Macquarie University
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A cord of three strands is not easily broken: birth, death and marriage in a Massim society

posted on 2022-03-29, 01:43 authored by Sandra Callister
Death is an inevitable part of life, and as such, is central to understanding the cultural themes of a people. Death facilitates the expression of Misiman themes of being-in-the-world through the medium of mortuary rituals, wherein community values and beliefs are emphasised and reconstructed. Generosity, conviviality, a sense of cooperation and submissiveness towards authority all find an outlet in and are augmented by the activities and occasions comprising mortuary events. The motivating forces of self-esteem and prestige are channelled into the exchange of pigs and valuables; balance is achieved in relationships at all levels. Respect owed to ancestors is memorialised and displayed through the sequence of feasts as well as by the erection of gravestones; communitas is evident in the women's exchange of pots of food and in the workers eating together. -- Death constructs society, causing disparate groups to coalesce and be reconstituted within the context of mortuary feasting. It is the marriage alliance on Misima, however, that constructs the form and shape of mortuary feasting, balancing matrilineal and patrilateral emphases and providing the third strand to the strong cord that binds Misiman society. As each of the three main groups of relatives carry out their mutual obligations at mortuary feasting times, each group reconstructs their roles, and at the same time asserts and affirms the importance of the relationships which bind them together. -- Mortuary ritual is foundational to an understanding of Misiman people, their values and interactions; it is an ongoing performance.


Alternative Title

Birth, death and marriage in a Massim society

Table of Contents

Death and mortuary ritual -- The centrality of death -- Mortuary feasts for the dead -- Affinal responsibilities -- Beliefs and attitudes surrounding death -- Dominant themes and values


Bibliography: p. 266-270 June 2000

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis masters research


Thesis (MA (Hons)), Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Nicholas Modjeska


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Sandra Callister 2001. This thesis was digitised for the purposes of Document Delivery. Macquarie University ResearchOnline attempted to locate the author but where this has not been possible; we are making available, open access, the thesis which may be used for the purposes of private research and study. If you have any enquiries or issues regarding this work being made available please contact Macquarie University ResearchOnline - If you wish to access the complete thesis, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Document Supply, please contact




Papua New Guinea


x, 270 p. ill

Former Identifiers

mq:20469 1674085