“Becoming Gamblers: Economic Transformation and the Proliferation of Gambling in the Western Pacific”: The pre-colonial economies of the Western Pacific are famous for their emphasis on reciprocity. Gambling is axiomatically not reciprocal; it stipulates that winners don’t owe a debt to losers, and gambling was completely absent from the region before European contact. However, once introduced, gambling games were both enthusiastically adopted and dramatically transformed to reflect the thoughts of Islanders experiencing intense upheaval. My current research investigates the rising tide of gambling through a combination of archival and secondary source material, ethnographic fieldwork and Geographic Information Systems mapping techniques. In this presentation I track gambling in Papua New Guinea in the four decades from 1931 to 1971, during which it went from a practice peculiar to Islanders who were in regular contact with Europeans to a staple of village life and a recognisably Papua New Guinean activity with a common set of rules. I argue that gambling has furnished Islanders with a conceptual scaffolding with which to engage powerful exogenous economic forces like the indentured labour system and the radical political and cosmological transformation engendered by colonisation and missionization. I conclude that careful attention to gambling facilitates a form of cross-cultural comparison rooted in the lived experience of economic transformation and helps anthropologists locate latent economic agency at the capitalist periphery.
Thursday, April 4, 2019, 10:00 am – 11:00 am