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Type: Thesis
Title: Wanbel: Conflict, Reconciliation and Personhood among the Sam People, Madang Province
Author: Troolin, David Eric
Issue Date: 2018
School/Discipline: School of Social Sciences : Anthropology and Development Studies
Abstract: The Sam communities of Madang Province in Papua New Guinea define, conceptualise, and demonstrate a way of relating they refer to as wanbel ("one insides, reconciled" TP) which is essential to wellbeing. Living among three villages spread along the Kabeneo River, which runs from the Finisterre Range northward to the Astrolabe Bay in Madang Province, the Sam people spend a great deal of time talking about being wanbel and participating in ceremonies to restore or maintain a state of wanbel. They believe that a lack of wanbel causes barren gardens, sickness, sorcery, and death; conversely, being wanbel brings about bountiful gardens, healthy families, and access to “development.” In the vernacular, this state of good and harmonious relations is articulated in four ways: pari beli (“good insides”), pari kujex (“one insides”), udud kujex (“one thought”), and pari xosolox (“calm insides”). The notion of wanbel is a state as well as a process that occurs within both individuals and groups that provides a way to resolve divisive issues and be well, in terms of obtaining a holistic vision of a “good life” referred to as gutpela sindaun (“wellbeing” TP). However, Sam speakers believe that a person’s thoughts and emotions are opaque to others, and thus, they cannot know whether others are wanbel. Hence, to resolve conflict and demonstrate amity, individuals must choose to reveal their inner self through speech and behaviour in village meetings and ceremonies. In these contexts, wanbel provides a way for the community to talk about and critique relationships, and, importantly, resolve disputes and mediate conflict. In recent times, even as Sam people affirm the importance of wanbel in their daily lives, some acknowledge that episodes of disharmony seem to be increasing due to recent modernising influences, independence, and the “time of money.” These varied influences provide differing visions of what wanbel should yield, and are felt to be obstacles to maintaining a state of wanbel. Through wanbel discussions, the Sam interrogate these influences, navigate and negotiate conflicting desires, and how to become wanbel in the present. This thesis focusses on how Sam villagers conceptualise and talk about wanbel and practice it in their daily lives to strengthen and benefit themselves, the clan, and the wider Sam collective. These discussions about wanbel are dynamic and turbulent negotiations with overtones of efficacy, in which individuals and groups provide feedback on the status of their relationships and how to improve them in ways that will lead to health, good fortune, and prosperity. Moreover, wanbel is a reflexive way to critique, create, and sustain mutually dependent relationships. This thesis contributes to Melanesian themes of conflict, reconciliation, personhood and agency through an ethnographic exploration of how personhood and relationships are managed, mediated, and navigated in contemporary Papua New Guinea.
Advisor: Dundon, Alison
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Social Sciences : Anthropology & Development Studies, 2018
Keywords: Wanbel, conflict
Madang Province
Papua New Guinea
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