Volume 95 1986 > Volume 95, No. 4 > The social organisation of Foi silk production: the anthropology of marginal development, by J. F. Weiner, p 421-440
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Anthropology's engagement with the problems of economic development in Papua New Guinea has on the whole been unremarkable. Partly this is due to the fact that many anthropologists locate their work at the frontier between developing and pristine societies. This means that the societies that anthropologists are likely to find attractive for field studies are peripheral to those areas where the developmental action is. Another factor is that, regrettably, anthropologists have an interest in depicting non-Western societies as static for the purposes of their analysis, the form of which is primarily structural-functional, as opposed to the processual nature of economistic analyses. Finally, cultural anthropologists’ data are descriptive and particularistic, rather than statistical and from the point of view of economists and agricultural experts such data do not lend themselves to the comparative and nomothetic exercises which orient their inquiry.

And yet what may be weaknesses from the business economists’ point of view are the greatest strengths of anthropology. I recently attended a social gathering at a Provincial capital in Papua New Guinea where two of the guests were high-ranking members of the World Bank and both citizens of third world countries themselves. One of them openly voiced his contempt for anthropological work, maintaining that it was neocolonialist, parasitical and without practical value. The same person later in the evening also expressed impatience when it was explained to him that certain practical development programmes in the Province were not living up to expectations. He could not understand why local people failed to grasp the value of development projects devised at vast expense by recognised economic experts.

Of course, to me as an anthropologist, a big part of the solution to the problem seemed absurdly simple: why not go into the village and, by learning the local people's language, customs and values, find out exactly why such projects were or were not succeeding? It seems that cultural - 422 perceptions of innovation are disregarded in many developmental equations, and yet in some cases they contain the answers to the success or failure of implemented change.

In this paper I present an anthropological evaluation of the success of a development project in rural Papua New Guinea. I attempt to demonstrate that the anthropologist's expertise in cultural and social phenomena can be useful in explaining the way that novel economic alternatives are integrated into traditional world views, and, by implication, that the anthropologist's evaluation can provide facts crucial to predicting the success of development projects. 1

This article describes the organisation of silk-raising among the Foi of the Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Unlike the rest of the Highlands population of that province, the Foi live in men's longhouse communities and process sago as their dietary staple. Their residential arrangements, which I shall discuss in more detail, traditionally revolved around a seasonal cycle of collective longhouse communality and dispersed nuclear family dwellings (for a fuller description of this cycle see Weiner 1983, chapter 1). The altitude of the Mubi Valley where the Foi live is approximately 750 metres, and is both geographically and ecologically intermediate between the high valleys of the rest of the Province and the coastal lowlands. According to the Foi, their ancestors brought sago with them to the Mubi Valley when they originally settled there. The introduction of sago altered somewhat the mixed Campnosperma-pandanus rainforest environment which typifies the valley.

Traditional Foi ceremonial life centred on the male healing cults, many of which they borrowed from neighbouring peoples in recent history, and a long-term pig-feasting cycle which also was tied to curing ritual. Their secular life by contrast was marked by the residential and productive separation of the sexes, a complex series of marriage and mortuary payments that defined the relationship between wife-givers and wife-takers, and the elaboration of male ethos through magic, hunting, warfare and sorcery.

The Foi were the first people in the Southern Highlands Province to be contacted by Europeans, and Lake Kutubu was the site of the first interior patrol post in Papua in 1937. But since 1952, when the administrative centre of the Southern Highlands was moved from Lake Kutubu in Foi territory to Mendi, the Foi have been bypassed by economic and - 423 social change in the rest of the Province. This is due to their small population and their isolation from the rest of the Province: the Mubi Valley is separated from the upper altitude valleys by rugged mountains and the road system does not extend into the Foi area. Although the Province has finally started work on a highway extension which will link the Mubi Valley to the rest of the Highlands road system, its completion lies in the uncertain future.

From time to time, officials in Mendi have felt compelled to pay some attention to these sparsely populated and remote areas of the Province — indeed, the events which led me to the Foi area to do field work were linked to the Provincial Government's desire in the late 1970's to learn more about the Foi and Samberigi areas of the southern border of the Province. When I arrived in 1979, the Department of Commerce had just begun the introduction of sericulture to the Foi as an attempt to bring cash cropping opportunities to a people whose only opportunity for participation in the national economy had traditionally been migrant plantation labour.

The introduction of silk-raising proved to be the most successful cash earning opportunity the Foi have been offered in their home territory. The reasons why it was successful are not difficult to understand, but this understanding does depend upon an elementary comprehension of Foi social organisation, their domestic division of labour, and their residential arrangements. This paper describes the primary social and cultural dimensions of Foi silk production.


Funding for the development of a national silk industry began under the Somare Government in 1979 after approximately 10 years of experimentation with different worms and leaves. The Indian Eri worm, fed on castor leaves, was discarded and the Bromyx-producing worm of Chinese-Japanese origin and fed on mulberry leaves was found more suited to local conditions. The Department of Commerce began silk projects in both the Western Highlands and the Southern Highlands Provinces. In the latter case, projects were originally started in Tari, and subsequently were begun in other District centres such as Koroba, Kagua and Komo. But silk's greatest success was confined to the Foi-speaking area of Pimaga Sub-District (see Figure 1) and at the end of 1979, 1374 kilograms of raw cocoons was produced in Pimaga, mostly in trial gardens and houses set up by Commerce Department staff for the purposes of demonstration to the local landowners. By the end of 1980, in-

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FIGURE 1. Foi Area and Surroundings, Southen Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

dividual projects in the villages were well under way and the Sub-District produced 2558 kilograms, and at the end of 1981, 4021 kilograms. In the years between 1979 and 1981, 127 separate projects were started by Foi men. Although the National Government had spent nearly a quarter of a million kina starting the project and keeping it running, clearly there was a cause for optimism and Commerce officials in Mendi could look forward to the day when the silk industry would be able to operate without subsidies from the National Government.

However, because of the decisions made at the national planning level in 1981, subsidy for the silk project was terminated, and no funds were allocated for 1982. At this point, the Western Highlands and Southern Highlands Provincial Governments took over the management of the silk project, named it the Papua New Guinea Silk Company Party Limited, and offered to split the cost of subsidising the project with the National Government. The two Provincial Governments would together contribute K70,000 and that amount would be matched by the National Government. By 1983, the drop in subsidy finally halted the importation of silkworm eggs and no new cocoons were being produced. This effec- - 425 tively ended the silk project in Papua New Guinea; the money being allocated was only used to maintain existing facilities: salaries for the local Commerce Department manager, wages for local labour, costs of vehicle operation, and the supply of building materials. In other words, although the importation of silkworm eggs had ended (there were no facilities for the local breeding of silkworms), individual farmers continued to work on infrastructure and by 1983 over 400 Foi men had prepared mulberry gardens and built silk-raising houses. Shortly after the National Government reduced spending on the silk industry, the Western Highlands was forced to drop out of the company, and by the end of 1983 the only functioning and successful silk projects in Papua New Guinea were in the hands of Foi men.

By the time funding for silk-raising ceased in 1981, Hegeso Village, where I did all my field work between 1979 and 1985, had the largest number of individual silk projects (19), and had in each of the three years between 1979 and 1981 produced more silk than any other Foi village. This apparently did not reflect the relative size of Hegeso in comparison with other villages (six other Foi villages had larger populations in 1980), nor does it indicate greater available land resources. It may be related to the fact that, of all the villages, the territory of Hegeso, and its closest neighbour, Barutage, contained the greatest amount of riverine land — the most suitable land for mulberry shrub cultivation. But primarily it indicates the small proportion of young adult men absent from the village — Hegeso had the fewest high school students resident in other Provincial centres, and along with Barutage Village it had the lowest proportion of absentee labourers and other emigrants (see Table 1). 2

Village Resident Population Nonresidents
Wasemi 343 93
Irikai 314 39
Damayu 313 37
Fiwaga 311 39
Gesege 278 14
Barutage 258 11
Hegeso 243 11
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The steps in silk-raising are as follows. A man first obtains mulberry cuttings and clears and plants a garden. While the shrubs are growing, he begins work on a house within which the silk worms can be kept and tended. House-building is one of the Foi métiers, and all men above the age of 17 are accomplished builders. Two or three men working steadily can build in about a month a house between 16 and 20 metres long, 7 metres wide, and between 4 and 5 metres high. The most common situation, for reasons which I shall explain shortly, is for a group of brothers to build one another's houses.

When the house is completed, the shelves that will hold the silk worm trays are installed, and the mulberry leaves ready to pick, the man goes to Pimaga and informs the officer in charge of the silk project that he is ready to receive the worms. This officer inspects the house and makes sure it is adequate. If so, he informs the silk raiser that he may come back to Pimaga and obtain the worms. The man places the trays of worms on the shelves in the house and covers them with mulberry leaves.

When the worms are ready to produce their cocoons, the silk-raiser places them on wire nettings to provide the worms with a framework. The finished cocoons are collected in a large bag and taken into Pimaga. The silk project manager weighs them and gives the man a receipt which is later exchanged for cash. In 1981, the price for “A” grade raw cocoons was K2.50/kilogram; this price slipped to K2.00/kilogram by the beginning of 1983. Typically, a man would receive between K50 and K60 for a large copra bag full of cocoons.

According to the Southern Highlands Province sericultural expert, Mr P. B. Sinha, the main problems that have to be overcome in order to make the small silk industry self-sufficient are: 1) local facilities to hatch eggs (when the project first started, eggs had to be constantly flown in by air, an obviously wasteful and inefficient method); 2) drying rooms to prepare cocoons for reeling; and 3) the reeling machine itself. All these require a local source of electricity which Pimaga does not have at present. The reeling machine used at Kagamuga, the former site of the Western Highlands Province silk project, could be relocated at Pimaga, and a generator could be installed. When the houses for Government workers at Pimaga were built in the late 1970s, they were installed with light fixtures and power outlets on the assumption that a generator would be supplied at some future date. As of January 1985, Pimaga station has not yet been supplied with power.

It is not within my area of expertise to suggest that, should the Provincial and National Governments be willing to make the initial outlay of funds to ensure the necessary infrastructure, the silk industry in the Foi - 427 area could, given time, be a profit-making business. This is a political question and needs to be answered within an analysis of the recent political history of the Foi which would focus on the power exerted at the Provincial level during the 1970s and 1980s by the Foi-Fasu Progress Association, and the election of the first Foi M.P., Bai Waiba, as member for Nipa-Kutubu in the last national elections. In actuality, the cost of providing this infrastructure is probably too high, and beyond the amount of political leverage the Foi are able to exert in both the Provincial and National political arenas. This paper is not addressed to such questions, the investigation of which concerns areas outside of most Foi people's experience and control. I am instead interested in describing those aspects of Foi culture and society which make silk raising an acceptable economic innovation. I thus now turn to a consideration of how the work of silk production is organised by the Foi.


The economic framework within which most development studies take place contains certain assumptions that an anthropologist would not always be willing to make, and which empirically are not always demonstrable. Because of the “zero-sum” implication of maximising decision-making, it is assumed that whatever time, labour and resources are devoted to novel economic activities mean a corresponding decrease in productive activity in some other sphere (usually traditional subsistence). Thus, development studies usually begin with either an assumed or real limitation on resources, whether these ultimately be land, labour or capital (Allen 1984, Brook field 1968, Grossman 1979).

But it has been 14 years since Marshall Sahlins suggested that one of the characteristics of traditional subsistence economies was that they were inherently underproductive; they did not make full use of available resources (1972, chapters 2-3), and 24 years since Fisk (1962:463) suggested that the same thing was true of the New Guinea highlands horticulture in particular. The Foi, for example, have one of the lowest population densities in the Southern Highlands (2.4/square kilometre in 1981 [Provincial Data System 1981:103]). Their economy even today typifies the low-intensity and underproductive tropical horticulture with which anthropologists living in remote rural areas are familiar. Compared with high-intensity systems of the Western Highlands, for example, Foi subsistence produces no surplus for domestic animals. In other words, far from being forced to choose between their subsistence economy and cash cropping, the Foi to the contrary have been eager to - 428 find something profitable to do with their abundant spare time (once they learned what money could obtain for them).

It is more profitable, then, to gauge the Foi system not in terms of the limitation of resources, but in terms of the limitations on organisation (cf. Huber 1978). It is unreasonable to assume a priori that the visible or overt units of social structure — clan, longhouse, kinship categories and so forth — are also the units of subsistence production (though of course they are all units of social [re]production). Without effective long-term communication with members of a community — the mainstay of anthropological field work — it is dangerous to make conclusions about local units of organisation. To put it another way, economic innovations designed for implementation by the most obvious social structural units will not succeed unless those units are also the effective loci of production. The latter is as much a conceptual as an economic categorisation and must be deduced through the process of interview and through the resulting and ongoing analysis of a total cultural system.

The Foi illustrate this in the following way. The Foi longhouse community is an important unit in political analysis. It was traditionally the unit in warfare and nowadays in competitive exchange and feasting. Although the land owned by its constituent members is by and large contiguous, 3 the longhouse community is not a productive unit in the subsistence system. For example, when the local Mission began developing cattle projects some years ago, the cost of a single head of cattle was beyond the means of a local clan segment. It required the donations of most of the male population of a village to purchase even a single calf. In such cases, a problem developed concerning where the cow would be pastured: those whose land had been used in building a paddock felt that the control of the animal should be theirs; arguments arose concerning when the cow would be slaughtered and its meat sold; conflicts over disposition of the profits ensued. The problem, in other words, was not availability of land or labour, but the perceived inappropriateness of productive co-operation at that level of social organisation.

But with a gradual increase in the amount of money in the Foi area in recent years, cattle are now being purchased by smaller groups of men. Hegeso, for example, which had one collectively owned cattle project in 1980 had three privately owned ones in 1985. They belong to three men, two of whom have been wage-earners, and a third who is a successful trade store owner. Though all three men have co-opted close relatives for necessary labour, the point is that the cattle project has now been relocated at a more appropriate level of productive organisation.

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The isolation of the Foi area is the most important obstacle to development, but in, another sense, it is this very isolation that has augmented the success of what little cash-earning activity there has been up to this point. Because of the small number of retail trade stores in the Foi area, there is little opportunity for the Foi to dissipate cash in the form of imported food and other luxuries. In addition, 20 years of fundamentalist mission teaching has established a large core of temperate Foi adults. According to recent reports from the Western Highlands and Enga Provinces, the purchase of beer and other alcoholic beverages represents the greatest drain on cash resources in the rest of the New Guinea Highlands. The money that some Foi earn as a result of wage labour is primarily channelled into the bridewealth system, where it is used to purchase pearl shells or used directly in marriage transfers. In other words, the capital-forming power of money is greatly augmented in the Foi area in contrast with other Highlands cash cropping areas.

The most pervasive source of culture change among the Foi has been the Asia Pacific Christian Mission, which began operations in 1951 and was effectively communicating the Gospel in the Foi language by the late 1960s. Partly as a result of Mission influence, the Foi have abandoned their traditional healing cult practices, and most of their ghost appeasement ceremonies, including traditional mortuary rites and exchanges. But in the matter of secular social organisation, the Mission and traditional Foi values do not differ significantly. The A.P.C.M. has always stressed the importance of the nuclear family as a socialisation and productive unit, and these teachings needed little elaboration for the Foi, whose productive life centres upon the married couple. It is here that silk growing finds its most fertile productive base.


One of the biggest differences between the Foi and their highlands neighbours concerns the relationship between residential, political and productive units. In the dispersed hamlet settlements that characterise most Western Highlands societies, residential units are productive ones and are also by and large lower level political ones. But the Foi village, centring upon the men's longhouse, is neither a productive nor a residential unit, but only a political one. Men consider the longhouse the arena of public and collective activity, and hence the longhouse is chiefly a venue for ceremonial and public debate and litigation. The unit of Foi residence and production is the bush house (sabu a) occupied by a single nuclear family.

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Foi subsistence depends (in order of importance) on sago processing, permanent tree crop cultivation, swidden gardening, foraging, fishing and hunting. While hunting takes place in the uninhabited distant forest north of the Mubi River, sago-making and gardening are carried out in the village area. Each Foi man has between 3 and 15 different sago groves scattered throughout various places, some on his own land, some on land he has borrowed. A man locates his bush house near the sago grove that the women in the family are currently using, and generally occupies that spot for about seven years, or until the sago grove has been exhausted. The bush house is also the base from which a man and wife rear domestic pigs.

Unlike the sweet potato cultivators of the highlands valleys north of Foi territory, swidden gardening is of far less importance to the Foi. The most important garden crops in terms of frequency of consumption are Setaria palmifolia, Rungia klossi, the tips of choko runners, and pumpkin, both fruit and leaves. 4

Although some gardening is done near the bush house, its characteristically riverine location is not suitable for the planting of the taro, sweet potato, and pumpkin that the Foi find desirable (in that order). These vegetables are planted on ridged ground at some distance from the village and men's bush houses. House site gardens are likely to be devoted to the planting of greens, pitpit, sugar-cane and banana.

Women told me that, for a family of five, each woman had to work at least three full days a week processing enough sago for the family's needs. Sago-making is perhaps the only subsistence activity that requires such constant work, and no other male subsistence activity is nearly as regular. Although women do all the processing, men are required to actually fell the palm and strip the bark off so that the pith is exposed. Thus, although sago-making is entirely women's responsibility, Foi men speak as if sago processing required both a husband and a wife — indeed, considering that men plant and care for all tree crops including sago, this may be more accurate than an observer's limited focus on immediate subsistence work.

In the longhouse village, the residential segregation of the sexes is quite marked, for only men sleep in the longhouse. Their wives and female relatives occupy smaller houses built in rows on both sides of the longhouse. A newcomer to a Foi village thus immediately notices that collective Foi life centres on the speech and activities of men, for the longhouse is the focus of public and communal sociality. It is significant, for reasons that will become apparent later, that Foi men constantly spoke of cattle raising among themselves, but did not speak publicly - 431 about silk at all. Cattle has always been an aspect of Foi political economy in its most literal sense, while silk was relegated to the private and individual domain of the nuclear family.

In the Foi bush house, although a wall divides men's and women's living areas, the focus of sociality is not on the competitive and litigatious displays of men, but on the private and stylised communication between husband and wife. Similarly, daily life in the bush house centres not on the public display of unisexual values, but on the productive co-operation within individual family units. Thus, in common with all interior New Guinea societies, not only do the Foi stipulate contrastive male and female productive capacities, but they also accord to each appropriate spatial zones, attributing sexual valences or values to these opposed spatial domains. It is thus useful to separate men's and women's productive tasks into those that each sex carries out separately (male hunting; female fishing) from those that require the co-operation of both sexes (gardening, sago-making and pig-raising primarily). Those tasks that require intersexual co-operation are based at the nuclear family bush houses near the river. Those that do not are associated with spatial zones at some distance from the areas of human habitation (cf. Weiner nd.).

From the start, the Foi saw silk-raising as a task requiring the regular co-operation of men and women, and while Foi men did the initial work of planting the mulberry gardens and building the silk house, the daily care and feeding of the worms was shared by a married couple. The preparatory work of men represents by far the greatest proportion of time and labour involved in silk-raising. When the mulberry leaves are ready to be picked and a man receives his silkworms, the only work that remains is to see that fresh leaves are placed on top of the trays of worms from day to day as they feed, a task involving perhaps an hour or two each day. A man's wife helps in this work, as well as in weeding the mulberry garden. Foi men therefore built their silk houses not near the village — the focus of all-male activity — but right next to their bush houses where they could tend their worms while also carrying out their other productive responsibilities: harvesting permanent tree crops, felling and preparing ripe sago palms, and preparing small “kitchen” gardens near the house (indeed, the line between mulberry and vegetable gardens was not always easy to make).

Just as men convert pigs, the products of the intersexual domestic household, into shell valuables, the media of male ceremonial exchange, so can we view the “analytic moment” when a man receives cash for his - 432 silk cocoons as the point at which the products of the domestic economy are transformed into those of the more recent (and still male-controlled) adjunct to shell valuables, cash. The control of ceremonial shell valuables that forms the nexus of this system is also viewed by the Foi as the “work” of men, and their manipulation in marriage transfers is essential to the formation of the domestic units I have just described. Cash cropping is an innovative influence on Foi social organisation in so far as it bridges two traditionally distinct conceptual realms: that of subsistence production and that of the reproduction of social units through the competition for male status. Let us then turn to the social units involved in this second nexus and its relationship to the organisation of silk production.


The largest political and social units of Foi society are the patrilineally-composed local clan and the longhouse village. Clans are dispersed among several villages and the members of different local clans, though acknowledging a coeval descent relationship, are not solidary in practice. The limit of agnatic solidarity is restricted to the local clan segment, the members of anywhere between 3 and 15 of which comprise a single community, centring on the communal men's longhouse. In 1979, Hegeso village was composed of representatives of eight different clans. Each clan segment holds corporate and individual ownership in separate territories which ideally are passed down from father to son. In practice, however, most adult men acquire rights in other territory by virtue of affinal and other nonagnatic ties.

Within the larger clan segments, men recognise that a man and his adult married sons form a narrower agnatic unit which may as well be called a lineage, since the Foi themselves refer to it as a “tree”, or “man tree”. This is the largest effective unit of co-residence: a man and his adult sons occupying contiguous house sites. Along with the married couple, the “tree” is crucial to the production of silk.

As I have described elsewhere (1982, 1983, 1985), the Foi define what anthropologists conventionally call the domain of “kinship” in terms of two related concepts. The first is expressed by the verb garani- or its nominalised form garanobora and can be translated as “to eat together”. It most commonly refers to men who share the same land and productive resources and who therefore “share food”. Such men are kinsmen irrespective of their actual biogenetic connection. An adopted child, for example, is called a gara u‘ubi. Men who arrive at a village as - 433 immigrants from another longhouse are incorporated into their host's village when one of the local clans gives them land and access to sago and other resources. This also is called garanobora.

The second concept divides the Foi social universe into those with whom a man shares kinship in this way, and those to whom he is related as a wife-giver or wife-taker. Men who are relatives by virtue of garanobora share the responsibility to help each other raise bridewealth payments for each other's wives, and correspondingly share in the bridewealth received for their sisters and daughters. Those with whom bridewealth is exchanged for women, however, are forbidden to share food, and must observe other behavioural protocols constraining their interaction.

The Foi express the contrast between these two relational modes in terms of rules of bridewealth distribution. A man may not be both the recipient of and contributor to the same bridewealth payment; in other words, he cannot simultaneously be a wife-giver and a wife-taker. Secondly, if a man contributes to another man's bridewealth payment, the second man is obligated to return that aid in the same amount when the first man marries, or when that man's son marries. Finally, a man may not receive bridewealth for any woman whom he has “cared for” (i.e., garanobora) in some significant way.

A man who is without “close” kinsmen, however — a man, for example, estranged from his father and brothers; or a lone man without lineage mates — may form close ties with his wife's brother or sister's husband, especially if, because of circumstances, he is without access to land and other resources of his own. Because Foi kinship is defined by behavioural rather than biogenetic criteria, it appears “flexible” to a Westerner. But this flexibility is itself an aspect of the kind of sociality a people like the Foi possess in which relational concepts are “performative” and negotiable rather than “intrinsic” and immutable.

What the Foi call a “tree” — what the anthropologist can label as a lineage — is therefore that group of adult men who 1) are co-resident and “share” land and other resources; and 2) share the main responsibility for amassing each other's bridewealth payments, and controlling the distribution of each other's daughters’ and sisters’ bridewealth receipts. Although the model of such a unit for the Foi is a man and his married sons, the composition of such a unit does not depend upon actual procreative connections, and adoptive relationships are seen as being as “real” as blood ties.

In my doctoral thesis (1983:119), I noted that, although the local clan was the significant structural unit of Foi marriage, the lineage was the - 434 real unit of marriage negotiation and affinity, and that members of other lineages in the same clan had only nominal (though often real) responsibilities to the men of other lineages. The Foi say that a woman's father and mother's brother, and these two men's brothers alone control her marital destiny and divide her bridewealth. But because several men cannot accumulate the large bridewealth required in Foi, they depend upon their other clansmen and matrilateral relatives for aid in amassing these payments. These networks of obligations and debts precisely constitute the integument of Foi consanguinity and clanship.

But, of course, we can still isolate the lineage or “tree” as the productive unit of Foi society in its most encompassing sense: as the unit of marriage and affinity, it is responsible for the reproduction of Foi society; as a unit of co-resident men, it represents the largest effective resource management unit. The two “functions” of the lineage —in “reproducing” married couples, and in maintaining subsistence resources —come together quite felicitously in silk-raising. Both aspects of the lineage are necessary for a successful silk project.

In Figure 2 I have drawn lines around the members of eight of the 10 silk projects within the So ‘onedobo clan of Hegeso, indicating that the lineage emerges as a male productive unit. It underlines the point I have been making, one which I suggest classical economists have not completely understood: that the distinction between productive units and social ones is not a useful one (cf. Terray 1972). Two other silk projects exist within So‘onedobo clan, but the men involved are descendants of non-So‘onedobo immigrants who were adopted by So‘onedobo men.

FIGURE 2. Individual Silk Projects within Hegeso So‘onedobo Clan (dotted lines indicate adoption)
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These men consider themselves members of this clan because they have contributed to the bridewealth funds of its young male members and share in the bridewealth of So‘onedobo females.

It can be noted that, like bridewealth networks themselves, production introduces invidious distinctions of genealogical and adoptive distance within the local clan, and even within the lineage. In two instances (No.6 and No.7; and No.4, No.3 and No.2), younger brothers co-operated in opposition to older ones. The co-operation between members of group No.1 indicates, paradoxically, that an older man is tied more intimately to his adopted sons than his own —but given what I have said about how the Foi reckon “kinship”, this disparity only emerges as problematic to Westerners. The elder man in group No.1 also raised the bridewealth for the younger men in his silk project— by and large, the co-operation between men in silk projects corresponds to the main concentrations of bridewealth aid (cf. Weiner 1983:112).

Of the remaining 11 silk projects in Hegeso as of 1981, only one was not lineage-based: it was, as in case No.2 and No.3 in Figure 2, a man and his wife's brother starting their own project. In this case, one of the men had no brothers or adult sons, and his wife's brother also had another project within his lineage.

One might conclude, then, that the lineage is the smallest unit at which the productive resources of the local clan—its land, swamp areas, hunting preserves, and so forth—are exploited. In no less literal a sense, it is also the unit which controls the resource complementary to land, that is, marriageable females, appropriating to itself the prerogative of controlling women's marital destinies and the flow of wealth objects which result from their marriages. It is women who maintain the productivity of their husbands’ resources. Men build houses, do the initial work of clearing gardens, obtain piglets for domestication, and so forth. But women tend and harvest the gardens, care for pigs and children, process sago, and take care of silk worms. When men of a lineage pool their efforts in raising bridewealth, they assert the potency of male patrilineal continuity, which is defined not in terms of biological kinship, but in terms of co-residence and the diffuse, enduring solidarity of garanobora. Women as wives maintain the land upon which male kinship ultimately depends. It is for this productivity that men exchange shell valuables (and the money that nowadays is partially substitutable for it). The complementarity of wife-givers and wife-takers is always depicted first and foremost by the functioning productivity of the mar- - 436 ried couple. It is this unit which is the source and the end of wealth for the Foi.


In this last section I should like to suggest some aspects of Foi social structure that should be considered in forecasting the economic future of the Foi area. It is unlikely that the National or Provincial Governments by themselves will take the initiative in providing aid to rural areas, especially ones as sparsely populated and remote as that of the Foi. As the Foi are now aware, only their own application of political pressure will result in tangible support for such projects — the decision to build the Poroma-Kutubu road was the result of their own intensive lobbying. Bai Waiba's election to Parliament as member for Nipa-Kutubu made this possible and it should be evident that continued aid for the Foi silk project will only result from his future success in maintaining interest in the Foi among his Pangu Party colleagues. But again, I hesitate to venture further into areas of political analysis that are not within my competence, and so will restrict myself to a consideration of social and cultural variables.

(1) The isolation of the Foi area and the strongly antimaterialistic core of Mission teaching they have been exposed to have combined to create a New Guinea version of the Puritans. The Foi have faith in their ingenuity and ability to work, and pride themselves on their sobriety and unaggressiveness in contrast with how they perceive their beer-drinking, gambling and combatitive highlands neighbours. It is an ideal setting for the kind of insular and self-perpetuating cash cropping venture that silk represented. Furthermore, I have suggested that the Foi perceive the work of silk-tending as one requiring the sexual division of labour, and that therefore it has been relegated to the most important Foi productive unit, the married couple.

(2) I noted earlier that the only other internal source of cash earning in the Foi area is cattle-raising. It is germane to compare silk and cattle since one can therefore gauge the differential success of innovations in the contrastive spheres of the domestic and political economy. The drawback of cattle-raising is that it requires a large initial cash outlay, implying either the presence of cash-wealthy individuals or, failing that, the co-operation of large numbers of people and for the latter reason is not as suited to the Foi range of social relationships as silk-raising (cf. Weiner 1982). Another way of expressing this contrast is to note that the - 437 domestic productive unit is oriented towards daily and continuous subsistence, while the political economy is concerned with the intermittent control and display of ceremonial valuables and pigs. Like pigs, cows are only of use to the Foi when they are liquidated for ceremonial exchange—this fact militates against their value as a form of capital investment. While the product of silk-raising—cash—is similarly liquidated, the disposal of such profits does not entail the destruction of the productive source itself, and the stability of marital household units ensures that the source of silk production will be maintained.

(3) Like garden-making and house-building, silk-raising requires the largest male productive unit, the ‘tree’ or lineage consisting of co-resident brothers. But this co-operation is only required at the initial stages. As I observed earlier (1982:27), even when a group of brothers live close to each other, they will not share a single large silk house, but will take turns building separate ones for each other (examples Nos.6 and 7, and Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 illustrated this). These men only aid each other by reciprocating labour and do not share in each other's cash earnings. Although the labour of silk production starts with a group of cooperating men, the Foi locus of production is confined to the married couple, and finally the product of silk-raising, cash, is controlled by individual men. Because cash is a valuable, and because the control of valuables is a male prerogative, silk-raising, like pig-raising, is organised by the Foi so that the final product is controlled by individual men rather than corporate groups.

(4) This last point raises theoretical concerns that have dogged anthropological research in the New Guinea Highlands since the early 1960s: In societies where the composition of and relation between social groups is orchestrated by the exchange activities of prominent individuals — the so-called “big-men” — the relationship between productive activities contrastively organised at collective and individual levels needs to be made clear (cf. Strathern 1979).

The introduction of cash brings with it the inherent isolation of the individual as the economic unit, and in societies which locate important productive activities within collectively conceived units, the integration of individualistic capitalism is at best likely to be problematic. Although the most visible unit of daily productive activity is the nuclear family among the Foi, the maintenance of this domestic mode of production rests on the success of socially as well as materially “reproductive” relations at different levels of social structure, primarily the lineage and local clan. These reproductive units, however, depend upon men's individual - 438 pursuit of wealth items and it is at this point that silk-raising and indeed all Foi cash-earning activity is apprehended as a morally appropriate activity.

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1   This article was written at the request of the Southern Highlands Rural Development Project and the Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research. I would like to thank Mr Manitage Yamabo (Chairman of the Foe-Fasu Progress Association), Mr Sapa Lavare (Officer in Charge, Commerce Department team overseeing the Foi silk projects) and Mr P. B. Sinha of the Department of Commerce, Mendi, for discussions concerning the history of silk-raising in Pimaga Sub-District. I would also like to thank Dr Michael Bourke and Mr William French for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.
2   This fact was recognised as vital to the success of the local silk project by the Foi M.P., Mr Bai Waiba, who was serving as liaison between local silk farmers and the National Government. In a report, Mr Waiba urged that indigent nonresident Foi should be contacted and pursuaded that successful cash cropping opportunities now exist in their home villages.
3   There is an area of land called Fofa‘o near the Baru River where land belonging to Hegeso, Barutage and Herebo Villages is interspersed. For this reason, it has been chosen as the site of a cattle pasture that will be run by a consortium of the three villages.
4   Choko and pumpkin were introduced to the Foi in the late 1930s by the first patrol officers at Lake Kutubu. The Foi say that choko greens are hardier and faster growing than Rungia, which they consider their favourite green. Pumpkin is preferred for the same reasons over traditional tubers (primarily taro).