The History of Melanesian Society


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[The name kolekole] is given to performances, often of a very elaborate nature, which are, at any rate in many cases, closely connected with the organization of the sukwe and in which much of the ceremonial can only be carried out by those who have been initiated into certain ranks of this institution or into the tamate societies [parallel secret or "ghost" societies, of which there are seventy-seven in Mota]. The corresponding verb is kole and there are certain objects in connection with which it is customary or obligatory to have a kolekole in which a man is said to kole the object. Among objects so treated are ornaments of various kinds, especially the hats or masks of the sukwe, houses, trees, or stones, while it would seem that a man might kole with no other notion than that of acquiring the reputation of having done so. There is probably, however, far more meaning in such a procedure than my scanty investigations were able to elicit. The greater the number of things a man has been able to kole, the greater is his prestige and the higher his general position in society. . . .

Among the most important objects which a man should kole are various articles connected with the sukwe, and especially the hats or masks, and it seemed that it is from these performances that the chief pleasures of the sukwe are derived, for there are many features of the performances which are only open to those who have been initiated into certain departments of the ritual of the sukwe and tamate societies. . . . One of the chief objects which a woman should kole is the house. This is not necessary for men, but is incumbent on every woman unless she is to be continually subject to great inconvenience. A house which has been submitted to this ceremony is called gavur lava and a woman who has not herself performed such a ceremony would be prohibited from entering or even approaching a house of this kind. A more elaborate kolekole ceremony gives a house the name of tamate woroworo and here again such a house may only be approached by a woman who has performed the appropriate ceremony, i.e., only women whose own houses are tamate woroworo may approach a house of that character. A woman who had not performed these ceremonies would be unable to use a path which passed by a house of the kind which she might not enter. . . .

There is much competition between different people in carrying out the kolekole ceremonial. Each man whose daughter or niece has to kole will try to outdo the performance of his neighbors. The chief features of a kolekole are the dance, the killing of pigs, and the payments to those who participate, and everyone will try to excel his neighbor in the splendor of the dance, the number of the slaughtered pigs, and the liberality of payment. The whole behavior of the people seems to be exactly of the same kind as when among ourselves people endeavor to gain social kudos by the splendor of weddings or funerals which may occur in their families. . . .

A man who has spent large sums of money in order to rise high in the sukwe has partly done so in order that by receiving money from those initiated later he may acquire wealth which will enable him to help his children and other relatives to follow in his footsteps. That such an idea is clearly present in the minds of the people is shown by the reasons given for the gift of the tamate woroworo by Gapal to his niece. . . . I think there can be no doubt that one of the motives which leads a man to advance in the sukwe or to enter his children is an idea corresponding very closely with that which underlies our practice of investment of capital. From one point of view, then, the sukwe and tamate societies and other associated institutions form a complex organization by means of which wealth is acquired, and since it is only the rich or those with rich friends who can advance far in these bodies, the organization is a means for the perpetuation and even the accentuation of differences of social rank in so far as this rank is dependent on the possession of wealth . . . [but a man] however high in the sukwe he may be, will suffer social depreciation if he does not undertake such expense. Mr. Durrad was told that when a man reaches high rank in the sukwe and has thereby the power of amassing wealth, he would be considered unworthy of respect and honor if he hoarded his gains. To retain his influence and glory he must distribute his money by paying people to work for him in his gardens and by giving splendid kolekole performances.1

1Rivers, W.H. R., n/an/an/an/a , 1: 130–141, passim (Cambridge University Press. By permission).


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Chicago: "The History of Melanesian Society," The History of Melanesian Society in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022,

MLA: . "The History of Melanesian Society." The History of Melanesian Society, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022.

Harvard: , 'The History of Melanesian Society' in The History of Melanesian Society. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from