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Saltwater Sociality: A Melanesian Island Ethnography

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Saltwater Sociality

A Melanesian Island Ethnography

Katharina Schneider

260 pages, 19 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-301-3 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (February 2012)

eISBN 978-0-85745-302-0 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $29.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“The evocative description and level of scholarship make Schneider’s work a fine example of current ethnography which also provides valuable detail about how ethnographers do their work. This is a highly readable book for those with an interest in the region, a fascination with relatedness, and for anthropologists interested in accessing a written account of how useful ethnographic material might be collected.” · JRAI

“Schneider's ethnography is engaging, immersive, and a pleasure to read. She brings to life the everyday tensions around movement and identity that are embodied in those who are from the small island of Pororan, in which everyday concerns for food provisioning both strengthen and place stress on kinship ties with other places… The book’s structure and narrative are not molded to a predetermined argument, but are emergent through rich ethnography.” · Anthropological Forum

"This engaging and beautifully written monograph…provides us with wonderful new material from a region that has received relatively little ethnographic interest, especially in the recent ‘post-conflict’ period. [Schneider’s]study is relevant to current Pacific Island studies and makes a contribution to longstanding debates about Melanesian sociality, while addressing themes such as matrilineal kinship, rank, gender and marriage and mortuary rites. Given its clarity, depth and scope: a must read for anthropology students.” · Pacific Affairs

[M]ethodologically innovative, theoretically sophisticated, ethnographically engaging, and beautifully written - what makes this book especially noteworthy is the author’s ability to bring closely observed research data into productive dialogue with general social scientific theories.” · Michael W. Scott, London School of Economics

[A] fascinating manuscript. It is clearly and straightforwardly written, adds new and important ethnographic material to the small but growing contemporary literature of Island Melanesia, and is relevant to current debates in a number of ways.” · James Leach, University of Aberdeen


The inhabitants of Pororan Island, a small group of ‘saltwater people’ in Papua New Guinea, are intensely interested in the movements of persons across the island and across the sea, both in their everyday lives as fishing people and on ritual occasions. From their observations of human movements, they take their cues about the current state of social relations. Based on detailed ethnography, this study engages current Melanesian anthropological theory and argues that movements are the Pororans’ predominant mode of objectifying relations. Movements on Pororan Island are to its inhabitants what roads are to ‘mainlanders’ on the nearby larger island, and what material objects and images are to others elsewhere in Melanesia.

Katharina Schneider is Lecturer at the Institute for Ethnology at Heidelberg University. She obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge.

Subject: Environmental Studies (General) Anthropology (General)
Area: Asia-Pacific


List of Tables
A note on languages


  • Pororan and Buka, 2004
  • Movements: an ethnographic focus
  • Studying movements: some methods
  • Movements as objectification

Chapter 1. Fishing people

  • Anywhere, anytime, anybody
  • Gardening and fishing
  • Fishing methods
  • Going around: opening up space and time
  • Return from the sea
  • Sia and Hulu

Chapter 2. Kin on the move

  • Watching, discussing and eliciting movements
  • Mothers and children
  • Pinaposa gatherings
  • Fathers, or ‘making grow’
  • The ninja
  • Matrilineal kinship: a view from Pororan

Chapter 3. Mobile places

  • Buka history: an overview
  • Ancestral settlement
  • Colonial gathering
  • Present-day ‘pulling’
  • Leitana and the little thing
  • Stones

Chapter 4. Pinaposa

  • Matrilineages ‘by the hair’
  • Pinaposa relations across Buka
  • The Pororans on ancestral roads
  • Orchestrating movements, and going around in the bush
  • Migration stories
  • Hatsunon
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5. Marriage and mortuary rites

  • Sinahan
  • Tightening a relation
  • Mortuary rites
  • Persons at death
  • Objects of forgetting
  • Bung malot: the end of mourning
  • Hahur: ‘a mark of being human’
  • Finishing mourning on the mainland

Chapter 6. Movements and kastom

  • ‘Writing down the clans’
  • ‘Straightening traditional leadership’
  • ‘Straightening the ground’
  • A Pororan kastom event


  • The argument
  • Pororan, Melanesia
  • Pororan, at sea

Glossary: Hapororan and Tok Pisin terms

Appendix A: Pororan travel routes, 2004-05
Appendix B. Some fishing terms
Appendix C: Melanesian Pidgin and Hapororan kin terms
Appendix D: Stories and Solomon


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