Knowledge practices in the Mountain Ok or Min area of Papua New Guinea have, since Fredrik Barth's pioneering Baktaman study, come to exemplify ‘secrecy’ in Melanesian ethnography and have consequently represented something of an enigma to anthropological interpretation. This paper reports research among the Angkaiyakmin of Bolivip village, Western Province, and addresses the problem posed by Min revelatory practices. The Barthian paradigm interprets awem as ‘secret knowledge’, and holds that revelations are restricted to infrequent performances of male initiation rituals which serve to manage the distribution of secrets exclusively among suitably qualified men. The Bolivip data, however, suggest that awem (glossed here as ‘important’) is more widely known, and conventionally revealed to women and junior initiates in hidden contexts. Through analysing the movements involved in composing efficacious forms by combining ‘halves' in Bolivip, and illustrating the comparison Angkaiyakmin draw between taro gardening and cult ritual, the paper argues for a reorientation of approaches to ‘secrecy’ and to conceptions of ‘knowledge’.
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|Published - Jun 1999