National Geographic : 1992 Jul
"I do not want to show Paul our arm shells because he will want to buy them," a kula man said in my presence, to make his friends laugh. Nevertheless he took them out. They were not beautiful-they were cracked and yellowing pieces of curved shell woven with small beads and dangling cowries. The neck- laces were lengths of tiny shell disks, strung together. These pieces have no intrinsic value, but they become more important as they pass from person to person over the years . They have no practical use. They are not usually worn but rather hung up on the walls of a hut. Now and then you see one being . worn at a traditional dance by the son or daughter of a kula person. Each object has its own name and its own personality. The pieces are not owned by anyone, and it would be unthink- able to sell one. Joining the kula voyages was not for all Trobrianders. I had the impression that only a minor- ity of the islanders were actually kula people and that they were brought into the small circle of kula society by friends and rela- tives, as one might be asked to join a bowling club in another culture. And, while I could see 128 that participating in kula activity was tremendously engaging and friendly, there was no stigma at- tached to being excluded from it. When I spoke to kula men about their expeditions, they tended to talk about the food they had eaten, the weather, the comradeship on the canoe. Lyndon, a kula man from Kai- siga, told me, "All kula people are friends." K AISIGA was at first glance an odd village, and with each of my succeed- ing visits it seemed even odder. For one thing, everyone had white teeth in Kaisiga, and no one smoked, and there were no pigs. One day I was spearfishing with some men and boys from Kaisiga. We were about two miles out at sea, where there were remnants of a reef in the deep water. The younger men could dive incredibly deep, to 30 feet or more, and then they hung on to the coral with one hand and speared fish with the other. Normally I watched them, floun- dering many feet above them. On this day I saw a large shark- gray, about seven feet long- approaching. It must have sniffed the blood of the fish we had already speared. The shark Crested with cockatoo feathers, Mwakiwosa Medova adds dots ofpowdered coral mixed with water. He will join the feasting, singing, and dancing (left) that energizes yam festivals, which can last more than a month. It is a season as wellfor passion. Ad- olescents glisten with coconut oil and glow with an application of yellow pollen. Spouses are given license for sexual adventures.