Trobriand Islands

From Academic Kids

The Trobriand Islands are a 170 mi˛ archipelago of coral atolls off the eastern coast of New Guinea. They are situated in Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. Most of the population of 12,000 indigenous inhabitants live on the main island of Kiriwina, which is also the location of the government station, Losuia. Other major islands in the group are Kaileuna, Vakuta and Kitava.

The group is considered to be an important tropical rainforest ecoregion in need of conservation.

The people of the area are mostly subsistence horticulturalists who live in traditional settlements. The social structure is based on matrilineal clans who control land and resources. People participate in the regional circuit of exchange of shells called kula, sailing to visit trade partners on sea-going canoes. In the late twentieth century, anti-colonial and cultural autonomy movements gained followers from the Trobriand societies.

The first European visitor to the islands was the French ship Espérance in 1793. The islands were named by navigator Bruni d'Entrecasteaux after his first lieutenant, Denis de Trobriand. In the early 20th century, as the British colonial regime extended its influence and control throughout Papua, the southern portion of New Guinea, Losuia station was established and remained an important center for colonial police officers, traders and missionaries. As World War I began, Bronislaw Malinowski came to Papua and ultimately to the Trobriands to begin an in-depth immersive study of a non-western culture. His descriptions of the kula exchange system, gardening, magic and sexual practices, all classics of modern anthropological writing, prompted many foreign researchers to visit the societies of the island group and study other aspects of their cultures. In 1943, troops landed on the islands as a part of Operation Cartwheel, the Allied advance to Rabaul. In the 1970s, some indigenous peoples formed anti-colonial associations and political movements.

Books by Malinowski about the Trobriands

  • Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922)
  • The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929).
  • Coral Gardens and their Magic (1935).


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