The dialectic of a descent dogma among the Motu-Koita of Papua New Guinea

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Descent dogmas have become visible in recent years among Melanesian societies affected by large-scale natural resource extraction, but it should not be assumed that they are all immediate responses by landowners attempting to restrict access to royalties or other monetary benefits. This article traces the development of a patrilineal descent dogma among the Motu-Koita, whose traditional territory includes Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, and who were arguably non-unilineal when colonized in the late nineteenth century. I describe the generation of a ‘patrilineal’ descent rule through their experience of early colonial land purchases, early anthropological kinship models, colonial land courts, efforts by State legal agencies to recognise ‘customary law’, and accelerating land loss since the late colonial period. The historical process has been marked by an attenuation of the traditional flexibility and negotiability of Motu-Koita land use and inheritance, a diminution of their ‘moral economy’, and contemporary tensions generated by the rise of individualist interpretations of patrilineal descent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-145
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Melanesia
  • Descent dogma
  • moral economy
  • land ownership
  • Melanesien
  • Deszendenz-Dogma
  • Moralökonomie
  • Landbesitz

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