To the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea, children are amongst the most important part of their lives.
A child’s link is the key to creating a relationship linked by marriages between their mothers and fathers’ matrilineages. The strength in these lasting relationships is tied to their own future. The Trobrianders believe in spirit impregnation, this is why a matrilineage is so important. The father of the child is a Pater, not a genitor because a spirit of his wife’s matrilineage impregnates her, not a genitor.
The husband/Pater plays a huge role in the child’s social and political status.He is the main caretaker of the child’s needs and social beauty and during pregnancy; it is believed frequent intercourse helps develop the fetus. Cultural and physical beauty show power, wealth and gives a social and political advantage. At death the spirit, or baloma, of the person who dies becomes youthful again and stays close to the island of Tuma.
However, the spirit does not stay youthful and after a while, it must bath in seawater to return as it once was. When the spirit needs to bath in the seawater it becomes a spirit child, or waiwaia. Unlike the baloma, a waiwaia cannot stay on the island of Tuma.The spirit child must enter a woman’s body, which is believed to be a member of the same matrilineage of its original baloma, and cause her to be pregnant.
The fetus of a Trobriander is believed to be formed by a woman’s blood and an ancestral spirit, or sibububula. When the spirit child is born, it is given a name that belonged to a deceased member of its mother’s matrilineage. This links each infant’s matrilineal identity to the past, meaning each dead person at in the end becomes the means of new life. In essence, every generation is linked to its matrilineal ancestors who continue to play an active role for future generations.When a Trobriander woman is married, she first lives with her husband but in the months before she has birth she goes back to her mothers’ house for her pregnancy and several months after.
Within a village, or Valu, there are divided sections called hamlets, or katuposula. Marriage is not simply within a hamlet but within a village, and sometimes-neighboring villages. This ensures that a woman is never far from her kin. After a woman gives birth, she is to be secluded with her newborn and be aware of strict eating taboos to protect herself and her baby throughout nursing.
Her husband and his kin are required to bring her food but only her matrilineage is allowed to cook for her. While she is in seclusion, she is also required to have a constant fire burning and to stay on a high bed with a long, light-colored cape made from dried banana-leaf fibers. Since common belief says conception is by a woman’s ancestral spirits, when an infant is born, identity is with the matrilineage its mother and not its father. A newborn receives certain rights to property and an ancestors name claiming these rights and recognition of its matrilineal identity.It is rare that within the village the child is called by the matrilineal name given to it.
The father asks his sister to give his children a name from their own matrilineage and this is the common name the village uses. However, this name given by the father is only a loan and cannot be passed down to his children’s children. Children in the Trobriander village have inalienable rights to their ancestral name and property rights from both their mother and fathers matrilineage. Thus there is a constant cycle of ancestral names that bestow rights to the children which they in time will bestow rights to their children and so forth.There are two concepts of Trobriand kinship exemplified by two stages in pregnancy.
The first is showed by belief that a woman becomes pregnant only by an ancestral spirit from her matrilineage, which defines matrilineal descent, which is irreversible through time. The second concept involves need for property from another matrilineage that creates ties with members of that matrilineage, ensuring potential future importance. In these concepts a father’s matrilineal kind add to a child’s gains, which it receives already from its own matrilineal kin to strengthen what the child will become in the future.A woman gives birth to one of her own matrilineal kin, but after birth, although the man is not a member of his own child’s matrilineage, the father contributes to the child’s growth, which implicates his matrilineage in his child’s future rights and obligations.
Even through strong matrilineal ties, a child will be taken care of. It is a social disadvantage to not have a father because the child loses potential ties with its patrilineal kin and is socially denied a potential part of his or her future.Trobriander children are given a plethora of loving attention from their parents and other members of the village. A woman is constantly nursing to make sure the baby never cries and a father or member of the village is continually cradling or holding a child on their hip. In retrospect though, the father is responsible for the economic care of his child. The men are responsible for providing food as well as beauty.
An infant is colorfully decorated with shells so it may be socially “beautiful”. Wearing shells as an infant, though it may seem insignificant, play a huge role in a child’s political future.Obtaining these shells (Chama shells) used to make necklaces called Kuma, is a difficult task for the father because their a few to be found. It is not uncommon today to see children wearing what look like Kuma necklaces but in fact, they are plastic. When an infant wears jewelry it is recognized as socially beautiful, which indicates they have powerful and wealthy relatives.
Beauty is not merely a political statement about their parent’s matrilineage. It symbolizes their sexual power in the seduction of others so they may in the future start to pass on their own matrilineage.