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The Kapauku. The New Guinea “Capitalists”. Location: Papua New Guinea is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The western portion of the island is a part of Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Geography.

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The kapauku

The Kapauku

The New Guinea “Capitalists”.

The kapauku

  • Location:

  • Papua New Guinea is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea.

  • The western portion of the island is a part of Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.


  • High mountains and deep valleys characterize the Kapauku country.

  • The people live in a tropical rain forest zone.

  • There is very little seasonal change in climate, and the average daily temperature is about 17.5 degrees C of 63.5 degrees F.

  • The annual rainfall approximates 2,500 millimeters.


  • Colonization

    • The Dutch

    • Indonesia

    • Irian Jaya

    • The Christian missionaries claimed that their goal was “to see the spiritual welfare of the people.”

  • Their tribe was named Kapauku by the people of the south, and their neighbors to the north called them Ekari. They called themselves “Me –the people”

The beginning
The Beginning

  • Ugatame designed the universe – male and female, sun and moon.

    • The sun is light and warm like a ball of fire

    • The Moon is cool like the light of a firefly

  • But because the sun and moon are not Ugatame, that is proof that there is Ugatame.

  • The world is a flat slab of stone and there is nothing below it. It does down as far as there is to go.

    • Above the stone is another world in which Ugatame exists.


  • Hunters and gatherers

  • Primarily gathering provides subsistence

    • Crayfish, insects, frogs, rats and bats that provide supplements to their daily diets.

  • Gathering is also a crucial part of their economy.


  • Their subsistence is dependent on

    • Potatoes

    • Pigs

  • They use two different kinds of cultivation

    • Shifting cultivation – areas are cleared by burning

    • Harvested daily cultivation.

  • The valley is exploited for rotating crops

    • The potato, sugarcane, bananas, cucumbers, primarily the sweet potato which yields 90 percent of their production

The sweet potato and the pig
The Sweet Potato and the Pig

  • The sweet potato and the pig are dependent products

    • Both people and pigs are fed by the sweet potato

    • They are economically dependent on each other

  • Status is earned through income, therefore, being successful in pig breeding is necessary to ensure capital


  • They have a limited scope of manufacturing compared to their agricultural industry.

  • Not specialized in one specific area.

  • Manufacture tools

    • Flint chips, stone axes, knives and grinding stones.

  • Net Bags

    • Intricate, woven designs spun from soft inner bark and decorated with orchid stems.

  • Their tools demonstrate great artistic skills.


  • Their line of weaponry are bows and arrows, although mostly used while killing small game, and not in combat.

  • Enemies are challenged with projectiles tipped with long, sharp, bamboo blades.


  • A village typically consists of about 120 people.

  • Constructed of planks thatched with reeds or pandanus leaves.

    • Vegetation is also used as insulation between plank layers.

  • Each room has a fire, with the roof left open for the smoke to escape.


  • The Kapauku economy rests on money

    • Cowrie shells and two types of necklaces are used as money for both purchase and exchange

  • Money is key to social status and respect.

  • Money affords access to:

    • Marriage, social status, livelihood and personal relationships.

  • Shells and glass are secured through trade

  • Capitalism


  • There are set prices but still fluctuations on the cost of items because of supply and demand.

  • Most buying and selling occurs between close relatives

    • For example the expression of grief over a death of one’s relative can be paid in money.

    • And because of this, there is rarely a crime committed that cannot be erased with money.


  • Credit has been elaborated as a means of redistributing money.

  • Because there is no mechanism of giving loans, “interest” on a loan is informal and may be promised by the lender – it is never demanded.

  • Even without legal intercourse, interest is usually followed when promised.

    • It carries with it the social sanction of dishonesty and the likelihood of not receiving a loan again.

Kinship and descent
Kinship and Descent

  • Each Kapauku can place other people in one of three groups

    • Acquaintances

    • Strangers

    • Enemies

  • They only trust those in the 1st category because they are close friends and they offer economic, political and emotional support.

  • The 2nd category consists of those they don’t know. However, “every stranger is a potential customer.”

  • The 3rd category does not describe enmity from the individual but are defined by group membership or familial conflicts.

    • Never individual resentment


  • Occurs between the families of the perspective groom and brothers and mothers of the perspective bride.

    • A high bride price takes precedence over what the woman would want in the marriage.

  • However, mothers can also set a bride price they know cannot be met as a purpose of terminating the marriage.


  • Elopements are not infrequent, despite the fact that they are seen as improper.

    • When this occurs, it is set right by negotiating a bride price.

  • Premarital sex is generally not punished although it is frowned upon for their potential to diminish a bride price.

  • When divorce occurs, the bride price must be returned which is a serious consequence.

    • In such an instance the children usually stay with the mother until they are about seven and then they are expected to live with their father and integrate into the village


  • Polygamy is widely practiced

    • It provides opportunity for men to gain status because it is an indicator of the husband’s ability to pay multiple bride-prices

    • It is a display of wealth.

    • And if a husband can afford wives, then they will ultimately help him earn money and prestige through tending pigs and sweet potatoes.

  • However, even though polygamy is an ideal for which men strive, it is an expensive venture and not easily attained.

Family and household
Family and household

  • Consist of the nuclear family but also includes consinguineal or affinal kin.

  • Whoever owns the house is considered the head within the households. And he is responsible for assuring that the household members are adequately fed.

The tonowi
The Tonowi

  • Literally means “rich one”

  • Embodies the typical traits of the characteristic big man.

  • He sets himself apart from others with wealth, generosity and verbal skills.

  • Has the formal authority to enforce his will

  • He offers suggestions which other others “take into consideration.” But they have to listen.

  • But cannot always do what he wishes, is he is met with resistance he has to come to a middle point.

Religion the supernatural
Religion – The Supernatural

  • The Kapauku hold a rationalistic and logical view of the world that resembles scientific thought.

    • Internally consistent and based on logical perceptions

  • The most important ceremonies are connected with their economy, rather than being concerned primarily with religion and the supernatural.

Religion shamans kamu
Religion – Shamans (Kamu)

  • The shaman is associated with Kamu, the white magic, which can be divided into many categories

    • Curative magic

    • Preventive magic

    • Counter-sorcery

    • War magic.

  • Any Kapauku individual can perform these magical rites

Religion sorcerers kego
Religion – Sorcerers (Kego)

  • The practice of sorcery (kego) is always done by a specialist.

  • The sorcerer is believed to possess his own supernatural power independent of any spirit helper.

  • The status of a known sorcerer is low, and he is feared and hated by most people.

  • He may be ostracized and even killed by the kin of his presumed victims.

Religion the afterlife
Religion – The Afterlife

  • Death, regardless of the outward cause, is thought always to be caused by sorcerers or spirits.

  • The soul goes to spend its days in the forest, but it returns to the village at night to assist its surviving kin or to seek vengeance in the case of wrongful death. T

  • here is no concept of an afterworld, in the sense of some "other" place in which the dead dwell.

  • The more beloved or prestigious the deceased, the greater the care taken, through burial practices.