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The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World [Paperback]

Bruce Knauft
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 15 2004 0072972637 978-0072972634 1
What is it like for a native people of the rainforest to confront features of a modern world? In 1980-82, the Gebusi of Papua New Guinea held elaborate ritual dances and spirit seances, practiced alternative sexual customs, and endured a very high rate of violence. By 1998, however, most Gebusi had been willingly transformed by Christian conversion, schooling, market activity, disco music, sports leagues, and local government. This book vividly portrays both the traditions and the dramatic changes of Gebusi society and culture. Written especially for students, the account uses personal stories and ethnographic examples to connect developments among Gebusi to topics that are widely considered in anthropology courses, including comparative features of subsistence, kinship, economics, politics, religion, gender, ethnicity, and nationalism.

The author lived among the Gebusi for several years, on two occasions. His account of his experience with these fascinating people aims to illustrate issues and topics prominent in undergraduate anthropology courses; provide a dramatic, personal, and well-written story of cultural transformation; and unfold the relation between so-called traditional customs and so-called modern ones. His goal in publishing the ethnography is "to let the Gebusi come alive to readers, to portray their past and their present, and to connect their dramatic changes with those in my own life and those in contemporary anthropology."

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About the Author

Bruce Knauft is Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and Executive Director of the Institute of Critical International Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. He has taught a broad range of students, including many who have gone on to conduct anthropological fieldwork in diverse world areas. Author of seven books and numerous journal articles and chapters, Professor Knauft has written extensively on topics and issues in cultural anthropology. He has been interested in the Gebusi people of Papua New Guinea since his first fieldwork among them in 1980–82.

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4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Ethnography April 7 2005
By A Customer
Knauft's the Gebusi is a perfect read not only for the undergraduate anthropology student but also for the average reader interested in culture and travel.
Knauft has a well written book that is easy to read, as well as enjoyable. This book is not a "stuffy academic tome" but an informative and helpful book.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Gebusi April 30 2010
By Patricia Gumbs - Published on Amazon.com
"Anthropology is little if not the discovery of the human unexpected" (4). The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World, is a very interesting ethnography which depicts this very statement. It vividly captures the story of Bruce Knauft, a young anthropologist who set out to the island of Papua New Guinea to observe the lives of the Gebusi. When he first arrived, this native group was known primarily for its sexual freedom, "traditional" religious practices, and violent nature. Throughout his time spent in this village, however, Knauft made several startling conclusions about the Gebusi that only partially supported these conceptions.
Knauft's experience living with the Gebusi is broken down into three major time periods. The first time period examines the lives of the Gebusi between the years 1980 and 1982. From 1980 to 1982, the Gebusi culture was best described with the word "kogwayay." To put it simply, "Kogwayay refers to the customs that make the Gebusi different from others" (17). According to Knauft, "it refers especially to their distinctive traditions of singing, dancing, and bodily decoration" (17). The Gebusi culture was so unique that many found it difficult to even describe in words.
The second stage that Knauft discusses is the life of the Gebusi during the year of 1998. By this time, much of the population has converted to Christianity. In addition, external forces such as steel tools and colonial pacification "were not just present, but increasingly central" (94). By 1998, the age of mortality has risen dramatically. In addition, the Gebusi were much more involved in organizations and activities, which ultimately led to their being "more punctual and disciplined than previously" (98).
The third and final category that Knauft discusses takes place during the year 2008. By this time, the lives of the Gebusi had transformed even more dramatically. Knauft noticed that the inhabitants "possessions were indeed fewer, their clothes more torn, their ports more battered, and their knives and axes more worn than they had been before" (164). In addition, the Gebusi were not growing as much food as in previous years, and that traditional initiation customs had been "resuscitated and maintained" (167).
Overall, I enjoyed this ethnography, although not nearly as much as the others. I thought that the fact that there is so little social theory in this book made it difficult to come up with any direction to write this paper. I enjoyed reading about the lives or the Gebusi because they seem like an entertaining, unique group, but out of all of the ethnoraphies we had to read for this class, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance was by far my favorite.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it for class, captivated by the culture. Oct. 2 2010
By Jesse L. Reid - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Of the three books assigned for my anthropology course, The Gebusi was the only one that actually spoke to me. Knauft's writing style is exceptionally captivating as he tells the life story of such a wonderful culture. Knauft's descriptive writing allows an exceptional view of their daily lives, it almost seems as the reader grows to know the Gebusi themselves. I highly recommend The Gebusi for anyone studying anthropology, or anyone who loves reading about other culture's changes over time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and insightfull. May 9 2011
By J. Silvia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is very well written and while short in length this book is long on interesting Anthropological content. I picked this up for an Anthropology class and I enjoyed the book so much that I've recommended it to friends.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! Feb. 4 2011
By ascarta - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book for a class and I was shocked at how well i enjoyed it. The author makes studding a (in my view) boring topic into an interesting one.

even if your not looking to use this book for a class its a great read with caricature that really come alive. I felt for every one of them and feel i connect with them.
4.0 out of 5 stars pretty good book. easy to read. April 27 2010
By Corie Hutter - Published on Amazon.com
The introduction to the ethnography begins with how Bruce Knauft came to Gebusi. It also provides an overview of Gebusi culture including some history about what life was like before he arrived. He explains that he has visited the Gebusi multiple times and their lives have changed drastically each time he comes back. He explains how much their traditions have changed since he visited for the first time in 1980 to his last visit in 2008.
Chapter one begins the detailed explanation of what life in Gebusi was like in the 1980's. He talks about how the people reacted when he and his wife first arrived in the village. This chapter explained the history of their violence and tension with a neighboring group, the Bedamini, and how the Australian officials assisted the Gebusi with this problem. He explains how he interacted with different people in Yibihilu.
Chapter two discusses how the Gebusi are able to survive in the rainforest climate. There is an explanation of the longhouse and how is the center of the village life. The main food of the Gebusi is plantains meaning they consume a lot of starch. They have only semi-domesticated pigs because they don't want to waste their energy raising pigs just so they can have a frequent source of protein. Meat is often only eaten on special occasions. Knauft also describes how he was swept away by Gebusi culture.
Chapter three describes how the lives of the Gebusi are overrun with death. Few infants live past 5 years old. Most Gebusi don't live past 40. This chapter explains what happened during the case of a man who killed himself. It also explains how they believe all deaths are caused by sorcery and they feel the need to attack and kill the person responsible for the sorcery. Women are the ones who do the most grieving. Chapter four discusses family life in Gebusi and marriages have to be reciprocated by the woman. A woman cannot be forced to marry. It also discusses how women are more likely to be killed for sorcery accusations than men. Chapter five goes more in depth about the spirit séances and chapter six discusses the process of initiating new men into adulthood and the very spiritual process that is involved. These chapters are all about how the Gebusi celebrate and they are very indicative of what their religion means to them.
Chapter seven begins with Knauft's return to Gebusi in 1998. It describes how it was almost like he was coming to the village for the first time because so much had changed since he had left. He noticed how he was still able to stay friends with the people he had met on his first visit, the ones that were still alive at least. The people had moved closer to Nomad Station, the government settlement not far from their old village. They had vastly different lives than they had in 1980. Chapter eight goes into how the Gebusi had mostly given up their old spirit religion in favor of various branches of Christianity. Knauft noticed that their lives were far less violent now because they no longer practiced killing people who were accused of sorcery.
Chapter nine discusses the new economic situation of the Gebusi. They now go to the Nomad market and sell goods for money. They don't usually sell very much. This chapter makes it very clear how different our market economy is to the economy of the Gebusi and how they view the exchange of money very different from us. This chapter also discusses the practice of sports among Gebusi men.
Chapter ten explains how Gebusi sexual practices changed from 1980 to 1998. They no longer practice the sexual initiation of males. Courtship is also very different; there is a conflict between sister-exchange and bride-wealth to be used for determining marriages. This chapter provides two examples of the differences. Much of the tradition is gone in Gebusi. Chapter eleven explains this even further. The people no longer do the traditional dances because they feel they go against their new religions. This chapter also goes into how the celebration of their independence day has changed over the years.
Chapter twelve covers Knauft's last visit in 2008 and it discusses how the Gebusi changed even further in the elapsed time. He found that government officials had essentially abandoned them and they now did not have many of the modern amenities they had in 1998. He wondered if this was some sort of step backwards. Knauft was pleased to find that they had not returned to their violence of 1980. The conclusion wraps up and brings together all the changes that happened to the Gebusi that happened over the years.
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