From Sepik to Slovenia and return: an encounter with Sepik ethnographers in Ljubljana

 When they are not in the field confronting the rainforest climate of Papua New Guinea, Borut Telban and Tomi Bartole, two researchers among the few specialists of the remote East Sepik Province, work in the temperate climate of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital.
Borut has conducted ethnographic fieldwork and anthropological research along the Konmei and Arafundi rivers for decades, after he received his PhD from the Australian National University in 1994. Tomi is currently living and working in the U.K., where he received his PhD from the University of St Andrews in 2017 after fieldwork conducted in the Awim village. His last visit to his research department in the Slovenian Academy of Science, the Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies, from which he was granted a post-doctoral grant, was an opportunity for members of the Papuan Past Project to meet the two anthropologists and discuss both groups’ research.

S. Plutniak’s talk, first slide.

In the first part of his talk, he gave an overview of the Papuan Past Project and its different lines of investigation. Then, he focused on the first results of the research regarding the sociology of knowledge. During the 2018 fieldwork, S. Plutniak started to investigate the distribution of knowledge about the caves and cavities (ornate and non-ornate) in the research area, and the community (social structure) of Awim village. In this framework, “knowledge” is understood very approximately, in terms of toponyms known by someone and of knowledge of the ownership (by subclans) of the places these toponyms refer to. Furthermore, the “community” and its social structure are empirically addressed in three complementary ways: 1) in terms of emic categories for clans and sub-clans; 2) in terms of kinship networks; and 3) in terms of “advice networks”, generated by asking participants to identify people in the community who have knowledge about the caves and cavities. This on-going research uses sociological methods rather than ethnographic methods; presenting and discussing this approach with experienced anthropologists led to fruitful criticisms and discussions. After this first meeting we hope that we will continue to share ideas on these topics in the future. First observations and results of this research have been integrated as a chapter in the yearly research report sent to the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, who fund the project.

Both Borut and Tomi published a paper in the recent issue of the Journal de la société des océanistes on Sepik research, as already reported in this blog.


Redaction: Plutniak.
English correction: Rebecca Coles.
Publishing: Plutniak.