Beating the boundaries: land tenure and identity in the Papua New Guinea Highlands

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Author: Paul Sillitoe
Date: Fall 1999
From: Journal of Anthropological Research(Vol. 55, Issue 3)
Publisher: University of New Mexico
Document Type: Article
Length: 264 words

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Abstract :

The land tenure system of New Guinea Highlanders is simple in principle but complex in practice. Land features prominently in their lives, not merely as a horticultural resource but also socially and sentimentally. Rights to land are one of the principal areas in which the Wola of the Southern Highlands Province express and act on their kinship relations, kin-defined obligations controlling access. While kin-structured transactions of wealth create current identity and contemporaneously validate social status, issues pertaining to land rights root social life in the past and give it continuity. The activation of rights to cultivable land features centrally in the constitution of local groups, which result from the coming together of persons on territories to which they can all claim cultivation rights by virtue of recognized consanguineal and affinal links to the landholding corporation. Both land use and land rights have transient aspects to them. The relativity of land rights among the Wola is an integral aspect of their social order. Wola farmers not only physically move from one garden site to another on occasion, but they also acknowledge a disconcerting impermanence to cultivation rights to any land. This relates to the issues of boundaries and identity. Communities are not only socially but also geographically in flux. This shifting of land rights is potentially perplexing. It strikes at identity because land situates humans in the world and symbolizes continuity. But the blurring of boundaries is integral to the stateless political order, though it presents problems today with the encroachment of the state, in the guise of mining companies demanding definition of land ownership.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A57094531