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ETHNONYM: Manusian


Identification. The terms "Manus" and "Manusian" denote people native to Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. Manus also denotes the Titan-speaking people of the coast and offshore islands of the southeastern part of the province, who had the most intense early contact with White colonists. People can refer to each other by their language, village, or local area names, often the same. Also, they can use terms that denote other significant differences. Examples include electoral district names, terms denoting "islanders" (Historically fishing and trading people) or "mainlanders" (Historically agriculturalists) and terms denoting residents or those who have migrated elsewhere.

Location. Manus Province consists of a mainland (the main island of Manus and the barely separated island of Los Negros) and offshore islands, mostly to the southeast and north. It also includes several islands to the far west, inhabited by a set of ethnically distinct people not discussed here. Manus is in the Admiralty Islands at about 2° S and 147° E. The mainland is about 96 kilometers long and 24 kilometers wide, about 272 kilometers north-northeast of the Madang coast on the main island of New Guinea. It and some larger, volcanic islands are relatively fertile, but many smaller islands are infertile sand cays. The seasons are those of the southeast trade winds (April to October) and the northwestern monsoon (October to April). The monsoon has higher tide levels, greater cloudiness, and frequent storms, but the whole year is hot and wet.

Demography. In 1980, there were about 26,000 Manus people, of whom about 6,000 lived elsewhere in Papua New Guinea. This is more than twice the population reported in the first reliable estimates, early in the twentieth century.

Linguistic Affiliation. Manus languages are a distinct family of Austronesian languages, with four subfamilies: Eastern Mainland Manus (the largest), Western Mainland Manus, Northern Islands, and Southeastern Islands. There is little agreement on the origin of the languages. Estimates of their number range from eighteen to forty, and they share some grammatical and vocabulary elements. Many people from small, linguistically unique villages may understand three or four different languages; almost all speak Melanesian Pidgin; most speak some English.

History and Cultural Relations

Earliest European contact with the Manus mainland was in the sixteenth century, but first substantial contact was in the nineteenth century, with pearlers, whalers, and bêche-de-mer fishermen. Germany annexed Manus with the rest of German New Guinea in 1884 and was replaced by Australia in 1915. Colonial administration was based on appointed village headmen. Resistance to colonization was fierce in some areas: control was not complete until about 1920. A few copra plantations were established by 1910 and mission activity began shortly after. However, relatively little land was alienated for plantations. By World War II, most Manus were Christianprimarily Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, or Lutheranbut Christianity supplemented rather than displaced Indigenous beliefs. After World War II, there was agitation for social, economic, and political improvement. Partly as a result, education provision increased, village officials were elected rather than appointed, and there was encouragement of village cooperatives. Public services expanded through the early 1980s, when government financial difficulties led to slight contraction. Shortly after the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975, the province acquired an elected assembly.


Villages rarely have more than 400 residents. They frequently are made of hamlets, sets of houses built around a central clearing, often with an associated patrician's men's house. Hamlets and village sections are connected by paths. These hamlet clearings and the areas around houses are cleaned carefully. Households often maintain a dwelling house with a separate house for cooking. Houses may be built on the ground or on posts (up to about 6 feet) and may be of one or two stories. The household usually is a nuclear family, though a married child may build a house adjacent to the parents' dwelling. Manus has two urban areas. Lorengau, the Provincial capital and market center, is a harbor town with about 4,000 people. Lombrum, a Defense Force naval base, has about 1,500 people. Both were built during Australian Control with commercial housing materials.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The household is the basic economic unit. The subsistence base for rural Villagers is arboriculture and swidden agriculture (traditional for mainland villagers) or fishing (traditional for islanders). Agriculturalists harvest sago palms and various tree fruits and nuts, and they grow taro, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and bananas. Fishing people catch many varieties of reef fish and some pelagic species, as well as the occasional shark or sea turtle. Almost all villages maintain coconut palms: coconut is an important food and source of cooking oil; many Households use it to produce copra for occasional sale and in some areas it is an important commercial crop. Cocoa is also an important commercial crop in a few areas. Many households grow small quantities of leafy greens, squash, sugarcane, and bananas, and areca (betel) nuts, and betel peppers. Pork is important for feasts, and so in most villages a few pigs are reared. Indigenous food sources are supplemented by Imported items, especially rice, tinned fish and meat, biscuits, tea, coffee, sugar, beer, cigarettes, and twist tobacco. These are available in small village shops and in greater variety more cheaply in Lorengau and Lombrum.

Industrial Arts. Before colonization, people produced a range of manufactured items. By the mid-1900s, imported substitutes displaced most indigenous manufacture, though most houses and canoes are still made of local materials. Handicraft production is reviving in some areas, for sale to tourists.

Trade. Manus originally had a complex system of trade that reflected village ecological differences, primarily between mainland agricultural villages and island fishing villages. This fish-for-starch trade weakened after World War II as mainland villagers, and in some instances islanders, moved to the coast and took up both agriculture and fishing. However, there remain many markets between pairs of island and mainland villages, but by about 1970 these generally had become cash-only rather than barter markets. In addition, many Villages had access to special natural resources: clay for pots, obsidian for knives and spear points, beds of shell for shell money, etc. By about 1970, imported manufactures replaced these items and trade for them largely disappeared. Some Villages carry fish and agricultural produce to Lorengau and Lombrum for sale in the marketplaces, and they buy and sell there from each other as well.

Division of Labor. The sexual division of labor is pronounced, though weaker than it had been. Men make housing (including village buildings like aid posts, schools, and churches), canoes, and sails, tend coconut and sago palms, and do some preparation of gardening land. Women do much other agricultural work, including pounding and washing sago, splitting and scraping coconuts, and preparing oil. Women also clean the house and its nearby area and village paths. In fishing villages, both men and women fish in nearby waters, but usually only men fish outside the surrounding reef. In some villages, different fishing techniques are clearly restricted to men or women. Although men claim formal Control, in many villages women exert strong informal influence on much ceremonial activity. Villagewide cooperation for communal projects is difficult, as the villagewide structures that could be activated to induce cooperation are relatively recent and weak. An important division of labor for many Villagers is between migrants and residents. Migrants remit money, important for the economic well-being of residents. In return, residents perform ritual and social activities necessary for the social and spiritual well-being of migrants (e.g., life-crisis and healing rituals).

Land Tenture. Land rights are inherited and there is almost no land sale. Parcels of land belong to agnatic groups, with sections of such parcels controlled by the group Members who garden or build on them. In fishing communities, agnatic groups commonly hold marine rights, but the complexity of the system of tenure varies. Usually, areas of the surrounding reef and sea are claimed by agnatic groups, but specific parcels are not controlled by individuals in the way land is. In some villages there is ownership of fishing techniques of different sorts and of the right to catch certain species of fish. In the past these rights may have been of Economic significance, but presently they are of little significance among subsistence fishing people. In principle, land in urban areas can be bought and sold by individuals as private property. However, some village groups claim to be ancestral owners of urban land and they have tried to assert that ownership.


Kin Groups and Descent. The politically dominant kin groups are village-based, patrilineal descent groups that can loosely be called patricians, internally differentiated into Lineages. These groups are concerned primarily with land and sea tenure, but they also participate in exchange. People inherit group membership from their fathers; in some areas women adopt their husband's on marriage. There are also provincewide matriclans that do not have complex internal differentiation, though their importance varies around Manus. These matriclans are concerned mainly with health: treating pollution caused by contact with forbidden items, purification at stages of the life cycle. In addition there are local cognatic stocks (with patrilateral biases), one descending from each married couple in the past and present. These relationships are activated primarily during ceremonial exchanges, and as exchanges are frequent and important economically, these stocks are important. Villagers inherit all the stock Memberships of both parents.

Kinship Terminology. Terminology varies, but it Commonly stresses the relationship between the descendants of brothers and of sisters. Generational skewing of the Crow type occurs.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Village endogamy and patrician exogamy seem to have been enduring marriage preferences (matriclans are not significant here). In addition, other patterns have appeared at different times and places, shaped by political and economic interests. Notable among these is cross-cousin marriage and intervillage marriage (especially among elite families). Since conversion to Christianity, patterns have been shaped by church rules as well. Marriage entails payment of bride-price, which in the past made it susceptible to the manipulation of entrepreneurial big-men and in the Present makes it an important conduit through which money passes from migrants to residents. Patrivirilocal residence is commonly preferred. Acceptability of divorce and illegitimacy vary widely, shaped in part by religious affiliation.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is the married couple and their unmarried children. Husband and older sons are no longer expected to sleep routinely in the patrician's men's house, but they may do so occasionally.

Inheritance. The right to make decisions about real property is inherited patrilineally. Personal property can pass from parents to children or from sibling to sibling.

Socialization. The main institutions that socialize children are parents, schools, and churches (the last two at times being the same). As well, certain classes of relatives often have special responsibility for the child's welfare. Parents and other relatives, schools, and churches frequently are seen to have distinct spheres of competence: traditional and village skills, urban and Western skills, and Christian morality, Respectively. Physical punishment of children is expected only in restricted circumstances. While some socialization may have occurred during initiation procedures in the past, these rites no longer exist.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Villages are organized around the structure of patricians, which shape rights in real property, and the structure of cognatic stocks, which shape participation in exchange. (Matriclans are relatively unimportant here.) Patricians and stocks are localized and do not facilitate intervillage relationships. Patricians are small (at times no more than five or six resident adults), and lineages are even smaller. Thus, they commonly recruit nonmembers for productive and ceremonial activities, typically from cognatic stocks descended from out-marrying patrician (or lineage) women of earlier generations. This is often described as a distinction between the line (descendants) of the man (the brother) and the line of the woman (the out-marrying sister). A distinction between a line of the man and a line of the woman first appears at marriage, between the line of the groom and of the bride. For the children of the marriage, the distinction is between the line of the father and of the mother. In subsequent generations, it is the line of the man and of the woman. Villagers also distinguish residents and migrants, though this is reflected in practices rather than structures. Many ceremonial exchanges are organized to accommodate the schedules and wishes of important migrants,, and the rules and practices of contribution and distribution help assure that migrants' contributions remain in the hands of residents.

Political Organization. Village political organization revolves around patricians and village factions. Hereditary patrician leaders are supposed to lead patrician activities and Influence patrician political decisions, though within a general framework of consensus. Often, different village patricians were responsible for villagewide activities, such as making war, making peace, and village governance. Patricians and their leaders are more powerful in those villages where clan land is of prime economic significance, not overshadowed by introduced economic resources that are beyond the control of villages (especially wage labor). Village factions often reflect patrician differences, but also reflect different orientations to contemporary conditions and issues. Most common are different orientations to modernization, tradition, and Christianity. Villages have formal governments, including an elected village leader and assistant, elected magistrates and constable, and usually an elected representative to the local subprovincial governing body. Electoral districts for Provincial and national parliaments include more than one village, and elections for these bodies often unite villagers in support for the candidate from their village. Provincial party allegiance is weak and people often say that representatives are swayed by gifts and favors.

Social Control. Ideally, relations within the patrician are amicable. This is less true of relations between patricians and villages, which may be tense and even violent. Behavior is controlled in three ways. One is the sanction of agnatic ancestors, who monitor the acts of their living descendants and in cases of unresolved grievance may inflict illness, which can be fatal. Someone suspecting an ancestral illness will call a meeting of relatives, where all are to confess their hidden grievances and resolve them. As ancestors monitor migrants as well as residents, this helps tie migrants to their natal Village. Second is the power of specific classes of ego's kin (especially classificatory father's sister, father's sister's daughter, and father's sister's son). These have the power to bless or curse, and can use their power to ensure ego's proper behavior. Third is the village court system. Cases of slander and petty theft, as well as more serious matters, are routinely heard by village magistrates. Higher-level courts are seldom used.

Conflict. Prior to colonial control, raiding and open warfare between villages were common. Conflict was common when mainland or island groups moved to coastal land, and so it helped maintain the ecological division of villages and the related trade system. Intravillage, interclan fighting occurred, but such conflicts seem to have been unusual and informal, though sorcery attacks among villagers did occur. Such fighting could lead to village fission. Modern intervillage conflict is not common, occurring mainly when residents of one village use the land or seas of other villages. There is conflict between villages and government over the imposition of taxes and, more recently, over provincial government policies. Such conflicts reflect a recurring regional division Between southern and northern Manus.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Indigenous religion revolves around the dead rather than gods. Ancestors monitor the acts of their agnatic descendants and punish wrongdoing by taking the substance of an individual's soul. A recently dead ancestor could be adopted as household patron and protector. There are also malevolent spirits, which can be controlled by sorcerers. Most Manus are Christian, and denominational beliefs have been modified in different ways by their mixture with indigenous cosmology.

Religious Practitioners. Divining in various ways is Common, and many villages have two or three practitioners, who are not distinguished by special title or ritual. Some people are thought to control malevolent spirits, but few admit to this activity. Many people have entered the service of the church as catechists and lay officials, and some have been ordained.

Ceremonies. Dancing and feasting are performed only as part of other activities, especially men's-house raising, Marriage and bride-price exchange, visits by important government and church officials, major provincial occasions, and important sporting events. Exchanges are frequent and are always accompanied by a degree of ceremonial activity, especially speech making and feasting. Church services are well attended.

Arts. Everyday objects, houses, and canoes could be carved and painted in the past, though this is less common in the present. Woven mats and baskets, lime gourds, and lime sticks frequently are decorated. Indigenous valuables (shell money and dogs' teeth) were and are treated as decorative as well as valuable. They are mounted on beadwork belts made with bright designs. People also make decorative beadwork-and-shell bracelets and necklaces.

Medicine. Before colonization there was extensive use of plant matter as medicine, and some is still used. Much illness is thought to be caused by ancestors and much medical practice involves locating and resolving the source of such illness. Illness caused by contact with matriclan totems, potentially fatal, is usually not worrisome as it is treated easily by the invocation of matriclan ancestors by matriclan women. With colonization, church and government health services spread; now they are often the treatment of first resort, though failure of nurses or physicians to diagnose and treat a complaint quickly can be taken to mean that an ancestral illness exists.

Death and Afterlife. Almost all deaths, even of the very old, are laid to ancestral illness or sorcery. The human spirit reluctantly leaves the body after death, usually before burial. Spirits exist in a parallel, invisible world, where they continue to act as normal people. As already described, they monitor the behavior of their agnatic descents, punishing where necessary. In addition, they may take revenge on some of the living to redress old complaints or their own death. The most Recent dead are the most active, and after three or four generations the spirit no longer affects the living. This set of beliefs overlays Christian beliefs in Heaven and Hell, angels being the spirits of the dead.


Carrier, James, and Achsah Carrier (1989). Wage, Trade, and Exchange in Melanesia: A Manus Society in the Modern State. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fortune, Reo (1935). Manus Religion. Philadelphia, Pa.: American Philosophical Society.

Mead, Margaret (1934). "Kinship in the Admiralty Islands." American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers 34:189-358.

Mead, Margaret (1930). Growing Up in New Guinea. New York: William Morrow. Reprint. 1963. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.

Schwartz, Theodore (1963). "Systems of Areal Integration: Some Considerations Based on the Admiralty Islands of Northern Melanesia." Anthropological Forum 1:56-97.

Schwartz, Theodore (1962). "The Paliau Movement in the Admiralty Islands." American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers 49:211-421.


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manus The hand (the Latin for ‘hand’). The term includes homologous structures in other members of the Tetrapoda.

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