Trobriand Islands
The Trobriand Islands
Trobriand Islands is located in Papua New Guinea
Trobriand Islands
Trobriand Islands
Coordinates8°40′S 150°55′E / 8.667°S 150.917°E / -8.667; 150.917
Area450 km2 (170 sq mi)
ProvinceMilne Bay
Largest settlementLosuia

The Trobriand Islands are a 450-square-kilometre (174-square-mile) archipelago of coral atolls off the east coast of New Guinea. They are part of the nation of Papua New Guinea and are in Milne Bay Province. Most of the population of 12,000 indigenous inhabitants live on the main island of Kiriwina, which is also the location of the government station, Losuia.

Other major islands in the group are Kaileuna, Vakuta, and Kitava. The group is considered to be an important tropical rainforest ecoregion in need of conservation.


The Trobriands consist of four main islands, the largest being Kiriwina Island, and the others being Kaileuna, Vakuta and Kitava. Kiriwina is 43 kilometres (27 miles) long, and varies in width from 1 to 16 kilometres (0.62 to 9.94 mi). In the 1980s, there were around sixty villages on the island, containing around 12,000 people, while the other islands were restricted to a population of hundreds. Other than some elevation on Kiriwina, the islands are flat coral atolls and "remain hot and humid throughout the year, with frequent rainfall."[1]


Main article: Trobriand people


Soul boat, Kiriwina, Trobriand Islands (wood and white lime)

The first European visitor to the islands was the French ship Espérance in 1793. The ship's navigator, Antoine Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, named them after his first lieutenant, Denis de Trobriand.

Whaling ships called at the islands for food, water and wood in the 1850s and 1860s.[2]

The first Europeans to settle in the Trobriand islands were a Methodist minister, Samuel Benjamin Fellows, and his wife Sarah Margaret Fellows who moved to the island of Kiriwina in 1894. They were followed a decade later by colonial officers from Australia who set up a governmental station nearby, and soon a small colony began to be set up by foreign traders on the island. Then in the 1930s, the Sacred Heart Catholic Mission set up a settlement containing a primary school nearby. It was following this European colonisation that the name "Trobriand" was legally adopted for this group of islands.[1]

The first anthropologist to study the Trobrianders was C. G. Seligman, who focused on the Massim people of mainland New Guinea. Seligman was followed a number of years later by his student, the Polish Bronisław Malinowski, who visited the islands during the First World War. Despite being a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which was at war with Australia which then controlled the Trobriand Islands, he was allowed to stay (provided he checked in with authorities every now and then).[3] His descriptions of the kula exchange system, gardening, magic, and sexual practices—all classics of modern anthropological writing—prompted many foreign researchers to visit the societies of the island group and study other aspects of their cultures. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich drew on Malinowski's studies of the islands in writing his The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality and consequently in developing his theory of sex economy in his 1936 work Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf.

In 1943, Allied troops landed on the islands as a part of Operation Cartwheel, the Allied advance to Rabaul.

In the 1970s, some indigenous peoples formed anti-colonial associations and political movements.

In October 2022 there was an outbreak of tribal fighting on Kiriwina Island between the Kulumata and Kuboma people, which was reported to have been triggered by a death during fighting at a football match. At least 30 people died. While fights between different groups were not uncommon, this was the first time they had resulted in a large number of deaths.[4][5]

Trobriand Islands in the modern day

Growing population

Since 1975, the government of Papua New Guinea has had political control of the island. In this time of growth, the population of the island is expanding quickly.[6] Therefore, more land has been cleared to accommodate the increasing population.[6] However, environmental concerns - such as deforestation - are affecting the islands.[6] The government often sends social workers to increase the use of birth control and contraception.[6] However, the Trobriand culture is not receptive to outside influences dictating their reproductive norms. This means that sex is "the most natural thing in the culture".[6] Another effect of Trobriand promiscuity is the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS caused by foreigners on the island.[7] The first documented case of HIV/AIDS was reported in 2001. Nowadays, HIV has become a major health problem. Since young Trobrianders often have multiple sexual partners before marriage, it is hard to slow the spread of the disease.[7] "The moralistic tropes of risk and promiscuity that dominate the language of HIV prevention are not easily accommodated by Trobriand ideations of sexuality, which celebrate premarital sexual activity as healthy and life-affirming, and which stress the productive values of reciprocity and relations of difference."[7]

Income inequality

After statehood in 1975, the Trobriand Islands' economy has been restructured to fit a tourist and export market. Most Trobrianders live on less than one dollar a day.[6] Since food has been traditionally distributed among the people based on their need, there has been little need for a currency-based economy outside of the Kula rings.[8] To counteract this lack of hard currency, several western goods stores have opened on the islands and created most of the foreign goods market. These stores are multimillion-dollar enterprises.[6] However, most Trobrianders struggle to pay for goods from these stores because they only take cash.[6] Due to this practice, there are often reports of unrest because of a lack of funds. One remedy that many islanders seek is to sell cultural artifacts and relics to tourists in exchange for their currency.[7] For example, a worker can spend 10 days working on a ceremonial turtle bowl and only get paid $10. "However this commercialization is often done sanctimoniously. "[8] "They protect their cultural identity and use it as a tourist commodity". However, one of the items imported that cause economic and social problems is betel nuts.[6] They are a major narcotic on the island.[6] Due to this new currency-based economy there is more reported crime on the islands. There is a great economic disparity due to the income inequality between the modern world and the Trobriands.

Early education on the islands featuring Malinowski


In addition to missionary schools, there are public schools on the Trobriands which were introduced by the government of Papua New Guinea "All children are required to go to school".[6] The required subjects are English, Maths, Science and culture. Schools also educate students about current international events.[6] Maths is the favorite subject among the students of the island.[6] On Wednesdays, the children are required to dress in traditional garb as part of the government-mandated culture day.[6] During this time, children are encouraged to explore Trobriand culture, history and values.

Malinowski's plaque in Kiriwina

A plaque dedicated to Bronisław Malinowski in Omarakana, decorated by village children

There is a commemorative plaque dedicated to Bronisław Malinowski in Omarakana village, the residence village of the Paramount Chief of Trobriand Islands.[9] The current chief Pulayasi Daniel is positive that it is placed in the very same place where Malinowski's tent used to stand at the beginning of the 20th century.[10] There are two inscriptions on it – one in Polish and one in English – which say: "Toboma Miskabati Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) Notable scientist The son of the Polish nation Father of the modern social anthropology Friend of Trobriand Islands peoples and the populizer of their culture" (see: picture). The plaque was brought to Kiriwina by sailors Monika Bronicka and Mariusz Delgas[11] who took it from New Zealand where it was left by two other yachts: Maria and Victoria.[10] The plaque was sponsored by Jagiellonian University in Kraków and the National Museum in Szczecin, Poland.[10]

Tourism and artist visits

The Trobriand Islands are South Sea islands that have so far been little developed for tourism. In 2012 the German painter Ingo Kühl made studies on the kula culture in Kiriwina and Port Moresby.[12]


The Trobriand Islands have a unique lunar calendar system. There are twelve or thirteen lunar cycles, but only ten are fixed: the others constitute free time. The calendar year begins with the sighting of a worm that appears to spawn, which initiates the Milamak festival. The concept of time in these islands is not linear, and so they only have one tense in their language.[13]

Anthropological studies and pop culture references

Books by Malinowski about the Trobriands

Other books about the Trobriands

Trobriand Islands in popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b Weiner, Annette B. (1988). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 10–11.
  2. ^ Langdon, Robert (1984). Where the whalers went: an index to the Pacific ports and islands visited by American whalers (and some other ships) in the 19th century. Canberra: Pacific Manuscripts Bureau. pp. 188–189. ISBN 086784471X.
  3. ^ Weiner, Annette B. (1988). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 1–4.
  4. ^ Kuku, Rebecca. "More than 30 dead in tribal fighting on Papua New Guinea's 'island of love'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  5. ^ "PNG official confirms 30 dead in tribal clash". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Toby Marshall (Narrator); Thomas Euting (author) (16 May 2012) [November 1995]. The Unholy Paradise (video). ZDF. Archived from the original on 4 September 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Peters-Golden, Holly (2012). Culture sketches: case studies in anthropology (6th ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: The McGraw-Hill. p. 264. ISBN 9780078117022. OCLC 716069710.
  8. ^ a b Peters-Golden, Holly (2012). Culture sketches: case studies in anthropology (6th ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: The McGraw-Hill. p. 168. ISBN 9780078117022. OCLC 716069710.
  9. ^ Gumowska, Aleksandra (2014). Seks, betel i czary. Życie seksualne dzikich sto lat później [Sex, betel and witchcraft. The Sexual Life of Savages One Hundred Years Later.] (in Polish). Kraków: Znak Litera Nova. p. 29. ISBN 9788324025701.
  10. ^ a b c Gumowska, Aleksandra (2014). Seks, betel i czary. Życie seksualne dzikich sto lat później [Sex, betel and witchcraft. The Sexual Life of Savages One Hundred Years Later.] (in Polish). Kraków: Znak Litera Nova. p. 35. ISBN 9788324025701.
  11. ^ "Przygoda, Rafa Koralowa i życie bez butów [ZDJĘCIA]" [Adventure, Coral Reef and life without shoes [PHOTOS]] (in Polish). 18 August 2017. Archived from the original on 4 September 2021.
  12. ^ Ingo Kühl Sketchbook Trobriand Islands ( PDF)
  13. ^ Longhurst, Brian (2016). Introducing Cultural Studies (3rd ed.). Oxford: Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 9781317426011.
  14. ^ Senft, Gunter (2010). de Gruyter Reference Global - The Trobiand Islanders' Way of Speaking. doi:10.1515/9783110227994. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0013-3B2F-C. ISBN 9783110227994.