Inflationary tendencies in pig festivals in the West-Papuan highlands (Indonesia) and their political context

Dienstag, 12. Dezember 2017, 17:00 Uhr bis 18:00 Uhr

The Baliem valley in the West Papuan highlands is part of a very old center of agricultural development. Here, Papuan groups domesticated yams, taro, bananas and sugar cane, and eventually adopted the pig as well as, much later, the sweet potato. Highland Papuans are renowned for their gardening skills, for their tribal wars, and for elaborate systems of social exchange, as, among others, the pig festivals that are occasions for big men to assert their prestige.

In West Papua, a recent programme for accelerated development by the Indonesian government is fast replacing traditional agriculture with industrial agroforestry and agriculture. These investments attract migrants from other parts of Indonesia so that today, indigenous Papuans are a minority on their own island. Even if the government has granted West Papua special autonomy and has co-opted many Papuan leaders as members of parliament, district heads and governors and provide special funds to improve the lives of the rural population, Papuans express a sense of political and economic marginalization and of demographic and cultural crisis. In the vicinity of the highland city of Wamena, many gardens have been given up, and pigs are getting rare as a consequence.

It is interesting and somewhat paradoxical that in this situation wherever I inquired about pig festivals people reported that in recent years, more and more pigs are being slaughtered at occasions such as weddings and reconciliations after conflicts. The costs of such festivals are immense, as individual pigs, which in most cases have to be flown in, easily reach prices of CHF 2000.-.

What are possible explanations for these inflationary tendencies in pig festivals? I will offer some tentative answers by analysing the political situation in the Baliem valley, but also by drawing on comparable cases described in the anthropological literature.

MitHeinzpeter Znoj (Universität Bern)
Ort Andreasstrasse 15, 8050 Zürich
Raum: AND 4.06
VeranstalterISEK - Ethnologie
KontaktMiriam Wohlgemuth (Mail)