Recycling values: Perspectives from Melanesia

André Iteanu


This article evolved from an ethnographic contradiction. Many monographs on Melanesia and Polynesia mention the idea that after the arrival of the “Whites,” the deities or the ancestors abandoned their descendants to emigrate far away to foreign countries, often those of the Whites. This is all the more puzzling in that the same ethnographies attest that the societies concerned accord very high value to these deities and ancestors. I propose a solution to this puzzle here by using Louis Dumont’s views on the relation between encompassing and encompassed values. From this perspective, these travels, made under the influence of contemporary changes, appear to result from the recycling of an old subordinated value manifested by the ancestors' senseless wandering, which is omnipresent in the oral literature of these same societies.


values, hierarchy, change, Christianity, Melanesia

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.1.007