The Root of Respect: Perspectives on Ethical Life on Dobu, Papua New Guinea
McAllister, Nathan Michael
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This thesis is an analysis of the concept of amayaba (“respect”) as it is understood by Dobu Islanders of the Massim Region of Papua New Guinea. I argue that the meaning of amayaba is integrally tied to the concepts alamai’ita (“self-control”), paisewa (“work”), and oboboma (“generosity”), as well as to Dobuan understandings of relational personhood. The main source of ethnographic data for this thesis is Susanne Kuehling’s Dobuan research. Unlike Kuehling I position amayaba at the center of my analysis. While amayaba is a subsidiary element of her explorations of Dobuan social life, my thesis takes amayaba as its focal point to examine Dobu. I take inspiration from Ellis Finkelstein’s observation that respect has received little empirical focus in anthropology by aiming to show the ways in which respect could be approached in a way that elicits a Dobuan understanding of it. Drawing on multiple bodies of literature, including the burgeoning anthropology of ethics, as well as Marilyn Strathern’s and Roy Wagner’s publications on Melanesian sociality, this thesis examines amayaba as both an ethical concept and a component in a Melanesian symbolic system. I employ Wagner’s relationship between the conventions of a language and inventive usage of it as a general framework to organize this thesis; however, I expand upon his theory by bringing in insights from the anthropology of ethics, and other studies of Melanesian peoples, such as those published by Strathern and James Weiner. In Chapter 3 I analyze the conventional relationship between amayaba and three other terms—alamai’ita (self-control), paisewa (work), and oboboma (generosity)—while also considering these as “virtues”. The following chapter then examines a folk story called the “Tale of Amayaba and Gagasa” as a creative application of amayaba. There I will show that this story elicits Dobuan understandings of relational personhood, connecting this notion to what it entails to live a good “ethical” life on Dobu. While these two chapters make different statements about amayaba, I will conclude by arguing that these perspectives on amayaba are not antagonistic, but rather complementary, with each contributing a dimension to our overall understanding of this concept.