Kula, also known as the Kula exchange or Kula ring, is a ceremonial exchange system carried out in the Milne Bay district of Papua brand-new Guinea. It requires a complex system of visits and also exchanges and was an initial described in the west by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in 1922. Reciprocity to be one area of an essential work done by Malinowski, and also Marcel Mauss likewise produced part seminal observations in The Gift. Both functions remain crucial to sociology today.

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The objects exchanged in Kula room not particularly valuable in themselves, however rather serve to assist forge social relationships which are depended upon at miscellaneous times transparent an individual"s life. The study of this practice has helped to present that countless indigenous peoples have actually traditions that serve countless purposes beyond basic survival functions, allowing sometimes far-off social groups to have harmonious relationship that benefit all.

The Gift


The Kula gifts are of two varieties and are not in us remarkably valuable. One consists of shell-disc necklaces (veigun or Soulava) that space traded come the north (circling the ring in clockwise direction) and also the other are shell armbands (Mwali) that space traded in the southern direction (circling counter-clockwise). Mwali was given with the right hand, the Soulava provided with the left hand, an initial between villages then indigenous island to island. If the opened gift was an armband, then the closing gift must be a necklace and vice versa. These room traded completely for functions of boosting mutual to trust relationships, securing trade, and also enhancing one"s society status and prestige.

The Mwali armband supplies a ring of shell cut from a huge cone snail. Traditionally, they would take trip in pairs, but today’s Mwali space smaller and travel together a singular item. They are embroidered v colored profession beads, egg cowries, and also sometimes nuts. As they space too tiny to it is in worn lock are brought on a rope. The shell itself is fished indigenous the sea and also then prepared. Soulava necklaces are made native spondylus shells of i beg your pardon there are two types. Depending upon the part of new Guinea, the color used will certainly be different—around Normandy Island that is red, and further north in the Trobriands there is white with just a little red. The high quality of the Soulava is in the richness, color, cut, and polish that the shell.

These Kula objects have nine levels of grading or value, and the grade mirrors the prominence of the person who own it. This could be likened to the western items of household jewels, or the swords and also crowns the kings, representing a specific social position. The greatest grade that Mwali is yoiya and also may be taken into consideration dangerous, together the owner must have actually the contents of character and status that have the right to sustain the spiritual aspects comparable to the worth of the object. It can be poor fortune to own a Kula item the is over one"s level that prestige.

Many of this objects bring memories that death, magic, or poisoning. Together each thing is unique, a human may decision to try to acquire certain ones. Even individual shells may have actually a distinct history. They may be daunting to obtain and are regularly given come the Kula master (chief).

The Kula objects are of two kinds. The kunedawesi is own by the Kula ring and also cannot be sold, and also the kitom is owned by the human being who hold them and can be sold. The vast bulk of items are kunedawesi, but in some teams like the Muyuw, every Kula objects are someone"s kitom (Damon, 1980). The human owning a an useful as kitom has complete rights of ownership over it: he can keep it, sell it, or even ruin it. The Kula beneficial or an indistinguishable item have to be returned to the person who owns it as kitom. The most important Muyuw men, because that example, may own between three to 7 Kula valuables as kitom if others do not own any. The truth that, at least in theory, all such valuables room someone"s kitom adds a feeling of responsibility to the method they space handled, remind the recipient the he is only a steward of somebody else"s possession. The ownership of a particular valuable is, however, frequently not known. Kula valuables can also be exchanged together kitom in a straight exchange in between two partners, thus fully transferring the rights of ownership.

The Exchange

The Kula ring spans at least 18 island areas of the Massim archipelago, including the Trobriand Islands and involves thousands of individuals.

There is much anticipation and also preparation because that the Kula season. It starts in the garden, harvesting excess yams specifically in anticipation that the trading to come. Back taro is a staple, the greater status yams space a favorite item because that the Kula trade. The yams will be shown competitively and are also used in the feasts to come. They administer one the the ways a village can display hospitality to their visitors, old and brand-new partners.

The Kula trading period ushers in a duration of trade of miscellaneous commodities, gamings such together Trobriand cricket, feasts, catching up top top the news, and various various other social events. Because that the brand-new trading partners, the is not until the second visit the a Kula gift is exchanged. Every one of these elements serve to attach islanders and also the Kula partners. There is an opened gift and also finally a close up door gift, all presented in ~ the familiar context that tradition and also ceremony, linking them additionally to the past.

At sea, participants take trip sometimes numerous miles in a ceremonial canoe (waga) offered specifically because that this occasion. If, for example, a details village had presented your visiting partners v necklaces the ahead year, then currently the villagers fly throughout the tide in their own an effective Kula canoes to get armbands. The men who arrive to obtain Kula valuables are seen as aggressive tourists by the men in the host village whose rotate it is to give. They are met through ceremonial hostility that the visitors need to charm away, frequently by giving lime spatulas and also betelnuts that lug magical spells come induce your hosts come return good pieces. The visitors present themselves as being strong and as having immunity native danger, i m sorry is viewed as physically beautiful.

The hosts in this competition are seen as fairly passive and also vulnerable to the strength, beauty, and magical charm of the visitors. The hosts comply because they understand that the next time around it will certainly be their rotate to be the visitorss. Every man wishes that his very own beauty and also power will then compel his trading companion to provide him the Kula piece he desires.

Carefully prescribed customs and also traditions surround the ceremonies that accompany the exchanges which create strong, ideally life-long relationships between the exchange next (karayta"u, "partners"). The terms of participation vary from an ar to region. In Dobu every men have the right to participate whereas on the Trobriand archipelago the exchange is monopolized by the chiefs. Historically minimal to masculine trading partners, women may participate in some areas.

On these annual voyages, when a man presents his companion with a valuable, it have to be reciprocated v a gift of identical or greater value prior to too lot time passes. Each guy tries to organize on come the most an useful and greatest variety of pieces for as lengthy as possible. If a man keeps an essential valuable for longer than a year or so, or take away it out of the ring, he deserve to expect extreme disapproval and perhaps sorcery. That takes two to ten years because that a shell to do the circuit. The valuables are kept in continuous motion, encircling the scattered islands in ring of social and magical power.

Some partners space close by, but many and the most essential are far away. Those in a specific cycle (keda) are not generally personally well-known to every other, however each knows the others’ names and also stories as they space passed along along with the exchange the the an effective and miracle valuables. Older called pieces which have actually been around many times rise in value as they space owned by an effective men. Even temporary possession brings prestige and status. Essential chiefs have the right to have thousands of partners while less far-ranging participants might only have less 보다 a dozen (Malinowski, 1920).

It is an essential for a successful male to have actually Kula partners because that life. Many young guys state the they would rather be effective in Kula than in business, however as both come together it is fairly a an option of order 보다 exclusion.

Social Networks

Kula create a two-way return the favors. This is no a form of trade where when you trade items the commitment is absolved. Rather, in Kula, as soon as you room a component of the circle that is a irreversible connection. The saying approximately Papua is "once in Kula, always in Kula" (Damon, 1980).

The ideal of joining in Kula exchange is no automatic. One has to "buy" one"s method into it v participating in various lower spheres that exchange (Damon, 1980). The giver-receiver relationship is constantly asymmetrical: the previous are greater in status. Also, as Kula valuables room ranked according to value and also age, so room the relationship that are produced through your exchange. Participants will frequently strive come obtain particularly valuable and renowned Kula objects who owner"s fame will certainly spread easily through the archipelago. Together a compete unfolds through various persons offering pokala (offerings) and kaributu (solicitory gifts) come the owner, therefore seeking to induce the to engage in a gift exchange relationship involving the desired object. Kula exchange therefore involves a facility system that gifts and also counter-gifts whose rules room laid under by custom. The system is based on trust, as duties are not legally enforceable. However, solid social obligations and the social value system, in i m sorry liberality is exalted as greatest virtue, when meanness is condemned as shameful, create powerful pressures come "play by the rules." Those that are perceived as stop on come valuables and as being sluggish to give them away are quickly significant by a poor reputation (Malinowski, 1920).

The Kula exchange system have the right to be regarded as reinforcing status and also authority distinctions due to the fact that the hereditary chiefs own the most vital shell valuables and assume the responsibility for organizing and directing the s voyages. Damon noted that huge amounts that Kula valuables space handled through a reasonably small number of people (Damon, 1980). For example, among the Muyuw, three men account because that over 50 percent the Kula valuables, and the ten most prominent men control about 90 percent of every and almost 100 percent that the most precious Kula objects. The activity of this valuables and also the related relationships determine most of Muyuw"s political alliances. Kula relationships room fragile, beset with assorted kinds that manipulation and also deceit. The Muyuw, for example, state the the only means to acquire ahead in Kula is to lie, commenting the deceit frequently causes Kula relationship to fall apart (Damon, 1980). Similarly, Bronislaw Malinowski composed of "many squabbles, deep resentments and even feuds over genuine or imagine grievances in the Kula exchange" (Malinowski, 1920).

The Kula ring is a classic example because that Marcel Mauss"s distinction between gift and also commodity exchange. Melanesians very closely distinguish gift exchange (Kula) from market exchange in the form of barter (gimwali). Both reflect different underlying value equipment and cultural customs. The Kula, as Mauss wrote, is not supposed to be carried out like gimwali; the former requires a solemn exchange ceremony, a "display that greatness" wherein the concepts of honor and nobility room central; the latter, regularly done as part of Kula exchange journeys, entails hard bargaining and purely serves financial purposes (Mauss, 1990). Kula valuables room inalienable in the sense that castle (or an equivalent object) need to be went back to the initial owner. Those who get them have the right to pass castle on together gifts, however they cannot be sold as commodities (except by the one who owns them together kitom).

The Myth

There is a myth the connects come the origins of the Kula exchange (Malnic and also Kasaipwalova, 1998). A long time ago, a hero called Tava, that sometimes appeared as a snake, would pass between particular villages and also when he to be present, good fortune and also prosperity to be there together well. Just one woman in each town knew where he was, and she would feed and take care of him. That was vital that the be treated well because if that felt mistreated or betrayed in any kind of way, he would move on to the next island. As soon as he left, the an excellent fortune left v him. Still, thankful for the goodness he obtained while he to be there, the left something behind together a trade. It could be a excess of pigs and yams in the Trobriand islands or probably fine pottery made in the Amphletts. In other areas he left presents of obsidian and betelnuts. This story might be the origin of the Kula ring and also the means it operates among the islands.

The Meaning

The word Kula is derived from bita kuli, a verb, an interpretation both “to kind in the likeness or picture of another” and also “to be created as a likeness or picture of the other.” This is the "reciprocity" the Malinowski composed about. According to the Muyuw, a good Kula relationship need to be "like a marriage." “It is a motion, an activity of giving and also taking between people—two civilization (partners) to start with. This activity results in the growth of participants” (Malnic and Kasaipwalova, 1998). Kula is an experience encountered by two personalities. This increases to include and link entirety communities and islands that space otherwise really far away.

On this islands, profession is often essential for prosperity. However, in the history there has been an urgent require for a method of promoting harmony in between the islands, together they regularly had really different society practices. For example, some exercised cannibalism on those recorded in warfare, while rather did not. The Kula ring gives a connection in between the environment, the spiritual world, and also the various other tribes. This allows the difference of "the other" to be tranquil within a Kula relationship. The society stratification the the exchange reinforces also helps provide a steady social system that can protect the individual.

The highly decorated waga, or ceremonial canoe provided for the Kula trade, illustrates several of the investment of meaning in the journey. The waga is made come hold about 15 guys traveling comfortable over numerous miles at open up sea, and also are quite various from the smaller canoes used normally for fishing. The signs carved and also painted on the lagim (splashboard) ~ above the bow of each canoe show the social ranking of that waga and also the party ~ above board. A bwalai (small guy figure) at the bow represents the spirit of the male in charge of the canoe and allows his spirit to find the ocean. They make use of designs the minudoga sandpipers, a bird the floats on the ocean, which represent the treatment that should be take away by the leader for his crew and his community. The leader may need to push the others to the extreme however must likewise be aware of your physical fine being. The journey reinforces the concepts that status has obligation, and also that every social position has its unique value.

Kula ideally enables communities to acquire Mwasila. Mwasila is the creation of an excellent feeling in between people—to it is in happy, free, and to have actually no worries. Individually, that involves creating a clean path in between oneself and also one"s environment. This method enables one to attach with the environment and also to get rid of all various other thoughts the clutter the mind and make problems. Responsibility thinking can thus be restored. The Kula exchange becomes an opportunity for cleansing top top a ar level, smoothing relationships, and also rectifying any type of bad actions in the past.

Kaitari, the enchantment of the waves and the tides, is a attach to the environment of the ocean and also those in Kula need to remind us of that is power. Men on a Kula exploration are in ~ physical hazard from the sea and likewise at magical threat from witches and also sorcerers. The excitement, potential because that advancement, and structure the Kula help provide definition and an inspiration to endure today to job difficulty.

Kula is a source of stability in the an individual and social well-being of the islanders. The guys are away and also must be solid and fit, and also the females must uncover harmony and also ways to cooperate while they are gone. The Kula circle has always been associated with making contact with much off neighbors. It has been suggested that the profession is one way to protect against inbreeding, as plenty of romances may kind with much away partners throughout the trade times.

"When attention is directed onto one object, it remains in the object. Transparent the an enig of Kula, trading the Mwali and Soulava came to be ‘living personalities’ v definite social identities" {Malnic and also Kasaipwalova, 1998). The Kula legacy is lugged by indigenous of mouth and is symbolized by the objects Soulava and Mwali, or Bagi together they are well-known in various parts that Papua brand-new Guinea. That is a motion, an activity of giving and also taking between two people as partner to begin with, yet Kula is additionally the spiritual experience of entire communities. The action of giving, together Marcel Mauss created in The Gift, is a screen of the greatness the the giver, add by mirrors of exaggeration modesty in i m sorry the worth of what is given is proactively played down. Such a cooperation involves strong mutual responsibilities such as hospitality, protection, and assistance. Kula is the basic human suffer of growth and also growing as an individual and as a ar engaged in giving and also receiving.

Similar methods and modern Outlook

Other cultures have practiced comparable forms of gift exchange:

Sepik shore exchange, a similar practice in the Sepic coast of Papua brand-new Guinea

Although the Kula exchange has actually continued, naturally the communication with modern economic exchange and cultures has readjusted the events. Currently, there is much less ceremony and care in the preparation and execution the the occasions of the Kula exchange. Some women exchange Kula, and sometimes Kula objects are sold at the marketplace in exchange because that money. As early on as 1922, there to be some an alert of the deceit and also manipulations that some guys would go through in order come obtain details Kula objects or arrange matters in ways favorable to them. It is unknown to what level their call with more modern-day cultures has actually influenced them. Countless in Papua new Guinea, however, quiet practice and also value this timeless social custom.


Damon, F. H. "The Kula and Generalised Exchange: Considering some Unconsidered elements of the Elementary structures of Kinship." Man. Vol. 15. 1980.Leach, Jerry, and also Leach, Edmund. The Kula: new Perspectives top top Massim Exchange. New York: Cambridge University. 1983.Malinowski, Bronislaw.Argonauts that the west Pacific: one Account of aboriginal Enterprise and also Adventure in the Archipelagoes that Melanesian brand-new Guinea. George Routledge & Sons, Ltd. 1922.Malinowski, Bronislaw. "Kula; the turn around Exchange the Valuables in the Archipelagoes of Eastern brand-new Guinea." Man. Vol. 20. 1920.Mauss, M.The Gift: Forms and Functions the Exchange in antiquated Societies. London: Routledge. 1990.

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