Rethinking western Motu descent groups

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The Motu-Koitabu are the traditional inhabitants of the site of Papua New Guinea's capital city, Port Moresby, and well represented in a body of literature, from the 1870s on, encompassing oral history, archaeology and social anthropology. A basic unit of Motu-Koitabu society is the iduhu, a corporate group which is nowadays conventionally glossed locally as a 'clan' in English, but represented in anthropological literature as more ambiguous in nature than the gloss implies. Considering the literature in the light of recent fieldwork in a Motu-Koitabu village, this article takes issue with an argument developed in the 1950s, which has become an accepted wisdom, that the structure of iduhu was threatened by the social consequences of missionisation and colonialism, and that iduhu were saved from collapse by new leaders, church deacons, who replaced traditional leaders. A re-examination of the nature of iduhu, a partial reinterpretation of notions of leadership and prestige and an account of two recent disputes brought to a village court inform an argument that iduhu have been more resilient than previous researchers have thought. In this regard concepts of leadership among the Motu-Koitabu need clarification, and it is suggested that the importance of landholding has been underestimated in previous attempts to understand what iduhu are.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-333
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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