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Exchanging the Past

A Rainforest World of Before and After

Twenty years ago, the Gebusi of the lowland Papua New Guinea rainforest had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Bruce M. Knauft found then that the killings stemmed from violent scapegoating of suspected sorcerers. But by the time he returned in 1998, homicide rates had plummeted, and Gebusi had largely disavowed vengeance against sorcerers in favor of modern schools, discos, markets, and Christianity.

In this book, Knauft explores the Gebusi’s encounter with modern institutions and highlights what their experience tells us more generally about the interaction between local peoples and global forces. As desire for material goods grew among Gebusi, Knauft shows that they became more accepting of and subordinated by Christian churches, community schools,and government officials in their attempt to benefit from them—a process Knauft terms "recessive agency." But the Gebusi also respond actively to modernity, creating new forms of feasting, performance, and music that meld traditional practices with Western ones, all of which Knauft documents in this fascinating study.

303 pages | 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2002

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Religion: Christianity, South and East Asian Religions

Sociology: General Sociology

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. A World of Before and After
2. Sorcerers of the Past
3. The Severed Head and Other Affairs, 1982-98
4. The Guards of Nomad
5. The Demise of Sorcery’s Revenge
6. The New Spirit
7. School Bells and the Energy of Hard Benches
8. The Corners in the Round
9. Subaltern Modern

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