Reincarnation redux

Mark S. Mosko


Jarillo et al.’s attempted refutation of Malinowski’s claims as to Trobrianders’ “universally” shared belief in baloma reincarnation fails. Contrary to their claims, Malinowski’s “Baloma” article (1916) documented wide, often contradictory variation in Islanders’ opinions which his revolutionary methodology was explicitly aimed at resolving. Jarillo et al.’s multidisciplinary research has not produced an explanatory model sufficient to supersede Malinowski’s solution—the formulation of the culture as a functionally integrated totality. Methodologically, they incorporate ethnographic preconceptions arising from Euro-American assumptions about indigenous personhood, agency, exchange, hierarchy, and the afterlife which are incapable of shedding new light on beliefs and practices current in Malinowski’s time. Their claims as to Malinowski’s own Western preconceptions do not change the documented fact that reincarnation beliefs predate his arrival. Finally, Jarillo et al.’s Trobriand collaborators and survey participants have been selected through non-random procedures at variance with the standards of quantitative social science.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709522