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The Trobriand Islanders' underworld of love: Eschatology codified in songlines [invited talk]


Senft,  Gunter
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Senft, G. (2011). The Trobriand Islanders' underworld of love: Eschatology codified in songlines [invited talk]. Talk presented at The 2011 Tokyo Workshop on Emancipatory Pragmatics. Kyoritsu Women's University Tokyo. 2011-02-28 - 2011-03-02.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0011-29CA-8
The Trobriand Islanders complex eschatological belief system explains in detail what happenes when a Trobriander dies. Bronislaw Malinowski described the essentials of this belief system in his famous articles "Baloma: the Spirits of the Dead in the Trobriand Islands" and "Myth in Primitive Psychology" In these papers he also presented the Trobrianders belief in the fact that a spirit of the dead, a "baloma" can be reborn; in connection with this myth he claimed that the Trobrianders are actually unaware of the father's role as genitor. This talk presents not only a critical review of Malinowski's ethnography of Trobriand eschatology, it also documents highly ritualized songs - the "wosi milamala" the songs of the harvest festival - which are sung in an archaic variety of Kilivila - the "biga baloma" - the language of the spirits of the dead. In these songs the Trobriand Islanders have codified many aspects of their eschatological belief system. It seems that Malinowski was not aware of these songs. Thus this talk provides for the first time a comprehensive ethnographic overview of Trobriand eschatology. Until the mid 60s of the last century the Trobrianders used the "biga baloma" to communicate with the spirits of the dead; however, in the meantime the sungs are still sung during the harvest festival and after the death of a Trobriander, but there are only a few people left who still understand the "wosi milamala". They are a moribund genre of Kilivila - and with them the Trobriand Islanders' complex indigenous eschatology will vanish.