Introduction

In 1914 a young anthropologist called Bronsilaw Malinowski set sail for the impossibly remote Trobriand archipelago. When WWI broke out, he suddenly found himself cut off from the outside world and, being an Austrian Pole in a British-controlled area, unable to leave. The story goes that not being sure which side he was on, he spent the next three years immersed in his fieldwork. On his return, that fieldwork bore fruit as one of the most famous and influential books in anthropology, The Argonauts of the Western Pacific.

Despite the dozens of anthropologists, missionaries, TV crews and tourists who have since followed Malinowski, the Trobriands remain one of the most culturally intact places you could possibly find. A strict matrilineal social system, enormous and highly decorated yam houses, exquisite carvings and the colourful festivals of clan prestige will keep your head turning.

Known locally as the Trobes, the people take their name from Denis de Trobriand, an officer on D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition. The Trobriands are low-lying coral islands, in contrast to their mountainous southern neighbours. Trobriand Islanders have a distinct Polynesian appearance and there are scattered remains of stone temples that resemble those of Polynesia. Trade between the islands had strong cultural and economic importance, and the pre-European traders crossed vast distances of open sea in canoes, exchanging fish, vegetables, pigs, stone axes, a rare jade-like stone from Muyua (Woodlark) Island and volcanic glass from Fergusson Island. The kula ring is the most famous of these trade routes.

Visitors wandering into villages are the object of great excitement, greeted by shouts of 'dimdim' from crowds of children. Locals adorn themselves with flowers, and magic is part of everyday life. Here, magicians bring rain with incantations, and magic stones with faces watch over villages.

Kiriwina is ruled by the paramount chief and it’s good manners to let him know you have arrived.