a 350+ word summary based on Malinowski’s writings that answers the following:

• What was the Kula?

• Who participated in the Kula and why?

• What items are exchanged? (Describe in detail the directions of this exchange as well)

• Why are these objects valued? (Hint: they are not meant to be worn on one’s arms)

HAVING thus described the scene, and the actors, let us now proceed to the
performance. The Kula is a form of exchange, of extensive, inter-tribal
character; it is carried on by communities inhabiting a wide ring of islands,
which form a closed circuit. This circuit can be seen on Map V, where it is
represented by the lines joining a number of islands to the North and East of the
East end of New Guinea. Along this route, articles of two kinds, and these two
kinds only, are constantly travelling in opposite directions. In the direction of the
hands of a clock, moves constantly one of these kinds— long necklaces of red
shell, called soulava (Plates XVIII and XIX). In the opposite direction moves the
other kind— bracelets of white shell called mwali (Plates XVI and XVII). Each
of these articles, as it travels in its own direction on the closed circuit, meets on
its way articles of the other class, and is constantly being exchanged for them.
Every movement of the Kula articles, every detail of the transactions is fixed and
regulated by a set of traditional rules and conventions, and some acts of the Kula
are accompanied by an elaborate magical ritual and public ceremonies.
On every island and in every village, a more or less limited number of men
take part in the Kula—that is to say, receive the goods, hold them for a short
time, and then pass them on. Therefore every man who is in the Kula,
periodically though not regularly, receives one or several mwali (arm-shells), or
a soulava (necklace of red shell discs), and then has to hand it on to one of his
partners, from whom he receives the opposite commodity in exchange. Thus no
man ever keeps any of the articles for any length of time in his possession. One
transaction does not finish the Kula relationship, the rule being “once in the
Kula, always in the Kula,” and a partnership between two men is a permanent
and lifelong affair. Again, any given mwali or soulava may always be found
travelling and changing hands, and there is no question of its ever settling down,
so that the principle “once in the Kula, always in the Kula” applies also to the
valuables themselves.
The ceremonial exchange of the two articles is the main, the fundamental
aspect of the Kula. But associated with it, and done under its cover, we find a
great number of secondary activities and features. Thus, side by side with the
ritual exchange of arm-shells and necklaces, the natives carry on ordinary trade,
bartering from one island to another a great number of utilities, often
unprocurable in the district to which they are imported, and indispensable there.
Further, there are other activities, preliminary to the Kula, or associated with it,
such as the building of sea-going canoes for the expeditions, certain big forms of
mortuary ceremonies, and preparatory taboos.
The Kula is thus an extremely big and complex institution, both in its
geographical extent, and in the manifoldness of its component pursuits. It welds
together a considerable number of tribes, and it embraces a vast complex of
activities, inter-connected, and playing into one another, so as to form one
organic whole.
MAP V—The Kula Ring.
Yet it must be remembered that what appears to us an extensive, complicated,
and yet well ordered institution is the outcome of ever so many doings and
pursuits, carried on by savages, who have no laws or aims or charters definitely
laid down. They have no knowledge of the total outline of any of their social
structure. They know their own motives, know the purpose of individual actions
and the rules which apply to them, but how, out of these, the whole collective
institution shapes, this is beyond their mental range. Not even the most
intelligent native has any clear idea of the Kula as a big, organised social
construction, still less of its sociological function and implications. If you were
to ask him what the Kula is, he would answer by giving a few details, most likely
by giving his personal experiences and subjective views on the Kula, but nothing
approaching the definition just given here. Not even a partial coherent account
could be obtained. For the integral picture does not exist in his mind; he is in it,
and cannot see the whole from the outside.
The integration of all the details observed, the achievement of a sociological
synthesis of all the various, relevant symptoms, is the task of the Ethnographer.
First of all, he has to find out that certain activities, which at first sight might
appear incoherent and not correlated, have a meaning. He then has to find out
what is constant and relevant in these activities, and what accidental and
inessential, that is, to find out the laws and rules of all the transactions. Again,
the Ethnographer has to construct the picture of the big institution, very much as
the physicist constructs his theory from the experimental data, which always
have been within reach of everybody, but which needed a consistent
interpretation. I have touched on this point of method in the Introduction
(Divisions V and VI), but I have repeated it here, as it is necessary to grasp it
clearly in order not to lose the right perspective of conditions as they really exist
among the natives.
In giving the above abstract and concise definition, I had to reverse the order of
research, as this is done in ethnographic field-work, where the most generalised
inferences are obtained as the result of long inquiries and laborious inductions.
The general definition of the Kula will serve as a sort of plan or diagram in our
further concrete and detailed descriptions. And this is the more necessary as the
Kula is concerned with the exchange of wealth and utilities, and therefore it is an
economic institution, and there is no other aspect of primitive life where our
knowledge is more scanty and our understanding more superficial than in
Economics. Hence misconception is rampant, and it is necessary to clear the
ground when approaching any economic subject.
Thus in the Introduction we called the Kula a “form of trade,” and we ranged
it alongside other systems of barter. This is quite correct, if we give the word
“trade” a sufficiently wide interpretation, and mean by it any exchange of goods.
But the word “trade” is used in current Ethnography and economic literature with
so many different implications that a whole lot of misleading, preconceived ideas
have to be brushed aside in order to grasp the facts correctly. Thus the a priori
current notion of primitive trade would be that of an exchange of indispensable or
useful articles, done without much ceremony or regulation, under stress of dearth
or need, in spasmodic, irregular intervals—and this done either by direct barter,
everyone looking out sharply not to be done out of his due, or, if the savages
were too timid and distrustful to face one another, by some customary
arrangement, securing by means of heavy penalties compliance in the obligations
incurred or imposed * Waiving for the present the question how far this
conception is valid or not in general—in my opinion it is quite misleading —we
have to realise clearly that the Kula contradicts in almost every point the above
definition of “savage trade.” It shows us primitive exchange in an entirely
different light.
The Kula is not a surreptitious and precarious form of exchange. It is, quite on
the contrary, rooted in myth, backed by traditional law, and surrounded with
magical rites. All its main transactions are public and ceremonial, and carried out
according to definite rules. It is not done on the spur of the moment, but happens
periodically, at dates settled in advance, and it is carried on along definite trade
routes, which must lead to fixed trysting places. Sociologically, though
transacted between tribes differing in language, culture, and probably even in
race, it is based on a fixed and permanent status, on a partnership which binds
into couples some thousands of individuals. This partnership is a lifelong
relationship, it implies various mutual duties and privileges, and constitutes a type
of inter-tribal relationship on an enormous scale. As to the economic mechanism
of the transactions, this is based on a specific form of credit, which implies a
high degree of mutual trust and commercial honour—and this refers also to the
subsidiary, minor trade, which accompanies the Kula proper. Finally, the Kula is
* By “current view,” I mean such as is to be found in text-books and in passing remarks,
scattered through economic and ethnological literature. As a matter of fact, Economics is
a subject very seldom touched upon either in theoretical works on Ethnology, or in
accounts of field-work. I have enlarged on this deficiency in the article on “Primitive
Economics,” published in the Economic Journal, March, 1921.
The best analysis of the problem of savage economy is to be found, in spite of its many
shortcomings, in K. Bücher’s “Industrial Evolution,” English Translation, 1901. On
primitive trade, however, his views are inadequate. In accordance with his general view
that savages have no national economy, he maintains that any spread of goods among
natives is achieved by non-economic means, such as robbery, tributes and gifts. The
information contained in the present volume is incompatible with Bücher’s views, nor
could he have maintained them had he been acquainted with Barton’s description of the Hiri
(contained in Seligman’s “Melanesians.”)
A summary of the research done on Primitive Economics, showing incidentally, how little
real, sound work has been accomplished, will be found in Pater W. Kopper’s “Die
Ethnologische Wirtschaftsforschung” in Anthropos, X—XI, 1915–16, pp. 611–651, and
971–1079. The article is very useful, where the author summarises the views of others.
not done under stress of any need, since its main aim is to exchange articles
which are of no practical use.
From the concise definition of Kula given at the beginning of this chapter, we
see that in its final essence, divested of all trappings and accessories, it is a very
simple affair, which at first sight might even appear tame and unromantic. After
all, it only consists of an exchange, interminably repeated, of two articles
intended for ornamentation, but not even used for that to any extent. Yet this
simple action—this passing from hand to hand of two meaningless and quite
useless objects— has somehow succeeded in becoming the foundation of a big
inter-tribal institution, in being associated with ever so many other activities,
Myth, magic and tradition have built up around it definite ritual and ceremonial
forms, have given it a halo of romance and value in the minds of the natives,
have indeed created a passion in their hearts for this simple exchange.
The definition of the Kula must now be amplified, and we must describe one
after the other its fundamental characteristics and main rules, so that it may be
clearly grasped by what mechanism the mere exchange of two articles results in
an institution so vast, complex, and deeply rooted.
First of all, a few words must be said about the two principal objects of exchange,
the arm-shells (mwali) and the necklaces (soulava). The arm-shells are obtained
by breaking off the top and the narrow end of a big, cone-shaped shell (Conus
millepunctatus), and then polishing up the remaining ring. These bracelets are
highly coveted by all the Papuo-Melanesians of New Guinea, and they spread
even into the pure Papuan district of the Gulf.* The manner of wearing the armshells
is illustrated by Plate XVII, where the men have put them on on purpose to
be photographed.
The use of the small discs of red spondylus shell, out of which the soulava are
made, is also of a very wide diffusion. There is a manufacturing centre of them
in one of the villages in Port Moresby, and also in several places in Eastern New
Guinea, notably in Rossell Island, and in the Trobriands. I have said “use” on
purpose here, because these small beads, each of them a flat, round disc with a
hole in the centre, coloured anything from muddy brown to carmine red, are
employed in various ways for ornamentation They are most generally used as
part of earrings, made of rings of turtle shell, which are attached to the ear lobe,
and from which hang a cluster of the shell discs. These earrings are very much
worn, and, especially among the Massim, you see them on the ears of every
* Professor C.G.Seligman, op. cit., p. 93, states that arm-shells, toea, as they are called by
the Motu, are traded from the Port Moresby district westward to the Gulf of Papua.
Among the Motu and Koita, near Port Moresby, they are highly valued, and nowadays
attain very high prices, up to £30, much more than is paid for the same article among the
second man or woman, while others are satisfied with turtle shell alone,
unornamented with the shell discs. Another everyday ornament, frequently met
with and worn, especially by young girls and boys, consists of a short necklace,
just encircling the neck, made of the red spondylus discs, with one or more
cowrie shell pendants. These shell discs can be, and often are, used in the makeup
of the various classes of the more elaborate ornaments, worn on festive
occasions only. Here, however, we are more especially concerned with the very
long necklaces, measuring from two to five metres, made of spondylus discs, of
which there are two main varieties, one, much the finer, with a big shell pendant,
the other made of bigger discs, and with a few cowrie shells or black banana
seeds in the centre (see Plate XVIII).
The arm-shells on the one hand, and the long spondylus shell strings on the
other, the two main Kula articles, are primarily ornaments. As such, they are
used with the most elaborate dancing dress only, and on very festive occasions
such as big ceremonial dances, great feasts, and big gatherings, where several
villages are represented, as can be seen in Plate VI. Never could they be used as
everyday ornaments, nor on occasions of minor importance, such as a small
dance in the village, a harvest gathering, a love-making expedition, when facial
painting, floral decoration and smaller though not quite everyday ornaments are
worn (see Plates XII and XIII). But even though usable and sometimes used, this
is not the main function of these articles. Thus, a chief may have several shell
strings in his possession, and a few arm-shells. Supposing that a big dance is held
in his or in a neighbouring village, he will not put on his ornaments himself if he
goes to assist at it, unless he intends to dance and decorate himself, but any of his
relatives, his children or his friends and even vassals, can have the use of them
for the asking. If you go to a feast or a dance where there are a number of men
wearing such ornaments, and ask anyone of them at random to whom it belongs,
the chances are that more than half of them will answer that they themselves are
not the owners, but that they had the articles lent to them. These objects are not
owned in order to be used; the privilege of decorating oneself with them is not
the real aim of possession.
Indeed—and this is more significant—by far the greater number of the armshells,
easily ninety per cent., are of too small a size to be worn even by young
boys and girls. A few are so big and valuable that they would not be worn at all,
except once in a decade by a very important man on a very festive day. Though all
the shell-strings can be worn, some of them are again considered too valuable,
and are cumbersome for frequent use, and would be worn on very exceptional
occasions only.
This negative description leaves us with the questions: why, then, are these
objects valued, what purpose do they serve? The full answer to this question will
emerge out of the whole story contained in the following chapters, but an
approximate idea must be given at once. As it is always better to approach the
unknown through the known, let us consider for a moment whether among
ourselves we have not some type of objects which play a similar rôle and which
are used and possessed in the same manner. When, after a six years’ absence in
the South Seas and Australia, I returned to Europe and did my first bit of sightseeing
in Edinburgh Castle, I was shown the Crown jewels. The keeper told
many stories of how they were worn by this or that king or queen on such and
such occasion, of how some of them had been taken over to London, to the great
and just indignation of the whole Scottish nation, how they were restored, and
how now everyone can be pleased, since they are safe under lock and key, and no
one can touch them. As I was looking at them and thinking how ugly, useless,
ungainly, even tawdry they were, I had the feeling that something similar had
been told to me of late, and that I had seen many other objects of this sort, which
made a similar impression on me.
And then arose before me the vision of a native village on coral soil, and a
small, rickety platform temporarily erected under a pandanus thatch, surrounded
by a number of brown, naked men, and one of them showing me long, thin red
strings, and big, white, worn-out objects, clumsy to sight and greasy to touch.
With reverence he also would name them, and tell their history, and by whom
and when they were worn, and how they changed hands, and how their
temporary possession was a great sign of the importance and glory of the village.
The analogy between the European and the Trobriand vaygu’a (valuables) must
be delimited with more precision. The Crown Jewels, in fact, any heirlooms too
valuable and too cumbersome to be worn, represent the same type as vaygu’a in
that they are merely possessed for the sake of possession itself, and the
ownership of them with the ensuing renown is the main source of their value.
Also both heirlooms and vaygu’a are cherished because of the historical
sentiment which surrounds them. However ugly, useless, and—according to
current standards—valueless an object may be, if it has figured in historical
scenes and passed through the hands of historic persons, and is therefore an
unfailing vehicle of important sentimental associations, it cannot but be precious
to us. This historic sentimentalism, which indeed has a large share in our general
interest in studies of past events, exists also in the South Seas. Every really good
Kula article has its individual name, round each there is a sort of history and
romance in the traditions of the natives. Crown jewels or heirlooms are insignia
of rank and symbols of wealth respectively, and in olden days with us, and in
New Guinea up till a few years ago, both rank and wealth went together. The
main point of difference is that the Kula goods are only in possession for a time,
whereas the European treasure must be permanently owned in order to have full
Taking a broader, ethnological view of the question, we may class the Kula
valuables among the many “ceremonial” objects of wealth; enormous, carved
and decorated weapons, stone implements, articles of domestic and industrial
nature, too well decorated and too clumsy for use. Such things are usually called
“ceremonial,” but this word seems to cover a great number of meanings and
much that has no meaning at all. In fact, very often, especially on museum
labels, an article is called “ceremonial” simply because nothing is known about
its uses and general nature. Speaking only about museum exhibits from New
Guinea, I can say that many so-called ceremonial objects are nothing but simply
overgrown objects of use, which preciousness of material and amount of labour
expended have transformed into reservoirs of condensed economic value. Again,
others are used on festive occasions, but play no part whatever in rites and
ceremonies, and serve for decoration only, and these might be called objects of
parade (comp. Chap VI, Div. I). Finally, a number of these articles function
actually as instruments of a magical or religious rite, and belong to the intrinsic
apparatus of a ceremony. Such and such only could be correctly called
ceremonial. During the So’i feasts among the Southern Massim, women carrying
polished axe blades in fine carved handles, accompany with a rythmic step to the
beat of drums, the entry of the pigs and mango saplings into the village (see
Plates V and VI). As this is part of the ceremony and the axes are an
indispensable accessory, their use in this case can be legitimately called
“ceremonial.” Again, in certain magical ceremonies in the Trobriands, the towosi
(garden magician) has to carry a mounted axe blade on his shoulders, and with it
he delivers a ritual blow at a kamkokola structure (see Plate LIX; compare
Chapter II, Division IV).
The vaygu’a—the Kula valuables—in one of their aspects are overgrown
objects of use. They are also, however, ceremonial objects in the narrow and
correct sense of the word. This will become clear after perusal of the following
pages, and to this point we shall return in the last chapter.
It must be kept in mind that here we are trying to obtain a clear and vivid idea
of what the Kula valuables are to the natives, and not to give a detailed and
circumstantial description of them, nor to define them with precision. The
comparison with the European heirlooms or Crown jewels was given in order to
show that this type of ownership is not entirely a fantastic South Sea custom,
untranslatable into our ideas. For—and this is a point I want to stress—the
comparison I have made is not based on purely external, superficial similarity.
The psychological and sociological forces at work are the same, it is really the
same mental attitude which makes us value our heirlooms, and makes the natives
in New Guinea value their vaygu’a.
The exchange of these two classes of vaygu’a, of the arm-shells and the
necklaces, constitutes the main act of the Kula. This exchange is not done freely,
right and left, as opportunity offers, and where the whim leads. It is subject
indeed to strict limitations and regulations. One of these refers to the sociology
of the exchange, and entails that Kula transactions can be done only between
partners. A man who is in the Kula —for not everyone within its district is
entitled to carry it on —has only a limited number of people with whom he deals
This partnership is entered upon in a definite manner, under fulfilment of certain
formalities, and it constitutes a life-long relationship. The number of partners a
man has varies with his rank and importance. A commoner in the Trobriands
would have a few partners only, whereas a chief would number hundreds of them.
There is no special social mechanism to limit the partnership of some people and
extend that of the others, but a man would naturally know to what number of
partners he was entitled by his rank and position. And there would be always the
example of his immediate ancestors to guide him. In other tribes, where the
distinction of rank is not so pronounced, an old man of standing, or a headman of
a hamlet or village would also have hundreds of Kula associates, whereas a man
of minor importance would have but few.
Two Kula partners have to kula with one another, and exchange other gifts
incidentally; they behave as friends, and have a number of mutual duties and
obligations, which vary with the distance between their villages and with their
reciprocal status. An average man has a few partners near by, as a rule his
relations-in-law or his friends, and with these partners, he is generally on very
friendly terms. The Kula partnership is one of the special bonds which unite two
men into one of the standing relations of mutual exchange of gifts and services
so characteristic of these natives. Again, the average man will have one or two
chiefs in his or in the neighbouring districts with whom he kulas. In such a case,
he would be bound to assist and serve them in various ways, and to offer them
the pick of his vaygu’a when he gets a fresh supply. On the other hand he would
expect them to be specially liberal to him.
The overseas partner is, on the other hand, a host, patron and ally in a land of
danger and insecurity. Nowadays, though the feeling of danger still persists, and
natives never feel safe and comfortable in a strange district, this danger is rather
felt as a magical one, and it is more the fear of foreign sorcery that besets them.
In olden days, more tangible dangers were apprehended, and the partner was the
main guarantee of safety. He also provides with food, gives presents, and his house,
though never used to sleep in, is the place in which to foregather while in the
village. Thus the Kula partnership provides every man within its ring with a few
friends near at hand, and with some friendly allies in the far-away, dangerous,
foreign districts. These are the only people with whom he can kula, but, of
course, amongst all his partners, he is free to choose to which one he will offer
which object.
Let us now try to cast a broad glance at the cumulative effects of the rules of
partnership. We see that all around the ring of Kula there is a network of
relationships, and that naturally the whole forms one interwoven fabric. Men
living at hundreds of miles’ sailing distance from one another are bound together
by direct or intermediate partnership, exchange with each other, know of each
other, and on certain occasions meet in a large intertribal gathering (Plate XX).
Objects given by one, in time reach some very distant indirect partner or other,
and not only Kula objects, but various articles of domestic use and minor gifts. It
is easy to see that in the long run, not only objects of material culture, but also
customs, songs, art motives and general cultural influences travel along the Kula
route. It is a vast, inter-tribal net of relationships, a big institution, consisting of
thousands of men, all bound together by one common passion for Kula exchange,
and secondarily, by many minor ties and interests.
Returning again to the personal aspect of the Kula, let us take a concrete
example, that of an average man who lives, let us assume, in the village of
Sinaketa, an important Kula centre in the Southern Trobriands. He has a few
partners, near and far, but they again fall into categories, those who give him armshells,
and those who give him necklaces. For it is naturally an invariable rule of
the Kula that arm-shells and necklaces are never received from the same man,
since they must travel in different directions. If one partner gives the arm-shells,
and I return to him a necklace, all future operations have to be of the same type.
More than that, the nature of the operation between me, the man of Sinaketa, and
my partner, is determined by our relative positions with regard to the points of
the compass. Thus I, in Sinaketa, would receive from the North and East only
arm-shells; from the South and West, necklaces are given to me. If I have a near
partner next door to me, if his abode is North or East of mine, he will always be
giving me arm-shells and receiving necklaces from me. If, at a later time he were
to shift his residence within the village, the old relationship would obtain, but if
he became a member of another village community on the other side of me the
relationship would be reversed. The partners in villages to the North of Sinaketa,
in the district of Luba, Kulumata, or Kiriwina all supply me with arm-shells.
These I hand over to my partners in the South, and receive from them necklaces.
The South in this case means the southern districts of Boyowa, as well as the
Amphletts and Dobu.
Thus every man has to obey definite rules as to the geographical direction of
his transactions. At any point in the Kula ring, if we imagine him turned towards
the centre of the circle, he receives the arm-shells with his left hand, and the
necklaces with his right, and then hands them both on. In other words, he
constantly passes the arm-shells from left to right, and the necklaces from right
to left.
Applying this rule of personal conduct to the whole Kula ring, we can see at
once what the aggregate result is. The sum total of exchanges will not result in an
aimless shifting of the two classes of article, in a fortuitous come and go of the
arm-shells and necklaces. Two continuous streams will constantly flow on, the
one of necklaces following the hands of a clock, and the other, composed of the
arm-shells; in the opposite direction. We see thus that it is quite correct to speak
of the circular exchange of the Kula, of a ring or circuit of moving articles
(comp. Map V). On this ring, all the villages are placed in a definitely fixed
position with regard to one another, so that one is always on either the arm-shell
or on the necklace side of the other.
Now we pass to another rule of the Kula, of the greatest importance. As just
explained “the armshells and shell-strings always travel in their own respective
directions on the ring, and they are never, under any circumstances, traded back
in the wrong direction. Also, they never stop. It seems almost incredible at first,
but it is the fact, nevertheless, that no one ever keeps any of the Kula valuables
for any length of time. Indeed, in the whole of the Trobriands there are perhaps
only one or two specially fine armshells and shell-necklaces permanently owned
as heirlooms, and these are set apart as a special class, and are once and for all
out of the Kula. ‘Ownership,’ therefore, in Kula, is quite a special economic
relation. A man who is in the Kula never keeps any article for longer than, say, a
year or two. Even this exposes him to the reproach of being niggardly, and
certain districts have the bad reputation of being ‘slow’ and ‘hard’ in the Kula. On
the other hand, each man has an enormous number of articles passing through his
hands during his life time, of which he enjoys a temporary possession, and which
he keeps in trust for a time. This possession hardly ever makes him use the
articles, and he remains under the obligation soon again to hand them on to one
of his partners. But the temporary ownership allows him to draw a great deal of
renown, to exhibit his article, to tell how he obtained it, and to plan to whom he
is going to give it. And all this forms one of the favourite subjects of tribal
conversation and gossip, in which the feats and the glory in Kula of chiefs or
commoners are constantly discussed and re-discussed.”* Thus every article
moves in one direction only, never comes back, never permanently stops, and
takes as a rule some two to ten years to make the round.
This feature of the Kula is perhaps its most remarkable one, since it creates a
new type of ownership, and places the two Kula articles in a class of their own.
Here we can return to the comparison drawn between the vaygu’a (Kiriwinian
valuables) and the European heirlooms. This comparison broke down on one
point: in the European objects of this class, permanent ownership, lasting
association with the hereditary dignity or rank or with a family, is one of its main
features. In this the Kula articles differ from heirlooms, but resemble another
type of valued object, that is, trophies, gauges of superiority, sporting cups,
objects which are kept for a time only by the winning party, whether a group or
an individual. Though held only in trust, only for a period, though never used in
any utilitarian way, yet the holders get from them a special type of pleasure by
the mere fact of owning them, of being entitled to them. Here again, it is not only
a superficial, external resemblance, but very much the same mental attitude,
favoured by similar social arrangements. The resemblance goes so far that in the
Kula there exists also the element of pride in merit, an element which forms the
main ingredient in the pleasure felt by a man or group holding a trophy. Success
in Kula is ascribed to special, personal power, due mainly to magic, and men are
very proud of it. Again, the whole community glories in a specially fine Kula
trophy, obtained by one of its members.
All the rules so far enumerated—looking at them from the individual point of
view—limit the social range and the direction of the transactions as well as the
duration of ownership of the articles. Looking at them from the point of view of
their integral effect, they shape the general outline of the Kula, give it the
* This and the following quotations are from the Author’s preliminary article
on the Kula in Man, July, 1920. Article number 51, p. 100.
character of the double-closed circuit. Now a few words must be said about the
nature of each individual transaction, in so far as its commercial technicalities
are concerned. Here very definite rules also obtain.
The main principle underlying the regulations of actual exchange is that the Kula
consists in the bestowing of a ceremonial gift, which has to be repaid by an
equivalent counter-gift after a lapse of time, be it a few hours or even minutes,
though sometimes as much as a year or more may elapse between payments.*
But it can never be exchanged from hand to hand, with the equivalence between
the two objects discussed, bargained about and computed. The decorum of the
Kula transaction is strictly kept, and highly valued. The natives sharply
distinguish it from barter, which they practise extensively, of which they have a
clear idea, and for which they have a settled term—in Kiriwinian: gimwali.
Often, when criticising an incorrect, too hasty, or indecorous procedure of Kula,
they will say: “He conducts his Kula as if it were gimwali.”
The second very important principle is that the equivalence of the counter-gift
is left to the giver, and it cannot be enforced by any kind of coercion. A partner
who has received a Kula gift is expected to give back fair and full value, that is,
to give as good an arm-shell as the necklace he receives, or vice versa. Again, a
very fine article must be replaced by one of equivalent value, and not by several
minor ones, though intermediate gifts may be given to mark time before the real
repayment takes place.
If the article given as counter-gift is not equivalent, the recipient will be
disappointed and angry, but he has no direct means of redress, no means of
coercing his partner, or of putting an end to the whole transaction. What then are
the forces at work which keep the partners to the terms of the bargain? Here we
come up against a very important feature of the native’s mental attitude towards
wealth and value. The great misconception of attributing to the savage a pure
economic nature, might lead us to reason incorrectly thus: “The passion of
acquiring, the loathing to lose or give away, is the fundamental and most
primitive element in man’s attitude to wealth. In primitive man, this primitive
characteristic will appear in its simplest and purest form. Grab and never let go
will be the guiding principle of his life.”* The fundamental error in this
reasoning is that it assumes that “primitive man,” as represented by the presentday
savage, lives, at least in economic matters, untrammelled by conventions and
social restrictions. Quite the reverse is the case Although, like every human
* In order not to be guilty of inconsistency in using loosely the word “ceremonial” I shall
define it briefly. I shall call an action ceremonial, if it is (1) public; (2) carried on under
observance of definite formalities; (3) if it has sociological, religious, or magical import,
and carries with it obligations.

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