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October 2021

''Whitemen'' are good to think with: How Orokaiva morality is reflected on whitemen's skin

Journal/Book: Identities Glob Stud Cult Pow. 2000; 7: C/O Stbs Ltd, PO Box 90, Reading Rg1 8Jl, Berks, England. Gordon Breach Sci Publ Ltd. 281-332.

Abstract: The construction of whiteness by Orokaiva people in Papua New Guinea parallels in many ways the western construction of race that was imposed on them during a century of historical engagement with western powers. But its premises and moral concerns arise out of contemporary Orokaiva culture, and its moral ambiguities reflect the complex racial dynamic of the postcolonial situation. Orokaiva interpret the whiteness of whitemen's skin as a highly-charged quality of ''brightness'' that is associated with the visibility and attractiveness of western commodity wealth. In the indigenous moral economy, whitemen's brightness and wealth signify an absence of the moral problems of jealousy, sorcery, theft, and violence that prevent Orokaiva individuals from developing and maintaining wealth at a level beyond that of their peers. Although there are also ways in which Orokaiva inferiorize whitemen, constructing them in opposition to indigenous virtues like generosity, in the quality of brightness Orokaiva construct whitemen as a moral other that is ''good to think with'' as a foil for Orokaiva criticisms of themselves and their society. Through the symbolism of whitemen, Orokaiva blame themselves and their race for their subordinate position in the world economy; pet, at the same time, they assert the primacy of local relations and local moral problems, and in so doing, they effectively construct ''the whiteman'' as a cultural other that projects essential dimensions of their own non-capitalist ethos onto a wider world, thereby protecting their own ethos and resisting forms of inequality that capitalism promotes.

Note: Article Bashkow I, Univ Virginia, Dept Anthropol, POB 400120, Charlottesville,VA 22904 USA

Keyword(s): Orokaiva; Papua New Guinea; race relations; whiteness; concepts of the other; CARGO CULTS

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