For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Argonauts of the Western Pacific

by Malinowski, Bronislaw (2002)

Key Passage

THE canoe, painted and decorated, stands now ready to be launched, a source of pride to the owners and to the makers, and an object of admiration to the other beholders. A new sailing craft is not only another utility created; it is more: it is a new entity sprung into being, something with which the future destinies of the sailors will be bound up, and on which they will depend. There can be no doubt that this sentiment is also felt by the natives and expressed in their customs and behaviour. The canoe receives a personal name, it becomes an object of intense interest to the whole district. Its qualities, points of beauty, and of probable perfection or faultiness are canvassed round the fires at night. The owner and his kinsmen and fellow villagers will speak of it with the usual boasting and exaggerations, and the others will all be very keen to see it, and to watch its performances. Thus the institution of ceremonial launching is not a mere formality prescribed by custom; it corresponds to the psychological needs of the community, it rouses a great interest, and is very well attended even when the canoe belongs to a small community. When a big chief’s canoe is launched, whether that of Kasanai or Omarakana, Olivilevi or Sinaketa, up to a thousand natives will assemble on the beach.This festive and public display of a finished canoe, with its full paint and ornament, is not only in harmony with the natives’ sentiments towards a new sailing craft; it also agrees with the way they treat in general the results of their economic activities. Whether in gardening or in fishing, in the building of houses or in industrial achievements, there is a tendency to display the products, to arrange them, and even adorn at least certain classes of them, so as to produce a big, aesthetic effect. In fishing, there are only traces of this tendency, but in gardening, it assumes very great proportions, and the handling, arranging and display of garden produce is one of the most characteristic features of their tribal life, and it takes up much time and work. (p.158-159)


No Keywords


Malinowski, Anthropology of Work



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