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Echoes of the Tambaran: Masculinity, history and the subject in the work of Donald F. Tuzin

Introduction: Donald F. Tuzin, An Anthropologist’s Anthropologist

David Lipset and Paul Roscoe

In 2007, Donald Francis (Don) Tuzin died at the age of sixty-one. We who knew him as students and colleagues or simply admired his work from afar lost an anthropologist’s anthropologist—a kind that has gone out of fashion, to say the least. He combined the interests of a generalist with the skills of an experienced field ethnographer. His work drew from and contributed to archaeology as well as reflexive anthropology. Driven by methodological individualism and a strong commitment to comparativism, he focused on social control, dreams, politics and art, cannibalism, food symbolism, the psychodynamics of masculinity, the origins of religion, sexuality and childhood. At the same time as the depth of expertise and sheer creativity he brought to these and a great variety of other subjects broke new ground and won him publication in distinguished disciplinary venues, he influenced large swathes of subsequent research. He was among a wave of international ethnographers who in the late 1960s began to focus belated attention on the Sepik Basin of Papua New Guinea, and he emerged as their dean. In this introductory essay, we sketch out Tuzin’s life and discuss the main themes in the essays that make up this commemorative volume.


Tuzin’s maternal ancestry had deep American roots. His mother, Thelma Louise Smith (b. 1920), grew up in rural southern Illinois, where her father, George Wesley Smith (1895–1949), owned a small vegetable farm in West Vienna. Although she never attended university, Thelma grew up dreaming of higher pursuits and read incessantly. For many years, she worked on a historical American novel involving Native Americans, and this interest might have later drawn Don to anthropology. Thelma had three brothers, one of whom, Donald, was killed in Japan in 1944, the year before Don, her son, was born. She died at the age of fifty-four.

Tuzin’s patrilineage was made up of working-class immigrants. His father’s father, Fanzieshek Tuzinkiewics (later Francis [Frank] Tuzin), came to the United States from Poland in the first decade of the twentieth century. In Poland, the men in his family had worked as bakers (‘tuzin’ is Polish for ‘dozen’), and Frank owned a bakery on East Fourteenth Street on the Lower East Side of New York until his death in 1951. His son, Constantine (Con) Francis Tuzin (b. 1917), grew up as an apprentice in the bakery, before enlisting in the army in 1942. He was stationed in Springfield, Illinois, where he met and married Thelma in October 1943. Subsequently, he was posted as an instructor in the Quartermaster Subsistence School in Chicago, and it was there that Don Tuzin was born on 14 June 1945.

Tuzin’s initial acquaintance with Chicago was brief. His father was moved to an army base in California, and, following demobilisation in 1947, the family moved to the river town of Winona, Minnesota, where Con began work as a manager in the Federal Bakery and where Don, as he would later recall, enjoyed Huck Finn-esque childhood adventures on the banks of the Mississippi. In 1959, his father was hired by the Kitchens of Sara Lee Incorporated, and the family returned to Chicago—first to the suburb of Norridge and then eight months later to Sauganash, in the city itself. Here, Tuzin attended Von Steuben High School and met his future wife, Beverly Chodd, who lived just two houses away. In Chicago, the Tuzin family’s prospects took a marked turn. Con invented several of Sarah Lee’s best-known recipes, including layer cakes and brownies, and eventually rose to become vice-president in charge of overseas corporate expansion. He retired from Sara Lee in 1977 and died just two years later at the age of sixty-one—the same age as would his son almost 30 years later.

Becoming an Anthropologist

Tuzin attended and received his BA from Western Reserve University in 1967, shortly before its merger with Case Institute of Technology. It was here he became interested in anthropology and participated in the excavation of Native American archaeological sites left by the Mound Builders. Olaf Prufer, a Harvard-trained archaeologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, had an adjunct lectureship at Case and recalled coming to know Tuzin well as an undergraduate:

I think it was I who made him decide on becoming an anthropologist (although he was not fond of dirt, dust and heat)…Don was with my operations during the summers of 1964 and 1965…in the hills of southern Ohio, where he valiantly sought a professional identity. He shared, in 1965, our rage at [President Lyndon] Johnson’s destructive decision to go whole hog in Vietnam by committing the army to this hopeless venture…During the…regular academic year, he opted for some coursework with me at Case…His work was excellent. I still must have his paper on the kinship structure of rural Ross County. (Prufer 2007; see also Prufer 1965)

In 1967, after receiving an MA from Case Western Reserve, Tuzin boarded the Queen Elizabeth II and went for postgraduate studies at the University of London with the intention of doing research in East Africa. Mary Douglas became intellectually important there (Robbins and Leavitt 2008), and, although he would later reject her theoretical vision, Tuzin recalled her keen intellect and early mentoring with fondness. While in London, Tuzin also met the Australian social anthropologist Phyllis Kaberry, who nurtured his interest in the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. ‘Kaberry’s…vivid descriptions of the Abelam [were]…captivating, and [they]…drove Africa quite out of my mind…I was irrevocably attracted not only to Melanesia, but to the Sepik region’ (Tuzin 2001:x). At the suggestion of Anthony Forge, Tuzin decided to do fieldwork in Ilahita, a village of Arapesh speakers in the East Sepik District in what was still the Australian Territory of New Guinea (Tuzin 2001:xi). Reo Fortune tutored him in Arapesh language in Cambridge, UK, and Margaret Mead, who had worked with Fortune among the Mountain Arapesh to the east, also supported his work, visiting him in the field and later writing the foreword for his first book. Beverly Tuzin recalled two details of Mead’s 1971 visit to Ilahita. First, she was certain that the people ‘felt’ palpably Arapesh. And second: ‘she brought us whiskey—as etiquette-informed visitors to anthropologists-in-the-field should—and told us stories under the pounding rain on our tin roof, while tossing back shots. Then she fell asleep in the middle of Don’s response. Don and I were befuddled about what to do—keep talking or not, keep drinking or not, wake her up, go to bed, etc. Finally, we just sat there until she woke up. Then we all went to sleep.’ (Beverly Tuzin, Personal communication, 13 September 2009.)

The following year, Tuzin transferred to the doctoral program in the Anthropology Department of the Research School for Pacific Studies at The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, which was ‘to New Guinea anthropology what the University of London was to African anthropology’ (Tuzin 2001:xi). It is perhaps an early indication of Tuzin’s social capacities that, despite his emerging relationship with Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman agreed to become his advisor. The two developed a close working relationship that lasted until Freeman’s death in 2001. Freeman’s influence shaped Tuzin’s longstanding interests in criticism and scientific method, the subject and individual choice in culture, and the integration of biological and social anthropology. In the near term, of course, Freeman supervised Tuzin’s doctoral fieldwork, which began in September 1969, and Beverly Tuzin recalled that Freeman ‘was extremely supportive during and after fieldwork. In addition to anthropological counselling during fieldwork, he sent Don books to read at his leisure (outdoor adventures of guys achieving great feats—mountain climbing, conquering the Antarctic, etc).’

Tuzin’s research focused on issues of social organisation, law, ritual and symbolism. A resourceful fieldworker, he collected fine-grained material on many topics. In March 1970, taking a field break after six months in Ilahita, Tuzin went to Sydney and married Beverly Chodd, his high-school sweetheart. Beverly recalled that the wedding

was arranged by the missionaries Don had befriended in Ilahita, due to the fact that our original plans to be married on a ship had been foiled. The bridesmaids were elderly missionaries. Don’s father was the next youngest person there (other than Don and me). He happened to be there, supervising the building of a Sara Lee factory, but he was the only family/friend in attendance.

Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds left for New Guinea. Or, as Tuzin once put it, without any trace of guile: ‘Right after we got married, I jumped straight into the bush.’


Figure 1 Don and Beverly Tuzin in Ilahita after being married in Sydney. ‘When we returned to Ilahita,’ Beverly recalled, ‘the small-plane pilot dipped his wing as we passed over the village. The people of Ilahita decorated the path to our house and our house with colorful crotons, etc. They also lined the path and welcomed us.’

After a good Malinowskian period of 22 months in the field, Tuzin returned to Canberra in 1972 and started to write up his dissertation. Michele Stephen remembered the impressive figures he and Beverly cut in those days:

Very tall and straight, over 6’4”, he never allowed even a trace of an academic slouch to lessen his imposing stature, always carrying himself with a kind of nonchalant elegance. His black hair, brilliant blue eyes, olive complexion and classical features added up to movie-star good looks, which he perhaps tried to disguise, but failed, with a heavy beard. Soft spoken with just the hint of an appealing diffidence of manner, he nevertheless could be firm and even intimidating for all his charm. Don and his tall, equally elegant wife, Beverly, made a stunning couple…on the campus of the ANU, two tall, almost impossibly beautiful young Americans. Both might have been Hollywood actors playing the role of the dashing anthropologist and his lovely companion.

Tuzin saw his time as a graduate student at ANU as ‘idyllic’, Beverly recalled. ‘His office window opened onto an enclosed courtyard with trees and grey and pink galahs…He valued his…animated discussions during the regular morning/afternoon teas [and in] departmental seminars, which often included…heated arguments.’ Edenic as Canberra might have been in the early 1970s, Tuzin now had to think about getting his first job. He recalled a crucial role that the South Asianist Paul Alexander, who was part of his cohort at ANU, played in this process:

Around September 1972, we were both a few draft chapters into our theses…Paul …[had] a copy of the American Anthropological Association Guide to Graduate Departments in his hand. He had found just the department for me. UC San Diego had all the scholars I admired. I must write to them, Paul demanded. ‘But I don’t know if they’re even hiring,’ I responded. ‘Never mind!’ Paul said, in terms that were probably a little more colorful than that. Thereupon, he REFUSED TO LEAVE MY OFFICE until, then and there, I wrote to the department to introduce myself. One thing led to another, and now, thirty-three years later, I’m still at UC San Diego. I literally do not know where I would be, without Paul. (Quoted in Feil 2005:233)

In 1973, Tuzin left Australia for a job interview in San Diego. While getting dressed at the hotel to meet faculty, he put on a tie for the first time in several years and felt several lumps in his neck. Upon returning to Canberra, he declined to go for a check-up and biopsy, his wife recalled, until he had finished his dissertation. Once he did submit it to his committee, he got the diagnosis. He had contracted Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, although the stage of its development was not immediately determined. Now, he refused treatment until after the thesis defence. He defended successfully, and he and Beverly proceeded that very same afternoon to hospital. Tuzin underwent a splenectomy, and the disease was then staged at 2a, meaning all the cancer was above the diaphragm. He received one month of radiation treatments in Sydney, before leaving Australia for southern California to take up an assistant professorship at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He was twenty-eight.

La Jolla Years

Tuzin began to undergo weekly doses of chemotherapy at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest and had to wrestle with their side effects as he began his new job. In addition to nausea, he became anaemic, weak and paranoid. Beverly recalled how certain he was that his colleagues hated him and how convinced he became that his teaching was going poorly. Marc Swartz, the political anthropologist who was then chair of the UCSD department, remembered holding quite the contrary view. He recalled Tuzin ‘lecturing on kinship. I thought I knew about kinship, but I didn’t know as much as Don did. He was absolutely brilliant’ (quoted in Kinsman 2007). The treatments left him in remission and perhaps with a Johnsonian sense of urgency and concentration. During these first years in La Jolla, his sons, Gregory (b. 1976) and Alexander (b. 1980), were born and in quick succession his Ilahita material began to burst out.

In the early 1970s, Ilahita village, where Tuzin conducted the bulk of his fieldwork, had a population of nearly 1500 people, making it one of the largest villages in Papua New Guinea. Given that Ilahita society was acephalous, Tuzin raised a classic structural-functional problem that would have made Meyer Fortes proud: how could the village hold together in the absence of formal leadership? His first book, The Ilahita Arapesh: Dimensions of Unity (1976), sought to answer this question and raised issues that would intrigue him for the rest of his career. Ilahita village society was divided into a dual organisation in which ‘moieties, sub-moieties, initiation classes and age-sets’ crosscut and overlapped one another to produce an ‘intricate web’ of solidarity among villagers (Tuzin 1976:xxiv–xxv). Derek Freeman had interested Tuzin in the project of combining Popper’s (1950) version of methodological individualism (cf. Hayek 1952; Weber 1968) with historical explanation: how did the elaborate sociology that held Ilahita village together come about? Arguing against Levi-Strauss’s (1963) claims that dual organisation arose from the structure of the human mind, Tuzin claimed that it derived instead from individuals making mundane choices in the face of recurring situational demands. The book applied this analytical framework to a historical reconstruction of how this complex social organisation might have arisen.

A companion volume, The Voice of the Tambaran, which appeared four years later (1980), went in a different theoretical direction. The ethnographic goal was to portray rituals of initiation into the Ilahita male cult. During fieldwork, Tuzin himself had observed several stages of this complex rite, and with his considerable literary skills he was able to convey the vitality of its ethos with a nuance that few in the Melanesian literature had achieved. In addition, the book sought to interpret the symbolism of a wide range of phenomena: myth imagery and cult-house construction—from anchor posts to bark painting facades. As a whole, Tuzin argued, the cult defined moral order for Ilahita men, although its influence upon women remained obscure.

While influenced by Derek Freeman’s strong bio-cultural vision, Tuzin’s interest in cultural theory in relation to emotion and other psychological capacities was also guided by the distinguished Freudian Melford Spiro, the founder of the UCSD Anthropology Department, and another psychoanalytically oriented colleague there, Robert Levy. For example, in his article ‘The Breath of a Ghost: Dreams and the Fear of the Dead’ (Tuzin 1975), he examined how Arapesh dreams, and their interpretations, draw upon individuals’ relationships with loved ones. Dreaded dream visits from the ghosts of deceased parents were said to resonate with ambivalent feelings of mourning. Similarly, a subsequent contribution to Herdt’s (1982) well-known anthology Rituals of Manhood explored how individual men reacted to having to sponsor their sons’ subjection to terrifying ordeals in male-cult rituals. In another quite original piece, entitled ‘Miraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects’ (1984), Tuzin argued that ‘numinous’ or ‘religious’ feelings that have often been documented as preceding an epileptic seizure might illustrate how patterns of brain activity could produce an existential response that might be culturally appropriated as ‘religious’. The resonating sounds of the Arapesh ‘voice’ of the Tambaran cult spirit produced by bamboo flutes being blown into the base of wooden drums could, through simple acoustics, produce brain-wave patterns and ‘numinous feelings’ that individuals would then interpret as religious awe. Similar dynamics might be related to sounds produced in religious contexts more generally. Through these and other essays drawing from his Ilahita material, Tuzin developed his own thoroughly bio-psychosocial perspective on culture.

He remained interested in Ilahita’s historical experience. In 1983, he co-edited a collection with the social anthropologist Paula Brown Glick, The Ethnography of Cannibalism (Brown and Tuzin 1983). His piece in the volume analysed vivid stories told by Ilahitans about the desperation of Japanese soldiers who were said to have cannibalised villagers in the last days of the New Guinea campaign. By this time, too, events were moving him towards a return to Ilahita. Following the lead of Bateson and Mead in the 1930s, Tuzin had thought to undertake a second project to be located somewhere in rural Indonesia. In 1979, he spent six weeks exploring Bali, Java and Sulawesi looking for an appropriate field site. Unhappily, he could not win grant support for this research project. Three graduate students at UCSD, Karen Brison, Stephen Eyre and Steven Leavitt, had decided to do doctoral fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, and Tuzin wrote and submitted a grant in support of a comparative project that was to be focused on middle childhood in contiguous cultures in the vicinity of Ilahita (Leavitt, Personal communication). In 1985, he received National Science Foundation funding for the project.

Tuzin, Beverly and their two sons returned to Ilahita for 11 months in 1985–86. There, he found a community in disarray, at least from a culturally conservative point of view. A year earlier, many villagers had converted to evangelical Christianity and during church service confessionals had revealed the secrets of the male cult to women and children in the community, exposing the knowledge that flutes were not the voices of the spirits but were ‘actually’ men blowing them.


Figure 2 Tuzin’s informant Tomi insisted that his two boys plant coconuts on his land so that they would have a conditional link to him. Ilahita, 1986.

Photo: B. Tuzin

On the basis of his research into the meaning and consequences of these events, Tuzin published an ethnographic masterpiece, The Cassowary’s Revenge: The Life and Death of Masculinity in a New Guinea Society (1997). The centrepiece of the book was the destruction of the Ilahita male cult at the hands of the very men who once had treated it as axial in their lives. In the opening chapter, Tuzin wrestled candidly with the angst he felt about what had happened, and he reflected on how he had himself figured in people’s thinking. At the centre of his inquiry was a clever argument that the myth of the cassowary had come to be understood as having foretold the death of the male cult, the end of which was enabled by its having been culturally exogenous to Ilahita in the first place. The male cult of the Tambaran, he argued, had been adopted from the neighbouring Abelam as a result of the latter’s military superiority. The misogyny that accompanied it, Tuzin argued, had never sat well with traditional Ilahita notions of male–female relations (relations that indeed recalled Mead’s famous characterisation of gender among the Mountain Arapesh as uniformly nurturant (Mead 1935; cf. Fortune 1939; Roscoe 2003). The coming of evangelical Christianity provided a constituency of Ilahita men with an excuse to do away with the cult, the cult whose values they had not endorsed. What resulted, Tuzin believed, was a masculine tragedy. Tuzin’s book is a portrait of sad betrayal, domestic violence and ritual confusion as well as other more material afflictions. The Cassowary’s Revenge quickly became a modern classic in Melanesian ethnography as well as in the study of masculinity amid cultural change.

In the aftermath of the mid-1980s Ilahita fieldwork, Tuzin occupied himself in a series of smaller projects. He wrote two energetic papers on sexuality. In one, he traced anthropological interest in the topic back to Malinowski (Tuzin 1994); in the other, he argued that the study of sexuality would benefit both conceptually and empirically from a focus on what he called the ‘excluded middle’ that was constituted by the interaction of practice and cultural discourse (Tuzin 1991:872).

Together with Thomas Gregor, he also organised a major Wenner-Gren symposium that resulted in Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method (Gregor and Tuzin 2001). This volume used gender in these two distinct geographical areas as a focus for reconsidering the utility of the comparative method in anthropology—a method that Tuzin refused to surrender despite growing hostility in mainstream cultural anthropology. In their co-authored piece, Tuzin and Gregor compared male cults in Ilahita and Mehinaku, not as an assertion of patriarchy or even male–female interdependency but rather as an anguished attempt to sustain the integrity of an otherwise ambivalent, frail masculine subject. Tuzin also published Social Complexity in the Making: A Case Study Among the Arapesh of New Guinea (2001), which was written to augment a sequence of courses in which he participated at UCSD called ‘The Making of the Modern World’. In this book, he returned to and expanded notions of cultural evolution and change that had run through earlier work. At the time of his death in 2007, Tuzin was full of enthusiasm for a biography of Derek Freeman on which he was working with Peter Hempenstall, the emeritus Pacific historian. The project was to be called ‘Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the Future of Anthropology’.

In addition to his scholarship, Tuzin’s further legacy to the Melanesianist community is large. He founded the University of California Press series Studies in Melanesian Anthropology and served as a senior editor of the series from 1984 to 1994. He was also on the boards of the journal Oceania and the allied Oceania Monographs. But perhaps his greatest contribution to Melanesian scholarship lay in his role as co-founder, long-time academic advisor and honorary curator of the Melanesian Archive, housed in the Geisel Library at UCSD. Fitz John Porter Poole and Tuzin started the archive in 1982. Working with UCSD librarians, they secured two large Title IIC grants for the project from the US Department of Education. Created to staunch ‘Ethnographic Loss and Scatter’, the archive collects fieldnotes and other unpublished materials of anthropologists who work or have worked in Melanesia, together with patrol reports and other government documents from the region (Tuzin 1995:24). Along with dissertations, MA theses, microform sets of archival materials held by other institutions, and book and journal holdings related to the region, the archive Tuzin and Poole founded—and which Tuzin worked hard to maintain—made it the world’s largest depository of materials on the cultures of Melanesia and made UCSD an outstanding resource for research. As Kathryn Creely, the Melanesian Studies Librarian at UCSD, commented:

[T]he Archive could not exist without Don’s contributions—intellectual and personal. His vision for building the collection, his intellectual curiosity, his wonderful relations with colleagues internationally in the field of Melanesian anthropology, and above all, his own kindness, courtesy and humor were all essential ingredients in the our endeavor. (Quoted by JaCoby 2007)

In addition, the archive provides copies of materials to libraries in the Pacific—a feature of which Tuzin was proud. In honour of his commitment to Melanesian scholarship, the archive has recently been renamed for him.


Figure 3 Don Tuzin, 2005, La Jolla

Photo: B. Tuzin

In addition to a productive scholarly career, Tuzin was active in administration at UCSD. Joel Robbins, one of his colleagues in the Anthropology Department there, recalled how Tuzin ‘believed that UCSD was the most exciting university in the world, and he gave his time and heart to it accordingly’ (quoted by JaCoby 2007). He twice served as chair of the Anthropology Department, helping it through a politically difficult period of expansion into a prominent four-field department. From 1990 to 1993, he served as Associate Chancellor of the university under Richard Atkinson. Atkinson recalled asking Tuzin to move with him when he became President of the University of California system, hoping to groom him as a chancellor or university president himself. Citing his commitment to scholarship and teaching, however, Tuzin declined to leave San Diego. In 2004–05, he served as the elected Chair of the UCSD Academic Senate. In these administrative roles, he proved able, and had an ability to listen with patience and make decisions that were deemed fair. At UCSD, he is and will be remembered as a substantial figure in the history of what is still a young university.

Because it conveys something about the austerity and selfless dedication that possessed him, we want to end this biographical section (which recalls his initial cancer treatment) with a word about the process of his passing. In 2001, Tuzin was visiting Machu Picchu during a family vacation in Peru, when he suffered a bout of nausea and shortness of breath that he imagined to be altitude sickness (his wife later suspected it was a blood clot that had broken). From that time on, his health slowly deteriorated, his energy declined, and his doctors were unable immediately to diagnose why. Over the following year, he again suffered acute shortness of breath. Upon return to La Jolla, he began to receive various treatments. An unnecessary pacemaker was implanted in his heart. He suffered thyroid damage. Beverly recalled this period of their lives as involving ‘a lot of waiting for test results’. During the summer of 2006, however, he was promoted to Distinguished Professor in the UC system—its highest rank. That autumn, he received a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension, which his doctors thought was related to scatter effects from the cruder, less pinpointed form of radiation he had received 33 years earlier, in 1973. By early winter, he was no longer able to walk to the library, and, in November, he went on oxygen 24 hours a day, which depressed and scared him. Until then, he had carried on with everyday life, working as normally as possible and complaining to no-one. Indeed, most people had not even realised he was ill. ‘Basically,’ Beverly said, ‘he was able to fake it pretty well.’ Donald Tuzin died on 15 April 2007, intending to undergo preliminary evaluation so as to become eligible to join a waiting list for a heart–lung transplant.

The Essays

In the aftermath of Tuzin’s unexpected and decidedly premature death, our instructions to contributors were sparse: engage an aspect of his work. The chapters in the resulting volume thus engage a variety of topics, differing also in ethnographic texture and, of course, methodological orientation, but they all respond to Tuzin’s principal interests in the Sepik: masculinity and epistemology. In addition, some authors, such as Birth, Knauft and Robbins, while making a theoretical point, adopt a somewhat more personal tone. Others, including Lipset, Roscoe and Stephens, write more formally as they focus on a particular analytical topic. We note these rhetorical differences and let them stand. They are, we think, useful expressions of the loss from which this volume emanates. In all, we have grouped the chapters according to the following four themes: 1) Sepik prehistory, history and contemporary Melanesian masculinities; 2) culture, the agent and methodological individualism; 3) comparativism; and lastly, as might be appropriate to a commemorative project of this kind, 4) Tuzin’s style as a fieldworker and author.

History, Masculinity and Melanesia

A major project in Tuzin’s first volume, The Ilahita Arapesh (1976), was the reconstruction of village prehistory, and he returned to archaeological issues in his last book, Social Complexity in the Making (2001). Lamenting anthropology’s continuing contempt for social-evolutionary inquiry, Tuzin held up the value to archaeologists of communities such as Ilahita for understanding processes of social transformation (2001:5–10). Drawing from several types of data, Tuzin argued that, beginning in the late 1800s, Ilahita exploded from a community of 100–200 people to almost 1300 under the pressure of large-scale migrations northwards from the Sepik River of dense populations of Abelam people. This process of expansion was eventually halted by the ‘pacification’ of the region in the 1940s, but by then the village had already become one of the largest in New Guinea. The conceit of an Abelam ‘invasion’ is a longstanding one in Sepik anthropology, but in his contribution, Paul Roscoe counters that it never occurred, or at least not as it is usually represented. The characteristics of the Abelam–Arapesh region commonly taken as evidence for such a mass migration, he argues, are better explained as the product of localised ecological conditions. The formation of Ilahita village was no different to standard processes of village formation elsewhere in the area, and the unusual size to which it grew is better attributable to the village’s unusual topography rather than to prehistoric immigration. This being the case, Roscoe concludes, Tuzin’s description and analysis of the strategies that Ilahitans adopted for coping with their conurbation assume a far greater relevance than he might have imagined. Rather than being sui generis, as Tuzin thought, they are applicable to village formation and maintenance processes throughout the Sepik region.

Whether or not warfare was a major factor in the rise of Ilahita village, the male cult, or the Tambaran, became an axis of interest in subsequent work, which culminated in his account of the ‘death’ of the Tambaran—for example, its collapse in 1984 amid millenarian expectations fomented by a ‘Christian revival’, and fostered by Ilahitan interpretations of Tuzin’s own 1969–72 fieldwork there, and the promise of his return. With the public exposure of cult secrets to women and children, male domination—the very meaning of ritual masculinity—collapsed, as Ilahita sought to pivot towards a new, globalised future. Among the Abelam—eastern neighbours to the Ilahita Arapesh—and about the same time as Tuzin, Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin experienced a series of developments that marked a similar, radical cultural transformation and ultimately led her to surrender her Abelam field site.

As Tuzin did in The Cassowary’s Revenge, Hauser-Schäublin seeks to understand the processes that effected this transformation. She does so with an elegant analysis of the Abelam string bag, a seemingly mundane artefact that actually illuminates two conjoined, systemic principles upon which Abelam culture appears to be based. On the one hand, there is the structure of these bags—manufactured by a looping technique from a single piece of twine. On the other, there is their semi-transparent surface—an artefact that both conceals and reveals what is inside. Abelam men’s knowledge in the ‘pre-modern’ era, Hauser-Schäublin proposes, was organised on the same two principles. Referring to a reality beyond the world of everyday life, of routine processes and practices controlled by human agents, this hierarchically structured knowledge and the manner in which it was disbursed involved an interplay between revealing and concealing and an inter-looping of the two modes. In a new era shaped by colonialism, Christian proselytisation, political independence and the advance of a capitalist economy and globalisation, the ‘death’ of the Abelam Tambaran, as we might call it, involved a determination to put an end to the ‘pre-modern’ era and the principles represented in the string bag of the Tambaran. The values fostered by and embodied in the bag, with its continual loops of concealing and revealing, no longer sufficed as a model for identity.

David Lipset and Bruce Knauft also focus on Tuzin’s interest in masculinities in contemporary Papua New Guinea but suggest that their transitions do not necessarily conform to the tragedy that befell the Ilahita male cult in the mid-1980s. Lipset deploys Lacanian semiotics to do so. For Lacan, the subject’s position in culture is based in eternal desire, which is attracted by metaphorical substitutions for, rather than negations of, past loss. The phallus, moreover, is the privileged signifier of both desire and loss. Lipset therefore opines that Tuzin’s view of Ilahita masculinity in the mid-1980s was one-dimensional. Instead of tragedy, ritual masculinity was observed making multiple kinds of substitutions that combine the presence and the absence of the phallus into an equivocal register.

Knauft, relying on a historical methodology, arrives at a similar conclusion. Among the Gebusi of the Highlands fringe, he argues that the trajectory of ritual masculinity is unpredictable, rather than uniformly negative or disparaging as in Ilahita or Abelam. In 2008, he found Gebusi men less violent than they had been during earlier years. What is more, in the wake of post-colonial devolution, they had revived central masculine institutions: the longhouse, male initiation and traditional dancing. It is too easy, Knauft avers, to misjudge the future of Melanesian men.

Culture, the Agent and Tuzin’s Methodological Individualism

The basis of Tuzin’s dynamic view of Ilahita as well as his tragic view of ritual masculinity lay in a Popperian conception of the actor in society. The four chapters in this section all respond to aspects of this interest in culture, the agent and the recursive relationship between the two. Drawing on vernacular reactions to ‘strange’ occurrences he observed during research in Trinidad in 1996, Kevin Birth elegantly discusses the uncanny through the Vichean approach that Tuzin adopted towards it. As Birth points out, the uncanny disrupts Cartesian dualism—the division between the mental and the material world that undergirds the more naive epistemologies of science. Although it is founded on observed particulars, the uncanny evokes the mysterium—a sense of something behind the world of perception. To avoid this dilemma, Birth informs us, Tuzin invoked Vico’s critique of Descartes’ dualism and his distinction between verum (truth: that which is created by the human mind and which, for this reason, we can know) and certum (certainty: our acquaintance with and beliefs about the physical world). Along with Langer’s approach to aesthetics and Morris’s pragmatism, the concept of verum galvanised Tuzin’s study of such phenomena as the Ilahita Tambaran cult, directing him towards the active process of meaning creation. For Tuzin, the uncanny was a vital component in this process. By focusing on (‘subjective’) apperception rather than on (‘objective’) perception, Tuzin appreciated that the ‘strange’ coincidence—the symbol apperceived to have intrinsic import—acted as a socially creative force, prompting the collective imagination and creation of truth and playing a vital role in religious experience. The Vichean approach that Tuzin adopted towards the uncanny, Birth suggests, has wide-ranging use for the study of post-colonialism and modernity, for ethnographic enterprise, and for anthropological epistemology.

If Vico, Langer and Morris influenced Tuzin’s theoretical approach to symbolism, Popper’s methodological individualism provided him with theoretical inspiration for understanding society. In a trenchant examination of the entire sweep of Tuzin’s work—from his first to his last book—Don Gardner finds that a sense of the complexity of the total human person rather than any conceptual privilege attached to the individual was what drove his analysis. In light of the daunting metaphysical issues that lurk in the wings of methodological individualism, Gardner suggests, Tuzin might have been better served if he had set his Popperian prescriptions aside. His interests in an interactionalist approach to social life and his concern with comparison would be better advanced, Gardner continues, by the considerations evident in Weberian analytical practice or by Philip Pettit’s ‘explanatory ecumenism’.

Drawing from Tuzin’s view that culture should be seen as arising from the contingencies of individual action and subjectivity, Stephen Leavitt finds reminiscences about childhood told by a Bumbita Arapesh man to be an empirically useful expression of the rhetorical relationship between narrator, as actor, and cultural norms. He carefully analyses a case in which an informant recalled incidents that involved childhood adventures with classificatory siblings who would rather not have shared the fruits of their foraging exploits in the rainforest. Insisting that they do so, he threatened to tell on them. As his father had died prematurely by the time he spoke to Leavitt, the informant was expressing anxiety about achieving full status in the patrilineal community.

In his contribution, Joel Robbins offers an elegant assessment of the convergence of his own holist, or realist, concept of society with Tuzin’s methodological individualism, to which, he suggests, Tuzin became less of an adherent in later years. Following up a point made by Derrida, Robbins distinguishes between what he calls the ‘messianic promise’ (a hint of a new time) and messianism (a wide-ranging belief in a specific future) and goes on to reflect upon an incident in which the Urapmin people of Papua New Guinea showed a willingness to acknowledge the former while going on with their day-to-day lives. That is, action and temporal order are shown to coexist in complicated ways. As if to express his own grief, Robbins laments, in a poignant conclusion, how cultural anthropology as a discipline has closed itself off from this kind of subjectivity. The allure of the other, which interested Tuzin and himself, has diminished in favour of the allure of universals, of human rights, capitalism, science and the postmodern subject.

Comparativism, Psychoanalysis and the Subject

Robbins’ nostalgia returns us to the subtitle of this introductory essay. While hardly narrow, pedantic, unimaginative or incurious, Tuzin was not theoretically chic. Tuzin was a strong proponent throughout his career of comparativism, particularly with a psychological bent, notwithstanding the severe attacks it began to sustain in the late 1980s from mainstream anthropology and most especially its postmodern critics. The core of his position was to be found in the introduction he co-wrote with Tom Gregor in their edited volume on gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: ‘Without comparison, we risk miring our work in exotica and in the description of the particular…For, without comparison—without systematic observation, classification, and generalization—anthropology will become nothing at all’ (Gregor and Tuzin 2001:7–8).

This section includes four comparativist essays that follow this methodological persuasion. Tuzin’s pursuit of an interactionalist paradigm, so Gardner points out, led him into the burgeoning literatures of developmental psychology and cognitive science in the latter part of his career, and he came to share a sense of incredulity with such scholars as Sperber and Boyer at mainstream anthropology’s lack of interest in widely dispersed or universal psychological characteristics.

Michelle Stephen, picking up on the thread of a discussion she once had with Tuzin, argues for the value of Melanie Klein’s psychoanalysis in comprehending these parallels and themes. A younger contemporary of Freud, Klein viewed emotional life in terms of the mother rather than the father. For Klein, prior to the unconscious Freudian guilt attached to a fantasised patricide were envy and paranoid fears aroused by a fantasised matricide. In her approach, masculinity and femininity are shaped against a mother image of such terrible power that both genders feel themselves damaged by the struggle. The results, Stephen demonstrates, are particularly evident in the terrible images of the Balinese and Hindu Durga, as well as in other fantasies of violent mothers.

Although Tuzin was well read in the psychoanalytic literature, his notion of psychological development was neither Kleinian nor Freudian but harked back to his adherence to methodological individualism. As we mentioned above, in the mid-1980s he won a National Science Foundation grant to do comparative research on middle childhood based on the view that socialisation into culture takes place in and through experience with peers rather than with adults, and that this experience is creative not rote. In her contribution, Karen Brison, who was a member of that project, argues that rural preschoolers in Fiji play in mixed-age groups that are informed by hierarchical norms of superiority and inferiority. In urban Fiji, in contrast, kindergarteners are taught by powerful teachers in same-age groups. The play of the groups, as she observed them, differed. The former played in terms of hierarchical relations. The latter made up fantasies of monsters and superheroes, as well as about consumption, and, as they did, were learning to be autonomous individuals who would have to devise and use strategies to deal with the inequalities they would encounter in adult life.

The final pair of essays in this section returns us to Melanesian ethnography. Thomas Gregor and Gilbert Herdt take up the issue of ritual masculinity, and subject it to a comparative framework, albeit of quite different kinds. In a meditation about ritual violence against male initiates that relies on Herdt’s Sambia work and Tuzin’s Ilahita Arapesh studies, Gregor goes back to the question of why good people might do bad things to each other. After reviewing some of the more egregious practices—which he likens to torture—that were staged against male youth, together with the misogynist ideology that justified them, he goes on to ask whether there are any data to suggest that what boys had to endure was resisted by any or all of the stakeholders, such as the boys themselves, the initiators, their fathers, or the boys’ mothers. There is, Gregor finds, and he cites evidence of defiance, which he locates in the disconnection between domestic and ritual values in these societies.

Herdt contrasts the repression of discourse about sexuality in Sambia culture with a Freudian model and the Foucaultian notion of state-based power/knowledge/norm. Among Sambia, secrecy about desire and pleasure was functionally integrated with the maintenance of the male cult but also with conjugal relations and the body. Boys could not become successful men if they betrayed elders’ secrets about ritual intimacies that had gone on. They must never talk either about having been an object of desire or about desiring others. These kinds of issues, Herdt concludes, have been difficult to study because ethnographers carry the biases and categories of their backgrounds to the field, which also restricts discourse about sexuality.

Tuzin’s Style

Having begun this volume and this essay with biography, this final section comes back to qualities of Tuzin’s style as a fieldworker and author. Among his many other personal virtues, observes Alexander Bolyanitz, Tuzin was unerringly gracious and polished. He was gentle in the way he corrected those in error and generous in deflecting indignity from deserving targets. Tuzin epitomised, Bolyanitz observes, the courtesy that is the hallmark of anthropological method in the field, and he uses this insight to reflect on an issue that has been rather neglected in anthropology’s postmodern turn and its reflexive attention to the morally charged dynamics of fieldwork: the implications—for the fieldworker and the ‘fieldworked’—of returning to the same group of people.

To be an ethnographer, Bolyanitz points out, fieldwork method demands that one be polite (in local terms). If data are to be gathered, one can ill afford to disparage what one is told. When Tuzin showed interest in the story of Nambweapa’w during his first fieldwork, for example, he did not of course believe it, but ‘courtesy and method’ discouraged him from expressing doubt about the tale. Methodological interest, in other words, dictated courtesy. The more often ethnographers return to the field, however, the more they become implicated (or complicit) in local affairs, and the more this connection between courtesy and method undergoes metamorphosis. As they become better known as a person in the local community, as they come to know better what it is to be a person in local terms, their behaviour becomes more polite and civil—method contributing more to courtesy than courtesy contributes to method. In Tuzin’s case, his uncritical acceptance of the foundational mythology of the Tambaran was to help bring about its downfall 15 years later. For Bolyanitz, the results might have been less ironic, but no less personally profound in comprehending the effects of repeated returns to the field on his persona.

In her contribution, Diane Losche focuses on Tuzin’s rhetorical talents to draw attention to a broader and neglected issue in the analysis of ethnographic representation. Debate about construction, she points out, has concerned itself principally with issues of truth value—how faithfully ethnographic ‘facts’ represent what is ‘really’ going on—and, subsequently, with the rhetorical narrative modes by which ethnographers constitute themselves in their texts as ‘authorities’. But what also deserves commentary is a more nuanced interpretation of the voice of the anthropologist, of tone that colours the many different types of cultural forms that an ethnographic work describes, and the manner in which this voice varies from one ethnographer to another and, sometimes, between texts by the same author.

In most of his work, Losche notes, Tuzin’s voice is magisterial, authoritative and dramatic—a tone that creates the sense of a grand narrative of great historical moment. In this respect, the voice is similar to that of Margaret Mead’s in her earliest work on the Mountain Arapesh—cultural congeners of the Ilahita Arapesh. This is a most effective voice for creating a canonical text about a cultural system—one that sweeps away the confusions and ambiguities of a cultural life observed and truncates methodological doubt about the accuracy of what is represented. In her later work on the Mountain Arapesh, however, Mead uses a very different voice—one of hesitation and uncertainty—to which Tuzin also resorted in The Cassowary’s Revenge.


By design, the essays that make up the four parts of this book address the issues and methodologies with which Tuzin worked during his career. While they neither adhere to nor necessarily advocate his theoretical positions, they do reflect upon the majority of his topical interests and accurately portray, we think, the distinguished, if rarefied, disciplinary lineage to which Tuzin belonged. Notwithstanding the rise of post-structuralism, textual cultural concepts and the focus on cultural difference, his work remained more or less rooted in British social anthropology on the one hand, and in North American bio-psychological anthropology on the other. The present volume is meant to show that both carry on—in part because of Tuzin’s gifts.


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