Mortgaging the bridewealth: Problems with brothers and problems with value

Karen Sykes


In this article I raise some questions about the nature of value, largely as these arise from a situation in which the implicit value of the brother-sister relationship is foregrounded and questioned as a challenge to the dignity of Papua New Guinean women living in North Queensland, Australia. In analyses of several case studies of how husbands and wives finance bridewealth payments with new personal financial arrangements, it is possible to identify the outline of a moral economy of risk and interest that has arisen in the last generation. Papua New Guinean women’s esteem for their clansmen (as well as their lack of it) is a measure that insures the persistence of their marital households against the risks and interests posed by their brothers. Following the theoretical arguments of Chris Gregory and of Anna Tsing (part one of this special issue), I show how anthropologists, like their informants, must always repose old questions about the nature of value as they sort out issues that arise in contemporary ethnography, and in matters of concern for their own lives.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.2.007