“TIAN XIA IN THE KULA RING? An historical hypothesis about the structuring of one system into new circumstances.”
3:00 – 4:30 pm
Room 3301 (Lift no. 2 / 17-18), Academic Building


This paper synthesizes on-going research on structures that organized productive relationships in the northeast corner of the Kula Ring in Papua New Guinea. Although based on local ethnographic and archaeological research, the data argues for contexts stemming from the Austronesian expansion out of East Asia some 6000 years ago. This interpretation follows from an understanding of Chinese ethnography and history concerning tian xia (天下). Although this comparative perspective begins to take shape in my 2017 book TREES, KNOTS, AND OUTRIGERS, a 2017 return to the island consolidated the attempt when a long-time island friend and instructor informed me that the Milky Way, not the opposition sunrise/sunset, organizes fundamental spatial and temporal orientations and that the Big Dipper and Southern Cross were “the same:” What could that mean? The presentation will conclude by showing how these ideas seem embedded in the remains of public works stemming from more than a 1000 years ago. They probably anticipate relationships found in the Kula over the last 400-700 years.  



Prof. Frederick (Fred) Damon is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology in the University of Virginia. He was raised in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, and earned his BA in Psychology at Duke University (1970) and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Princeton University (1978). He began his dissertation research in Woodlark Island, Muyuw in 1973, now in Papua New Guinea. He started at the University of Virginia during the 1976-77 academic year.  Prof. Fred Damon writes employing symbolic approaches emanating from structuralism, in both its Anglo-French (which began at Duke) and American versions (which began at Princeton), and the European Marxism that developed in the 1960s and 1970s. The ‘economic’ spin he takes includes World-Systems theory (Sidney Mintz in the late 1970s and early 1980s added immensely to this thread). The 1990s turn to historical ecology (Carole Crumley, Tim Flannery and Joel Gunn, among others) added the last clutch of straw to his theoretical nest. Fred considers himself a social anthropologist with regional interests in the Indo-Pacific focusing on Melanesia and (southeastern) China, and modern Western (American) societies. Topically he has written about ritual (his US teaching figures in this), exchange and production systems, ethnobotany and historical ecology, and calendrical systems.  He has lectured about his work in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Singapore, Spain and the US. His representative works including TREES, KNOTS AND OUTRIGGERS (2017), “The Kula and generalised exchange: considering some unconsidered aspect of the elementary structures of Kinship (1980)” and numerous research articles. Prof. Fred Damon retired in May, 2023 completing 46 years at UVa.

Room 3301 (Lift no. 2 / 17-18), Academic Building
Speakers / Performers:
Prof. Fred DANOM
Emeritus Professor, The University of Virginia