1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

How to Win at Cards: Hints and Tips from the New Guinea Highlands

In the Highland town of Goroka, gambling capital of Papua New Guinea, knowing how to play is second nature. There is no shortage of card games, yet two dominate the landscape, the most longstanding of which (kwin) I discuss in this paper. Gambling as a practice is of colonial origin, but the games are indigenous forms; I attempt to unravel one game’s intricacies and through it how Gorokan ideas play out every day on the street corner. I do this the only way of really knowing a game: exploring the attributes and attitudes required for victory. Doing so leads the anthropologist into a web of cause and effect, pivots and patterns, speaking to some of the core themes associated with what has become known as the New Melanesian Ethnography. The material affords an opportunity to explore the form of Gorokan ideas about abstraction and self-direction, and substantiates a critique directed against scholars with a propensity to replicate an unchanging Melanesian personhood in their models. This is because some theories of causality in Melanesian anthropology only allow for one possible model, and thus imply that Melanesians are incapable of reifying their own model and acting upon it. It is argued that while Melanesianist models seem to get cumulatively more abstract, Melanesians themselves are often denied their own propensity to see the big picture, a situation I find ethnographically untenable. I tentatively propose that Gorokan abstraction adds another dimension to causality that allows us to more easily grasp Melanesian social change.

Event Date: 
Friday, 11 November 2011 - 3:30pm
Anthony Pickles
Speaker Title: 
PhD Candidate, Centre for Pacific Studies, University of St Andrews
Event Type: