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Trobriand Islands

In 1975 and 1976, my wife, Dona, and I conducted ethnographic research in a large village on Boyowa Island in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. This work was funded by a pre-doctoral grant from the Social Science Research Council. I was looking for a naturally occuring activity system that was public (so I could observe and record it), cognitive, and consequential for the participants (unlike the standardized tests I had administered in Manus District of PNG in the summer of 1973). Land litigation satisfied these requirements. In the image above (Photo: Dona Hutchins), I am standing under the village chief's house using a stereo audio recorder to capture the presentation of a litigant. The chief and other high-ranking villagers are seated in the shade under the house. Witnesses and observers squat in the open bukubaku in front of the chief's house.

Image Collection (coming soon)

Dictionary of the Trobriand Island language (also known in the literature as Kilivila). Dona and I created this dictionary as a slip file to support our research. After returning home, we typed it up and then digitized it.


Hutchins E.  Culture and inference: A Trobriand case study. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1980.

Hutchins E.  Reasoning in Trobriand discourse.  In R. Casson (Ed.),  Language, culture, and cognition: Anthropological perspectives.  New York: MacMillan, pp 481-489, 1981.

Hutchins E.  Myth and experience in the Trobriand Islands.  In D. Holland &  N. Quinn (Eds.),  Cultural models in language and  thought.Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, pp 269-289, 1986.

Hutchins E.  Getting it straight in Trobriand Island land litigation.  In K. Watson-Gegeo & G. White (Eds.),  Disentangling: Conflict discourse in Pacific societies.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp 412-458, 1990.