Gender, Song, and Sensibility: Folktales and Folksongs in the Highlands of New Guinea by Pamela J. Stewart

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Pamela J. Stewart
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Book review

The authors present a historical picture of gender relations in Highlands New Guinea by exploring domains of imagination as revealed in courting songs, ballads, and folktales from across the Highlands but with particular reference to field areas in the western Highlands. Texts and/or translations are from a rich corpus of materials previously unpublished in English. The examples draw the reader into the imaginative world of the people, while the analytical framework sets the discussion firmly into debates within interpretive anthropology.

The aim is to re-examine the images of gender relations in Highlands New Guinea by revealing the sensuous and emotional modalities of expressive folk genres and their aesthetic qualities. Ideas and practices centered on female spirit entities are shown to be important and pervasive in cult contexts, and these spirits were felt to have a significant influence on relations of courtship, marriage, and reproduction. Both women and men are also shown to have complex expressions of emotional dispositions in the spheres of courting and the choice of marital partners. By entering into these domains, the book modifies earlier analyses that have concentrated on antagonism, behavioral taboos, separation, and domination as themes in gender relations in Highland societies.


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