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Of Humans, Pigs, and Souls

An Essay on the Yagwoia "Womba" Complex

For the Yagwoia-Angan people of Papua New Guinea, womba is a malignant power with the potential to afflict any soul with cravings for pig meat and human flesh. Drawing on long-term research among the Yagwoia, and in an analysis informed by phenomenology and psychoanalysis, Jadran Mimica explores the womba complex in its local cultural-existential determinations and regional permutations. He attends to the lived experience of this complex in relation to the wider context of mortuary practices, feasting, historical cannibalism, and sorcery. His account of womba illuminates the moral meanings of Yagwoia selfhood and associated senses of subjectivity and agency. Mimica concludes by reflecting on the recent escalation of concerns with witchcraft and sorcery in Papua New Guinea, specifically in relation to a new wave of Christian evangelism occurring in partnership with the state. 

178 pages | 1 halftone, 1 figure | 5 x 8

Malinowski Monographs

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Biological Sciences: Botany

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"Complex spatial and temporal settings define this creative work. . . . Mimica stands out for his linguistic competence and his intense focus on subjectivity. His close reading will likely gain in stature as the region becomes subject to comparative, transformational analysis, a circumstance Mimica’s intense description facilitates. . . . Mimica’s erudition rises on every page."

Pacific Affairs

“For Jadran Mimica, a lecturer at the University of Sydney, womba affliction has its origin in local ideas of kinship, which involve people consuming one another’s bodies and energies to make other bodies and energies. Pork offers a substitute for human flesh, but womba can also be seen in infancy, when the baby is parasitic on its mother in the womb and then at her breast. This ‘appetitive passion’ used to take many forms in Yagwoia culture, including endo and exocannibalism, necrophagy, seminal nurture (institutionalised homosexuality) and the consumption of raw or putrid flesh, both human and pig. Eating and being eaten is what makes the world go round.”

London Review of Books

"This book is original in its subject matter and provides rich and detailed analyses of how morality and selfhood are actualized in the Yagwoia lifeworld."


"This book is an embarrassment of riches both ethnographic and theoretical. The depth and scope of Mimica's ambition are rare. His inimitable writing style carries the reader forward headlong, at times breathlessly. His choice and treatment of topics—Christianity, shamanism, mind, personhood, and subjectivity—are very much of the moment. The presentation and analysis of Yagwoia men's dreams demonstrates why psychoanalysis, skilfully deployed, remains indispensable in ethnography, especially the notion that the outsider, self-aware, steeped in knowledge of and sympathy for the other, is often well-equipped to represent the other's subjectivity. Mimica's fine-grained portraits of individual Yagwoia and their milieux, created over many years, add to the authority of his insights into the Yagwoia life-world."

Gillian Gillison, author of Between culture and fantasy: A New Guinea Highlands mythology

"This is a remarkable text. It is evident that we are in the hands of both a major intellect and a masterful ethnographer. The work is a powerful one."

Michael Lambek, author of The Ethical Condition: Essays on Action, Person, and Value

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