms of sorcery are assimilated to the Tok Pisin term poisen is presented together with an examination of the history of institutions of social control in which sorcery is remembered - and forgotten - to have played key roles. In the past, sorcery would have been gavman blong peles, a 'village government', a power over and from people, accumulated by the hierarchical integration of lineages within houses known as tsuhana. Sorcery has been privatized and commodified, slipping out of control of traditional authorities, who now pursue a strategy of achieving power over land. Power from people entails, in the Buka context, sorcery or other forms of internalised violence; power over land entails the assertion exclusivist genealogical claims. The pursuit of such claims is mediated by courts, and frequently creates rifts in communities. Sorcery, once freed from its role as government, returns to haunt traditional authorities as the spectre of their former power, and as the spectre of resistance to their current power: to the extent that they emphasize the historical role of poisen, the more they are suspected of it; imagined as the anarchy of jealousies, poisen multiplies in proportion to their success in parlaying forms of traditional authority into economic and political advantage.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)186-207
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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