Volume 74 1965 > Volume 74, No. 4 > The significance of a recent ecological change in the Central Highlands of New Guinea, by James B. Watson, p 438 - 450
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The importance of the sweet potato in modern Highland New Guinea is all but a cliché. By now it passes practically without comment in much discussion of the area. Among the first and most vivid impressions visitors had of the country were of the large, orderly gardens, and these can surely be called a modification of the landscape on behalf of the sweet potato. The characteristic Highlands systems of tillage that Brookfield recognizes 2 are in fact those associated with this crop, not primarily with any other. Probably no one familiar with the area would question the basic place of the sweet potato, although we may still have something to learn from more detailed, quantitative studies — e.g., of the proportion of the dietary actually provided by the sweet potato in various parts of the Highlands — and there may even be surprises in store.

The importance of this single crop in the Highlands is outstanding when measured in almost any meaningful way: by the amount of ground devoted to its production, by the amount of time expended upon its - 439 cultivation, or by the amount of the total food intake it constitutes. It is significant that the sweet potato appears notably less important than these measures would suggest, and less important than some other Highlands crops, only in respect of ritual or ceremonial. Here the sweet potato is of relatively slight importance throughout the area so far reported.

Whilst the literature of the Highlands has been marked by practical unanimity on the importance of the crop, surprisingly little thought has yet been given to its place in Highlands history. Indeed I have the impression that with few exceptions anthropologists and geographers working in the area have till now almost completely ignored the question. In a sense this is understandable, for most of the Highlands' history is prehistory. Most of the anthropologists who have worked in the Highlands have had little orientation — and perhaps some antipathy — to prehistory; and even if they were interested in it, the basic weapon of prehistory, archaeology, has as yet hardly been brought to bear upon the Highlands or even New Guinea. Yet it is extremely likely that the sweet potato belongs to history rather than prehistory in the part of the southwest Pacific occupied by New Guinea, though admittedly this is not quite the same as saying that the sweet potato belongs to history in the Highlands.

Over two decades ago L. J. Brass, a plant ecologist of wide experience in several expeditions to New Guinea, pointed to the probability that the sweet potato was “unlikly to have appeared on the New Guinea Coast before the middle of the Sixteenth Century”, suggesting that it was brought to the area west of the Solomons by the Spanish or the Portuguese 3. Lately he has written to me:

“I now feel there is very little doubt that the sweet-potato reached New Guinea from the west, most likely not through direct European contacts, but through bird-of-paradise hunters and traders and other Malays. I'd be inclined to date . . . about 300 years ago [its] arrival . . . on the coast of New Guinea. The bird-of-paradise trade was old when the Portuguese first landed in the Moluccas. . . .” 4

The post-European introduction of I pomoea batatas to the Philippines, Micronesia, and Malaysia has long been asserted and is strongly indicated 5. New Guinea is more remote than some of these areas from the main path of early American plant introductions to the Pacific.

So far it is anyone's guess how soon after they were brought to the Indies or to the coasts of New Guinea sweet potatoes reached the Highlands, or — which is probably more important — how rapidly the plant became established. Establishment would require a suitable horticultural complex so that the advantages of sweet potatoes could begin to be recognized by the inhabitants, partly causing and partly enabling them to change in response to it. It may be of some - 440 importance that at Kainantu many of my older informants acknowledge a time when they did not have tobacco. Tobacco probably arrived and was cultivated in the vicinity of New Guinea at least as early as sweet potatoes 6. Tobacco is another plant, to be sure, but one whose transmission has not been notably slow among humans. How much older can sweet potatoes be?

The date of adoption was probably not the same everywhere, just as the rate of adoption — however one wishes to define it — has varied, in different parts of the the Highlands. The sweet potato, moreover, may have reached different parts of the Highlands by different routes. Variation in the completeness of commitment to the crop is plainly evident among the modern peoples of the Highlands today. Telefomin and Ok Sibil, for example, are areas, as Brookfield 7 notes, which are far less committed to sweet potatoes than is his typical “Highlands” area. The humans of these areas are sometimes referred to as “taro peoples.” The Southern Highlands, according to reports, show more of a lingering attachment to taro than some other areas. In the bush to the south of Kainantu, among the Awa, Newman feels that sweet potatoes cannot be considered the primary crop either in his estimation or that of the Awa 8. On the basis of my field work I would guess that something in excess of 200 years, but probably well short of 300, would date the arrival of sweet potatoes among the Agarabi and the Tairora, who live to the north of the Awa. Nancy Bowers suggests 200 years for her Kaugel people 9. In the final analysis, the question will probably depend for answer upon fairly detailed information collected from various localities rather than upon taking a single locality to represent the entire region. I would not even assume that the answer was the same for the Agarabi and the neighbouring Tairora, nor, for that matter, for all of the Tairora.

We are not necessary dealing with peoples who have in all cases remained rooted to a given spot, merely changing their ways to accommodate to the new system of subsistence. In some cases, apparently — and the Enga might be an example — the new subsistence became the principal basis for an expansion and occupation of territory which had not previously been utilized, or had not been much utilized. In several parts of the Highlands pioneer horticulturists are evident who, by relying heavily upon the sweet potato, have been able to move into their present new areas, especially areas of bush and higher elevation. Thus, the status of some peoples or systems in some localities may be more completely dependent upon the availability of this crop than the status of others. Without it, that is, such peoples could perhaps not even exist in the locations they inhabit at present. In some degree the same may be true of most Highland peoples since, without the sweet potato, their population densities may be too great to be sustained in their present areas. While we must keep in mind the - 441 likelihood of local variation in time and circumstance in considering the sweet potato transformation, I suggest that we are also justified in considering the transformation basic, sweeping, and impressively similar in its effects over much of the area in question. This suggestion knowingly echoes the theme of local diversity amidst regional uniformities which has at times threatened to become a sort of conundrum in Highlands ethnology 10. I suspect a basic connection betwen this theme and the sweet potato transformation, and I want to devote a number of comments to it in this paper.

Meanwhile, how should we think of the sweet potato revolution in the Highlands? On this question, again, Brass made some interesting suggestions in 1941:

“Whether an original crop brought in by the settlers of the valleys with food plants of old world origin such as taro, bananas, sugarcane and perhaps yams, or a replacement crop that appeared later, its present preeminence, based on its advantages in point of yield, is such that it is doubtful if the populations could have reached their present development on any other available food source. Grounds therefore exist for the view that most of the activity in converting the high valleys to grass postdated the arrival of the sweet potato.” 11

A. J. Schindler, the author of a pioneer paper on Highlands horticulture, has visualized the horticultural development of the Highlands broadly in the following terms:

“Forest dwellers cultivating forest clearings without steel tools; where conditions healthy triumphing over environment; working upwards from deep river valleys by means of fire; held back by cold on the higher slopes . . . Once grasslands established, life becomes comparatively easy; easy too to keep watch to avoid surprise by enemies.” 12

In my view, the sweet potato would serve as an accelerating and consolidating factor, probably not as the one which initiated horticulture or produced the first grassy hillsides. At the same time, I do not doubt that the acceleration and the consolidation of horticulture and a horticultural society, the conversion of bush to grassland, and the upsurge of population were marked. I believe, in other words, that the notion of a subsistence revolution is warranted, one comparable to the adoption of the horse on the Great Plains of North America or — perhaps a more apt comparison, as George Carter has suggested — the adoption of the white potato in barley-growing Ireland. I have elsewhere suggested a “population explosion” 13. “Subsistence revolution” is obviously a fairly general term, and I hope we may look forward to the possibility that further work will furnish us more detailed evidence of the changes, such as in population increase, bush removal, crop yields, amount of cultivated area, nucleation and fixity of settlement, the division of labour, and so on. Meanwhile, the key facts, in my opinion, are that the change was both sweeping and recent.

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We need a notion of this revolution, moreover, that does not neglect the sociological factors in favour of the purely technological ones or in favour of the simple concept of a more efficient commissariat rationally chosen by men afforded the choice. If we remember (a) that each Highlands people shared its larger habitat with neighbours and that few if any approached being completely autonomous social isolates, (b) that the area was at least becoming more densely settled in the last two hundred years or so, and (c) that the people were at least developing the bellicosity which now characterizes large parts of the area, then we must realize that jostling and jockeying for space and security probably were, or were becoming, a regular part of Highlands life under conditions well calculated to keep any given local group off balance except in the short run. In the struggle for space and security, size of the local unit or the circle of allies would be crucial; and for size and population concentration a crop of high yield in relation to effort and area would be distinctly advantageous. Of course I do not mean that some Highlanders warred with sweet potatoes against others who fought with taro, as elsewhere and much earlier men with iron weapons bested those with bronze. I do suggest that a parallel exists betwen these two pairs of ecological discrepancies. We might term this, from the viewpoint of the less advantaged, the “Jones effect.” It is a potent force and surely one of the principal factors in the competitive relationship of societies-in-field.

If it is legitimate to invoke the “Jones effect” as accelerating the adoption of the sweet potato in the Highlands, we must recognize that there may have been special situations — like Telefomin and Ok Sibil — where for some reason the effect has been slower to be felt or less intensive. These so-called “taro areas,” where sweet potatoes are still secondary, stand to remind us that the taste of a strange root may not alone be enough to recommend it. The exceptions, at any rate, do not decrease the likelihood that the apparently rapid adoption of the sweet potato in the majority of the area was aided by the need of peoples to stay in the econological race with each other. But the exceptions should be studied in the same light. It seems likely, moreover, that the “Jones effect” has been efficient in the matter of sweet potato cultivation recently enough, in some parts of the Highlands, to admit of direct study.

The inescapable implication seems to be that the Highlands which ethnographers have been examining for about three decades do not, in many fundamental respects, represent a long-established or stable situation, socially or culturally. The balance of my paper is intended as a general stock-taking of the Highlands cultures in the light of this implication.

There are these points initially to be made:

  • (1) We do not yet know in detail what cultural developments preceded the sweet potato. Archaeology may give us some of the information. Ethnological reconstruction (conjectural history, if you wish) may furnish general guide-lines.
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  • (2) We do not know in detail the facts of adoption of the sweet potato. We do know, ex post facto, of the adoption of the plant and generally when it occurred. We also know generally the possibilities associated with such an adoption, probably absent prior to it.
  • (3) We know the modern situation of an increasing number of Highlands peoples, and hence are aware of (a) the variation among them and (b) the similarities among them, which in both cases, though of course in different ways, must reflect (1) and (2).

I suggest that many of the present similarities among Central Highlands peoples are attributable, with high probability, to the adoption of the sweet potato, the fulfilment of some of the requirements and possibilities of its cultivation, and the realization in varying degrees of its utility as a source of food. These changes will accordingly be recent. I think that certain other similarities among Highlands peoples must be older than these. I think that the modern differences among Highlands peoples likewise fall into these two components, the whole yielding, if one likes, a two-by-two matrix of old and new, similar and different.


A key question, in any event, is what characteristics of the modern Central Highlands we may consider “ipomoean” and hence recent. (I use the term “ipomoean” to designate that which has developed with the adoption of the sweet potato, I pomoea batatas, or which is attributable to it.)

This paper is essentially exploratory — and in the present state of the field could be little more. The following suggestions are thus frankly sketchy. Moreover, some features of modern Highlands cultures that can be considered post-ipomoean are changes of degree only; perhaps only a few are changes of kind, or basic changes.

1. Subsistence. It is logical to mention first in connection with the adoption of sweet potatoes the changed subsistence complex itself. With the commitment to this crop, as one would expect, came a relatively lessened dependence upon other food sources, including other, older root crops like taro, yams and Pueraria lobata 14. Sometimes this loss was occasioned by moves to areas less well suited to the older crops than areas previously occupied, though areas well enough adapted to sweet potatoes. In some areas of the Central Highlands the change was probably from a fairly prominent hunting subsistence to the new horticulture. In the case of peoples whose recent history has been of this character, we might well expect abundant indication of cultural readaptation or reintegration along the new lines. The Southern Highlands seems to contain some examples.

On the technical side, I suspect that the systems of complete tillage are largely attributable to the sweet potato commitment. As can be inferred from Brookfield 15, the correlation between these systems - 444 and the new crop seems clear. Even though he makes a point of the regional variation in the details of tillage, some of the variations seem quite secondary to the basic fact of complete tillage. These are probably innovations which constitute an adaptation to local conditions in some measure, or which, if more widely practicable, have not had time to diffuse. I would also suggest that the use of fencing, which is prominent in some sections, arose or achieved its present importance in the context of the new horticulture.

In the landscape generally, I would expect — as Brass suggested 20 years ago — that the rate of reduction of bush to grassland was intensified by the increasing commitment to sweet potatoes, and the major share of the modern grassland — though surely not all of it — may well be attributable to this change. I would also suggest that the cultivation of trees such as casuarinas arose in some areas at this time and, if older in others, was intensified because of the need for fuel, shade, and construction material in a denuded countryside. It would not be necessary for men to recognize the soil-enriching property now ascribed to the casuarina, though some have apparently come to do so subsequently.

I think we might keep our minds open to the possibility that swinekeeping either developed or achieved its present importance largely thanks to the new horticulture. It may even be that the natural adaptation of the new crop to the stall feeding of pigs accentuated a commitment to the new crop, giving a kind of ecological feedback. At any rate, in some areas where sweet potatoes are clearly not the principal human foodstuff, one finds their use as pig fodder to be outstanding. Uncooked taro, according to R. Bulmer's observations, does not appeal to pigs 16 and its less prolific yield might also limit the use of cooked taro for fodder, certainly for the numbers of pigs now fed sweet potatoes. The intensification of swine-keeping would of course figure in the argument for recent fencing: the large numbers of garden predators, given a crop more attractive to them in its raw, garden state, would make precautions increasingly necessary, fencing being a common and obvious solution. The keeping of swine in increasing numbers would also have consequences for the living arrangements of the keepers. It would make them more sedentary if they were less so, and it would exacerbate their relations with other communities, because of the temptation and the opportunity for pig theft and the recurrent motive, therefore, for conflict. Borders that might otherwise be peaceful could become turbulent, and the need for space for defence might be greater than it would be for gardeners alone.

2. Demography. As I have elsewhere indicated 17, I think it is warranted to speak of an explosion of population in the Central Highlands. Along with the actual increase in numbers of people and the population density of some if not all previously occupied areas there has apparently come a movement of peoples in some cases into areas previously little - 445 used or not at all used, or at least new to the given groups. Wurm's linguistic cogitations 18 suggest some such movements, interestingly enough, just as they also tend to reflect the long-continued presence of the linguistic forebears of other Highlands peoples in their present locations. There is no reason for thinking pre-ipomoean peoples or even their pre-horticultural ancestors entirely stable in this respect, though historical linguistics suggests long stability on the whole, at least for the Australian sector. The point is rather that, with more people and with ecological changes as rapid and radical, probably, as any that may ever have occurred in the Central Highlands, migrations would be larger in scale and probably multiple in their consequences for the languages and cultures of men and for the landscape.

3. Work patterns and the sexual division of labour. Closely connected to the subsistence revolution is a probable change in the work pattern. With such a change there would inevitably be a reallocation of time and effort among different activities, such as foraging and hunting versus horticulture and pig husbandry. Quite possibly there was an increasing allocation of time to warfare, ceremonialism, exchanges of wealth, and sometimes sorcery. There would also be a reallocation of labour among the personnel of the group, principally affecting the division of labour by sex. A change in the division of labour by sex is supported not only on grounds of analogy and inference but in the association of certain older crops, and of tree crops, with the male sphere of production and ceremonialism, while sweet potatoes are everywhere, to my knowledge, a primary concern of the women in both respects. Since there are strong general grounds for expecting change in the division of labour when cultures undergo major modification in subsistence pattern, such bits and pieces of evidence may be somewhat more substantial than when considered out of context.

Lowie once pointed out what to him was an unaccountable crosscultural regularity: female prominence in horticulture — generally among systems corresponding to E. Hahn's Hackbau (“hoe culture”). Further, when the scale and intensity of cultivation moved beyond this stage to that of frank agriculture, Lowie noted 19 that male labour typically gained central importance. Superficially the prominence of women in sweet potato gardening in the Highlands seems to fit Lowie's general pattern, but if, as some of the evidence suggests, the change to sweet potatoes has thrust upon women the major economic burden and an importance greater than before, particularly in the immediate pre-contact period when the men were heavily occupied with fighting, some interesting questions may be raised as to the effect upon female status of this change. While it may be too much to suggest that the relation of the sexes in modern Highlands societies has been entirely restructured by the subsistence revolution, it would be equally unpromising to deny the probability of some important changes in this sphere.

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4. Social Structure. I think we must be mindful of the possibility that in many parts of the Central Highlands, if not everywhere, the subsistence revolution brought about more permanent settlement and local groups that exceed the average size of their pre-ipomoean predecessors as well as groups, possibly, that have a more stable membership. Some of these suggestions obviously reflect my belief that the patrilocal band, with hunting and foraging and with gardening less than now, is a relevant model, at least in parts of the Highlands, for considering the immediate pre-ipomoean past 20. To the extent that a belief in recent bands proves untenable, it may be necessary to modify my notion of the degree of change involved in the development of sedentary and larger local groups with stable membership. However, that pre-ipomoean local groups were smaller, less regular in composition, and perhaps more mobile in space, gains strength as an hypothesis, I suggest, from the increasing recognition by ethnographers in the Highlands today that these very characteristics are rather pronounced, more than by implication would have been expected, and indeed, more than was at first suggested in descriptions of the area. “Flexibility,” “loose structure,” and so on seem to me characterizations quite consistent with a history in which bands, with all of their typical adaptability of composition and microstructure, have been growing larger and more sedentary—and developing structural innovations suited to such a change, for this would have been occurring within a span of only 200 years or so.

I would not deny that in some respects the prevalent warfare of much of the area can be connected with the flexibility and looseness of social structure, especially when one considers that the average size of Highlands local groups or alliances was not enough to ensure stability in the face of attack or appreciable battle losses. However, the argument about the sociological effects of warfare may not be quite so simple. For one thing, the recurrent threat of warfare could conceivably serve as stimulus to the development of new structural forms which would mobilize and maximize the defensive and aggressive efforts of the local group's personnel. Structural forms capable of this seem weakly developed in many cases, however, despite the fact that native theory itself typically postulates such forms or principles. When the forms are weak also despite a good basis in subsistence for their development and an urgent need for them in warfare, my thinking is thrown back to the postulated recency of loose bands lacking what Service calls “sodalities,” or supra-familial structural principles (1962:73-6). This might at least be a reasonable light in which to see the failure of numerous modern communities more fully to develop such sodalities.

Perhaps it will seem inconsistent on the heels of these remarks now to speak of the development of unilineal principles with clans as a typical expression. At any rate I am persuaded that the societies of the Central Highlands have been undergoing changes in the last 200 years, or since the adoption of sweet potatoes, which can in part be described - 447 as the development of unilineality. The basis for unilineality would have existed in pre-ipomoean, even pre-horticultural times in the principle of patrilocality, at the very least. Its strengthening and elaboration would have come about, I suggest, in the development of structural principles by which groups, now possessed of both the need and the subsistence, could recruit and hold a numerous personnel. The obstacles to recruitment and loyalty among such personnel included the danger from attack and also, lest we overlook it, the temptation to neolocality arising from the presence of equal opportunity among neighbours and affines who did not perceive themselves to be short of land. There have, of course, been some exceptions — like Chimbu — to both the fact and the perception of land shortage. As I have elsewhere suggested 21, I think that Steward's model 22 of the evolution of a clan or multi-clan society — or, better still, Service's reformulation of it 23 — is suggestive of what the Central Highlands may have witnessed with the advent of sweet potatoes. More work will undoubtedly be necessary before one could push this suggestion beyond the present broad sketch.

5. Warfare. I have already intimated that I suspect an increase in warfare in the Central Highlands occurred with the subsistence revolution. I do not mean a change from unaggressive to hostile personalities, however, for to hold that would be to predicate characterological changes not only profound in themselves but also occurring in a very short time and over a very large area involving many different ethnic groups and stems. Such changes are on general grounds unlikely. Unless there develops some physiological basis for thinking that a diet of sweet potatoes makes a man pugnacious while one of taro or game does not, I would therefore hold back from such a thought. It is rather an increase in the frequency and intensity of warfare that I would postulate and that largely because of the explosion of population in the first place, with consequences in the greater propinquity of communities and, native perception to the contrary notwithstanding, greater pressure upon land. Space is vital for security even when not for growing crops. Moreover, a sufficiency of space certainly helps in keeping one's pigs out of alien bellies. Pigs are, not only in theory but in fact, a common immediate cause of trouble between communities.

In the second place, I suspect that fighting increased because of the increase of time and manpower available for fighting activities — which are terribly wasteful of time. A kind of Parkinsonian law, if you will. There is no need, I think, to postulate increasingly aggressive people; the subsistence revolution simply increased the capacity and the immediate opportunity people had for fighting, perhaps without changing their predisposition to it. Perhaps pre-ipomoean hostilities consisted typically of individual forays while the change in subsistence brought greater emphasis upon pitched battles involving larger numbers of men - 448 on both sides. Along with the increased importance of fighting — even such chaotic fighting as we find in the Central Highlands — I suspect that there were some developments in politics and leadership patterns, but I will not press this matter here. I have no reason to believe that weaponry changed with or as a result of the subsistence revolution, though tactics suited to larger fighting groups and more open country may have been developing in some areas.


It would be no less surprising to find that the foregoing list exhausted the major post-ipomoean developments than it would be to find that every suggestion offered is beyond challenge. Even so, the list is long enough to raise the question of what remains in the total Highlands inventory that we may consider as pre-ipomoean cultural continuities. Actually, there is a great deal. The list of things which do not seem ascribable to the adoption of the sweet potato includes features such as ritual, folklore, supernatural beliefs, sorcery, male-female status relationship, and perhaps broad psychological tendencies such as aggressiveness.

The sense of regional uniformity is stronger with regard to the sweet potato and its consequences while the pre-ipomoean features appear to include more of those that distinguish one part of the Central Highlands from another. For example, the male initiation which is so prominent in the Eastern Highlands District is reported to be practically absent among Metlpa 24. Sorcery seems less prevalent there — or indeed, west of the Chimbu Divide. The status of women, as Meggitt pointed out recently 25, varies within the region, even considering only the Australian part of the Highlands. Folklore, supernatural beliefs, and ceremonialism vary locally.

I noted earlier that among my list of sweet potato consequences some of the items are matters of degree, certainly not absolute, qualitative differences with the past. In this respect, some tendencies have also been more fully realized or differently patterned in certain parts of the Central Highlands than others. Warfare, for example, even if it has everywhere been intensified in the post-ipomoean period, may by no means be equally frequent or intensive everywhere. Quantitative differences of this sort are sometimes easy to overlook when an observer has not had direct experience of all the situations compared. Again, I have suggested increasing sedentarism and larger local communities, but it is well known that, while villages characterize most of the Central Highlands of New Guinea, the farmstead or homestead pattern prevails in one section, from Chimbu west to Wabag or the Strickland. Lineality is likewise a tendency which appears to have been more fully realized in practice — and perhaps in principle as well — in some parts of the - 449 area, such as Enga 26. In this same vein, I suspect, Brookfield has called attention to a real variation in techniques of sweet potato tillage 27, and even more basically, we know that the commitment to the sweet potato itself varies. Here, at least, is post-ipomoean variation to set beside the putatively pre-ipomoean variants.

Given a change that is both sweeping in its consequences and nearly region-wide in its effect, it is logical to expect a list of regional uniformities to contain numerous features that can be attributed to the change. Thus many Highlands uniformities are or seem to be consequences of the adoption of the sweet potato. Yet one can, with strong probability, ascribe to pre-ipomoean times such general Highlands — and, indeed, New Guinea — characteristics as (1) small local groups, (2) patrilocality, (3) loose structures — whether or not one agrees that they were bands, (4) “political atomism” (relatively autonomous local groups), (5) principles of reciprocity in exchange, and (6) weakly developed authoritarian roles in the sense of political office. These regon-wide uniformities happen to be essentially sociological. Such features, moreover, are of fundamental significance in the modern Highlands, a part of the regional culture heritage, as I see it, which has weighed heavily — which has, indeed, strongly counter-balanced or limited certain post-ipomoean developments, and has done so in a way which may underlie some of the puzzlement and controversy that exist concerning Central Highlands cultures.


I am positing that a recent subsistence revolution in the Central Highlands gave rise to tendencies or forces which, to the extent that they have been similarly realized, furnished the area a substantial cultural uniformity or heightened that which it had. In conventional terms, these forces and tendencies, and hence this uniformity, are evident mainly in the sphere of technology and sociology. I am also suggesting certain broad technological and sociological similarities as characterizing Central Highlands peoples before the sweet potato. These would be the common base — or a part of it — upon which the revolution acted or from which it moved. Some of these earlier characteristics have quite likely operated as a brake to the full realization of the subsistence revolution, though this is simply a certain way of stating the obvious point that arrangements which suited pre-ipomoean conditions did not in all cases suit the situation that ensued. Nor is it surprising that a number of common pre-ipomoean characteristics are still easy to recognize, though the sweet potato revolution may have tended to move the situation largely in a different direction: after all, we are not dealing with older characteristics that have been eroding for very long. Nor have traditional Highlands systems been so radically challenged as if a distinct group and culture had entered their midst, grievously disturbing the balance of power among them. The “Jones effect” would then have been pronounced—as indeed it is today.

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Our Central Highlands cultures have not only been developing in certain common directions — though for little more than two centuries — but have retained some broad common characteristics from before, the latter alongside other traditional aspects that differentiated them in the past as they still do today.

  • BRASS, L. J., 1941. “The 1938-39 expedition to the Snow Mountains, Netherlands New Guinea.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, 22 : 271-295, 297-342.
  • BROOKFIELD, H. C., 1962. “Local study and comparative method: an example from central New Guinea.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 52, 3 : 242-254.
  • CONKLIN, H. C., 1963. “The Oceanian-African hypothesis and the sweet potato,” in J. Barrau (ed.) Plants and the Migrations of Pacific People, Symposium of the 10th Pacific Science Congress, 1961. Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
  • KELENY, G. P., 1962. “The origin and introduction of the basic food crops of the New Guinea people.” Papua and New Guinea Agricultural Journal, 15, 1, 2 : 7-13.
  • LOWIE, R. L., 1920. Primitive Society. Reprint. New York, Harper, 1961.
  • MEGGITT, M. J., 1958. “The Enga of the New Guinea Highlands.” Oceania, 28 : 253-330.
  • — — 1962. “Growth and decline of agnatic descent groups among the Mae Enga of the New Guinea Highlands.” Ethnology, 1, 2 : 158-165.
  • — — 1964. “Male-female relationships in the Highlands of Australian New Guinea,” in J. B. Watson (ed.) New Guinea: The Central Highlands. In American Anthropologist, 66, 4 : pt. 2, 204-224.
  • SERVICE, E. R., 1962. Primitive Social Organization: an evolutionary perspective. New York, Random House.
  • STEWARD, Julian H., 1955. Theory of Culture Change: the methodology of multi-linear evolution. Urbana, University of Illinois.
  • WATSON, J. B., 1964a. “A previously unreported root crop from the New Guinea Highlands”. Ethnology, 3, 1 : 1-5.
  • — — 1964b. “Introduction: Anthropology in the New Guinea Highlands,” in J. B. Watson (ed.) New Guinea: The Central Highlands. In American Anthropologist, 66, 4 : pt. 2, 1-19.
  • — — 1965. “From hunting to horticulture in the New Guinea Highlands.” (in press) Ethnology, 4, 3.
  • WURM, S. A., 1964. “Australian New Guinea Highlands languages and the distribution of their typological features,” in J. B. Watson (ed.) New Guinea: The Central Highlands. In American Anthropologist, 66, 4 : pt. 2, 77-79.
1   A draft of this paper was read in the “Symposium on Highland New Guinea: Social and demographic responses to environmental variables,” Northwest Anthropological Conference, Western Washington State College, Bellingham, Washington, April 10, 1965.
2   Brookfield 1962.
3   Brass 1941: 306-7.
4   Brass, personal communication, 1964.
5   Conklin 1963: 129-133.
6   Keleny 1962: 11.
7   Brookfield 1962.
8   Newman, personal communication, 1964.
9   Bowers, personal communication, 1964.
10   Watson 1964b.
11   Brass 1941: 306-7.
12   Schindler, personal communication, 1965.
13   Watson 1965.
14   Watson 1964a.
15   Brookfield 1962.
16   Bulmer, personal communication, 1964.
17   Watson 1965.
18   Wurm 1964.
19   Lowie 1920.
20   Watson 1965.
21   Watson 1965.
22   Steward 1955: 151-172.
23   Service 1962.
24   E. Brandewie, personal communication, 1965.
25   Meggitt 1964.
26   Meggitt 1958: 1962.
27   Brookfield 1962: 244-245.