Masculinity, Motherhood, and Mockery

Psychoanalyzing Culture and the Iatmul Naven Rite in New Guinea
Eric Kline Silverman
An important ethnographic analysis of motherhood in one Melanesian society


Masculinity, Motherhood, and Mockery analyzes the relationship between masculinity and motherhood in an Eastern Iatmul village along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. It focuses on a metaphorical dialogue between two countervailing images of the body, dubbed by literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the "moral" and the "grotesque." Eastern Iatmul men in Tambunum village idealize an image of motherhood that is nurturing, sheltering, cleansing, fertile, and chaste—in a word, moral. But men also fear an equally compelling image of motherhood that is defiling, dangerous, orificial, aggressive, and carnal—hence, grotesque. Masculinity in Tambunum is a rejoinder both subtle and strident, both muted and impassioned, to these contrary, embodied images of motherhood.

Throughout this work, Eric Silverman details the dialogics of mothering and manhood throughout Eastern Iatmul culture, including in his analysis cosmology and myth; food- and childraising; architecture and canoes; ethnophysiology and sexuality; shame and hygiene; marriage and kinship; and perhaps most significantly, a ceremonial locus classicus in anthropology: the famous Iatmul naven rite. This book provides the first sustained examination of naven since Bateson, presenting new data and interpretations that are based entirely on original, first-hand ethnographic research.

The sustained engagement with anthropological and psychoanalytic theory coupled with a refreshing examination of a famous and still-enigmatic ritual is sure to make multiple contributions to pressing debates in contemporary anthropology and social theory.

Eric Silverman is Associate Professor of Anthropology, DePauw University.

Praise / Awards

  • "At last a book that dares to make the jump from classic social or psychological anthropology to Freudian interpretation."
    --Bernard Juillerat, C.N.R.S. (Paris)
  • "This book is a fascinating examination of the psychodynamics and cultural anchorages of masculinity and motherhood among the Iatmul, lords of the East Sepik River region of New Guinea. Ethnographically rich, theoretically astute, it will stand hereafter as the definitive study of naven, an Iatmul ceremony that has teased the anthropological imagination for generations."
    --Donald Tuzin, University of California, San Diego
  • "This book is a persuasive, compelling analysis of the construction of Iatmul masculinity. It presents a fascinating, in-depth case study of how masculinity may come to be defined only in relation to, and in interaction with, conceptions and images of womanhood and femininity."
    --Douglas Hollan, University of California, Los Angeles
  • "A fascinating contribution to Melanesian studies . . . a multilayered, often erudite study, which theoretically links Bakhtin and Freudian analysis in what the author describes as a series of cultural 'conversations' ongoing in Iatmul society . . . the ethnographic richness is exemplary."
    --Gelbert Herdt, San Francisco State University
  • ". . . a rich and detailed account of the ritual's place in the lives of the Eastern Iatmul of Tambunam village. . . . This is a daring and enjoyable work, in which the author's enthusiasm for things Iatmul or Freudian is evident on every page. "
    --Don Gardner, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, October 2002

Look Inside

Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2001.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 264pp.
  • 2 drawings, 10 photographs, 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06757-2

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  • $33.95 U.S.