DOI: 10.1002/ocea.5373 ISSN: 0029-8077

‘Stalked by the Malignant Father's Spirit: A Case of Patricide among the Yagwoia (PNG)’ by Jadran Mimica

Gillian Gillison
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Anthropology


Jadran Mimica presents the ‘life‐world’ of Yagwoia people of Papua New Guinea as a unique variant of the Jungian Ouroboric archetype, a primal pattern or symbol derived from the ancient Greek ‘tail devourer’ (the serpent that eats its own tail), found in many cultures and individual unconscious phantasies. Treated in terms of ‘ouroboric dialectics’, relations between Yagwoia father and son are hostile, even patricidal, because the son's very existence derives from the father's ‘continuous and irreversible’ transfer to him of his limited supply of vital substance or ‘paternal bone’. Sons replace fathers in ways that fathers may experience as ‘violent loss of … generative bodily core’, a process that Mimica asserts ‘can only be adequately understood through individual‐biographical life‐situations and trajectories’. In bypassing anthropology's classical terrain, or treating Yagwoia life‐ways as contingent upon the ‘ouroboric cosmic Self’ – a ‘wholly pre‐genital gestalt of self‐generation’ – Mimica distorts the role of collective rites of passage and affinal exchange to counter, inhibit, and redirect the primary narcissism intrinsic to human beings. In a small scale society like the Yagwoia, whose survival and well‐being depend upon the integration of nearly all its members, the main ‘work of culture’ is to recruit socially adept adults from each new crop of infants by helping them to overcomenot to repeat or magnify – existential problems of growing up that afflict everyone but that no one can resolve, or even fully understand, on their own. The ‘ouroboric (self‐copulating^eating) phallus’ is one image or ‘mythologeme’ of infantile narcissism. Based upon my own fieldwork among Gimi‐speakers in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, I suggest that such myths serve as templates for rites of exchange intended to thwart the calamity myths envisage – not to facilitate or intensify it.