Originally posted Thursday, September 20, 2012


Trobrianders use yams as currency, and consider them a sign of wealth and power.

The Trobriand Islanders use yams as currency.  Their practices are summarized in the Wikipedia.

Each year, a man grows yams for his sister, and his daughter if she is married. The husband does not provide yams to his wife. The more yams a woman receives, the more powerful and rich she is. The husband is expected to give his wife’s father or brother a gift in turn for the yams they give his wife. When the woman is first married, she receives yams from her father until the woman’s brother thinks his sister and her husband are old enough for him to give the yams.

Trobriand Island Yam House courtesy of Wikitravel.

At the beginning of the yam harvest, the yams stay on display in gardens for about a month before the gardener takes them to the owner. The owner is always a woman. There is a great ceremony for this every year. The yams are loaded into the woman’s husband’s empty yam house. Young people come to the gardens dressed in their most festive traditional clothes early on the day the yams are delivered to the yam house. The young people are all related to the gardener, and carry the yam baskets to the owner’s hamlet. When they get to the owner’s hamlet, they sing out to announce the arrival of the yams while thrusting out their hips in a sexually provocative motion. This emphasizes the relation between yams and sexuality. A few days later, the gardener comes and loads the yam house, and the man is now responsible for the yam.

The yam house owner provides the gardener and young people with cooked yams, taro, and pork. Sometimes, no pig is killed, perhaps because the yam house owner did not have a pig to spare. The yam house owner also may decide not kill a pig for the gardener because he is unsatisfied with the number of yams, or is angry with the gardener for another reason. Once the yam houses are full, a man performs a special magic spell for the hamlet that wards off hunger by making people feel full. The women also use bundles of scored banana leaves as a type of currency between themselves. As many days of work are required to make bundles each each one has an assigned value and can be used to buy canned foods as well as given away in exchange for other goods.

A good cultural anthropologist may be desirable to exotic customs of that magnificent and mysterious tribe, indigenous to the United States, the Federal Open Market Committee.  Entering the 43rd straight month of >8% unemployment one begins to wonder whether the FOMC is as reliant upon magic spells in the conduct of their policy as are their more refined counterparts of Papua New Guinea.