Re: Offline/online:domes.violence

Maddog (Christopher.Morgan@JCU.EDU.AU)
Mon, 12 Dec 1994 16:26:03 +1000

G'day anthros -

>Sarah and Mike are discussing forms of domestic abuse in their respective
>field cultures and calling for others to contribute interesting
>observations of their own.

An interesting dimension of husband-to-wife violence among contemporary
Huli (PNG Southern Highlands - c. 80,000 pop.) is reflected in charges (K20
= approx US$20 before their recent devaluation, i.e. a significant amount
of money among largely subsistence horticulturalists) levied at the
outpatients' clinic of the major health centre in Tari upon the _victims_
of such abuse. This is rationalised by those who run the haus sik along the
following lines:

1. The haus sik is grossly under-resourced.

2. The women who are thus treated receive medical certificates which are
used as the basis for compensation claims, which are typically paid by the
husband and his kin (but only if it can be established to the magistrate
that the beating was _unjustified_).

A similar logic applies to the K60 charge applied to men who are injured in
clan warfare. I'm told that a similar system exists in Mendi and elsewhere
in the highlands.

As with others, I don't have any hard data as to frequency or prevalence,
but my impressions concur with the "frequent, colorful, and noisy"
character of such interactions. As to actual damage incurred by victims, I
have to say that I suspect that the situation is more complex than would
appear to the casual observer. For example, in my research into
disabilities among the Huli, I have found that the perceived attribution of
causes of e.g. blindness, deafness or even arthritis amongst older women is
sometimes held to be a beating perpetrated by a husband (or co-wife in some
cases) years, even decades, prior to the onset of symptoms. Redress is
often sought in these cases, as well.

Also, it is not uncommon for Huli women to suicide because of 'shame' -
which is a state that may result from _unjustified_ beating by a husband
(actually, now that I come to think of it, I recorded a case in January
this year of a girl who suicided after being publicly chastised by her
mother. The mother subsequently suicided too - except in her case the
'shame' was due to the fact that she had secretly accepted brideprice from
the kin of a dead ('ghost') husband & was unable to repay it on the suicide
of her daughter - but that's another story......).

Without going any further, I'd like to suggest that we need to be more
specific about what it is that we're calling 'domestic abuse', or even
whether such terms can be applied cross-culturally. I'll batten down the
hatches now and await the onset of the storm.....

Bow Wow
Longlong Dok.

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? Christopher J. Morgan % Tel: +61 77 81 4304 ?
% Dept of Anthropology & Archaeology ? FAX: +61 77 79 5435 %
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