Sinuous Objects

Sinuous Objects

Revaluing Women’s Wealth in the Contemporary Pacific

Edited by: Anna-Karina Hermkens orcid, Katherine Lepani

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Some 40 years ago, Pacific anthropology was dominated by debates about ‘women’s wealth’. These exchanges were generated by Annette Weiner’s (1976) critical reappraisal of Bronisław Malinowski’s classic work on the Trobriand Islands, and her observations that women’s production of ‘wealth’ (banana leaf bundles and skirts) for elaborate transactions in mortuary rituals occupied a central role in Trobriand matrilineal cosmology and social organisation. This volume brings the debates about women’s wealth back to the fore by critically revisiting and engaging with ideas about gender and materiality, value, relationality and the social life and agency of things. The chapters, interspersed by three poems, evoke the sinuous materiality of the different objects made by women across the Pacific, and the intimate relationship between these objects of value and sensuous, gendered bodies.

In the Epilogue, Professor Margaret Jolly observes how the volume also ‘trace[s] a more abstract sinuosity in the movement of these things through time and place, as they coil through different regimes of value … The eight chapters … trace winding paths across the contemporary Pacific, from the Trobriands in Milne Bay, to Maisin, Wanigela and Korafe in Oro Province, Papua New Guinea, through the islands of Tonga to diasporic Tongan and Cook Islander communities in New Zealand’. This comparative perspective elucidates how women’s wealth is defined, valued and contested in current exchanges, bride-price debates, church settings, development projects and the challenges of living in diaspora. Importantly, this reveals how women themselves preserve the different values and meanings in gift-giving and exchanges, despite processes of commodification that have resulted in the decline or replacement of ‘women’s wealth’.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Aug 2017
ANU Press
Pacific Series
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies; Social Sciences: Anthropology, Gender Studies
Pacific: Papua New Guinea, Tonga, New Zealand

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  1. Doba and Ephemeral Durability: The Enduring Material Value of Women’s Work in the Trobriand Regenerative Economy (PDF, 0.9MB)Katherine Lepani doi
  2. Doing away with Doba? Women’s Wealth and Shifting Values in Trobriand Mortuary Distributions (PDF, 1.0MB)Michelle MacCarthy doi
  1. Women’s Wealth and Moral Economies among the Maisin in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea (PDF, 1.1MB)Anna-Karina Hermkens doi
  2. Revaluing Pots: Wanigela Women and Regional Exchange (PDF, 0.6MB)Elizabeth Bonshek doi
  3. The Extraordinary Values of Ordinary Objects: String Bags and Pandanus Mats as Korafe Women’s Wealth? (PDF, 1.0MB)Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone doi
  1. Capturing the ‘Female Essence’? Textile Wealth in Tonga (PDF, 0.7MB)Fanny Wonu Veys doi
  2. Passing on, and Passing on Wealth: Compelling Values in Tongan Exchange (PDF, 0.7MB)Ping-Ann Addo doi
  3. Cook Islands Tivaivai and the Haircutting Ceremony in Auckland: Ritual Action, Money and the Parameters of Value (PDF, 0.2MB)Jane Horan doi


The volume has shown that a close look at the daily lives of women can provide important insights. I would like to see more studies of women’s ‘work’—the daily activities of housekeeping and child minding deserve our attention, too, even if they lack the glamour of feasts and rituals. It is this work that women are proud of and that opens up their path to high status just as much as the complex production of sinuous objects.

—Susanne Kuehling, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol 20(1) 2019
Read the full review on the Taylor and Francis website

Sinuous Objects is beautifully adorned with full-colour photographs as well as poems composed by local artists. The volume will appeal not just to regional specialists but also undergraduate students in courses on the Pacific, arts, and women.

—John Barker, Pacific Affairs, Vol 92(1), 2019

This volume adds thought-provoking dimensions to anthropological representations of other ways of living, through emphasis on women's creativities.
— Nancy J. Pollock, Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 43, July 2019

The full review can been read on the Intersections website

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