Trade's Value: Relational Transactions in the Papua New Guinea Betel Nut Trade

Timothy Sharp

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The betel nut trade in Papua New Guinea is big business. Betel nut, a mild indigenous stimulant, is considered the 'green gold of the grassroots'. It is the country's most significant domestic cash crop and, in terms of rural incomes, a rival to the dominant export cash crops. Its sale is an important livelihood strategy in both rural and urban areas, the most visible manifestation of a flourishing informal economy. In betel nut marketplaces money 'flows' and 'overflows', traders wield large wads of cash, and vast sums change hands. Whether seeking their fortunes or only tinned fish, people trade betel nut first and foremost to make money, but such interests in trade do not automatically displace other forms of value. This paper is concerned with marketplaces and trade in contemporary Papua New Guinea and what is conveyed in those transactions between buyer and seller. Against the often impersonal and utilitarian rendering of trade, this paper seeks to foreground the sociability of trade and the multiple forms of value that may be simultaneously attached to monetised market transactions. This is not to conceal the discrete, unenduring, and competitive dynamics of trade, which prominently feature in many betel nut transactions, but instead to examine an important dynamic often overlooked. Market transactions, far from being asocial, or even socially destructive, have the capacity to generate and sustain diverse social relations including those of kinship and friendship.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)75-91
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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