Thu, 12 May 1994 08:59:28 CDT

Okay, I'm in. I'd like to follow part of Weiner's argument on evolutionary
process (from hard goods to soft--from acephalous to big men to ali'i--and
use hard soft to talk about representing vs. embodying a community: hierarchy
in the systems (not anthropological) sense of the term. But once we get into
production, then we're talking gender exchange, at least for Kapingamarangi.
Once that subject gets into the discussion, however, it makes a comparative
link to Melanesian exchange, and net bags have to be included for that reason.
Once we open that can of worms--and I'd like to see it opened--then the issue
of distribution (through exchange) over space is an issue that cannot be
avoided, whether we're talking about distribution over linked families and
villages (e.g., Samoa, Kapingamarangi), over linked polities (Pohnpei), or
(tremble, shiver, shake) over regions.

I contend that it is REGION, however defined, that contextualizes the issues of
production and exchange of cloth, whether we talk about "traditional" forms
of community or their modern transformations. If we attempt to restrict the
parameters of discussion to what happens in a single "village," we will have
created an artificial boundary that can only distort any comparative
generalizations that we construct.

This is actually fortuitous, because John Terrell and Rob Welch have been
working with a number of colleagues on a regional approach to Melanesiann
ethnography. Although they concentrate on Melanesia, their generalizations
are equally applicable to Micronesia and Polynesia, both high and low island
communities. John Terrell has published a brief account of the issues that
he and his colleagues worked over in a conference held at the Field Museum in
1992. He has an ASCII version of that paper (in its original, prepublication
form) that he or I can send to any of you who want it. Meanwhile, I'd be
happy to ask him to post a summary of the issues of a regional approach on
the Net if anyone other than me is interested. I certainly do not mean to
dilute a discussion of cloth, but the issue of, say, net bags as in or out of
the discussion turns on how we are prepared to contextualize the discussion.

So what do you think?
Mike Lieber