Tag Archives: yams

Social Anthropology in the Classroom

Very interesting and productive class this morning in ANTH 2523, Social Anthropology. The class worked in three groups to analyze exchanges and kinship relations as described by Annette Weiner in the chapter “Marriage and the Politics of Yams” of her book The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. I asked the class to (individually) free write about exchanges between kin in the context of marriage, and then (in small groups) brainstorm to produce nicely messy kinship diagrams showing the items moving around between kin. I also asked them (again as a group) to brainstorm a single-sentence statement of the main argument of the chapter, and, as a bonus (and partly in jest), to come up with a haiku expressing the main argument. They all did! Unfortunately, the photos are a little blurry:


The haiku reads:

If we give you yams

You will give us shells and spears

Is this a fair trade?

[I think the reference to “spears” here refers to the green stone axe blades exchanged for yams in the context of the first exchanges marking a Trobriand marriage.]



Trobriander life

Central on yam exchange

Is complicated.


Yams are not just food –

They hold great power and wealth.

So many arrows!

[The “arrows” here refers, naturally, to the arrows on the diagram representing items moving from one person to another.]


Since they took me up on my haiku challenge with such enthusiasm, I might have to reciprocate by cooking yams during our next class.

And my own haiku about Trobriand exchanges in the context of marriage, as analyzed by Weiner (scratched at the bottom of a page of my copy of the book)?

Sister’s husband,

Here is your yam house.

I will fill it with yams for you.