In an outstanding example of the new dialogical anthropology, Nancy Lutkehaus skillfully interweaves the voices of three generations of Manam Islanders with those of two women anthropologists who lived and worked among them—one British, a member of England's intellectual aristocracy, the other, a middle-class American—to create a multivocal, cross-cultural conversation about men and women, power and authority, and colonialism and post-colonialism in Papua New Guinea. Using unpublished diaries, notebooks, and photographs from 1930s anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood, juxtaposed with her own contemporary field material and that of government officials, Catholic missionaries, and local scholars, Lutkehaus contrasts her narrative of Manam cultural resilience with Wedgwood's story of demoralization and inevitable cultural disintegration.
More than simply a reinterpretation of Manam history or an explanation of why Wedgwood's prediction of cultural disintegration did not come about, Lutkehaus's argument reveals as much about epistemological shifts in anthropological knowledge and discourse as it does about the nature of Manam society. Her analysis situates Wedgewood's interpretation of Manam culture within the colonial context of British social anthropology as taught by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown—Wedgewood's mentors—between the wars.
Zaria's Fire will be of interest not only to scholars of Melanesia, but to students of gender studies, ethnography, anthropology, and colonial culture.
"Instead of backing away from the problem of ethnographic authority, Lutkehaus…addresses it in the only way it can be solved, by contextualizing the excellent analyses and interpretations that she gives. This is an excellent depiction of a complex social setting as well as a fascinating treatment of an interesting and increasingly important anthropological problem of accommodation to the ethnographic authority of others." — American Anthropologist