October 25, 2010

Affordable Family Formation in New Guinea

The conclusion of a New York Times article "Riches May Not Help Papua New Guinea" on the influx of money into the New Guinea highlands from an Exxon natural gas pipeline:
Earlier, he had held up a warning: a local village chief who had squandered a $120,000 windfall.

A short drive away, Hamon Matipe, the septuagenarian chief of Kili, confirmed that he had received that sum four months earlier. In details corroborated by the local authorities, Mr. Matipe explained that the provincial government had paid him for village land alongside the Southern Highlands’ one major road, where the government planned to build a police barracks.

His face adorned with red and white paint, a pair of industrial safety glasses perched incongruously on a head ornament from which large leaves stuck out, Mr. Matipe said he had given most of the money to his 10 wives. But he had used about $20,000 to buy 48 pigs, which he used as a dowry to obtain a 15-year-old bride from a faraway village, paying well above the going rate of 30 pigs. He and some 30 village men then celebrated by buying 15 cases of beer, costing about $800.

“All the money is now gone,” Mr. Matipe said. “But I’m very happy about the company, ExxonMobil. Before, I had nothing. But because of the money, I was able to buy pigs and get married again.”

Here's a video of part of the amazing 1983 documentary First Contact with footage of the arrival of Australian explorers in the highlands of New Guinea around 1930. When the first airplane flew over the central spine of New Guinea, the pilot was amazed to discover that there wasn't just one mountain range, but two parallel ones with a fertile valley between them, home to about a million agriculturalists, previously unknown to the rest of the world.


dearieme said...

"I was able to buy pigs and get married again": like the average American billionaire, then.

Anonymous said...

See, it wasn't a "culture of poverty" that made them "squander" their money on pigs, beer, and wives instead of investing the money in infrastructure, businesses, or securities. It was the structural racism of Papua-New Guinea that made them do it.

Anonymous said...

"$20,000 to buy 48 pigs"
"15 cases of beer, costing about $800"

Man, life in Papua New Guinea is expensive! At over $13 per six-pack, their cost more than the most expensive of the the about one hundred microbrews in the nearest liquor store. And $20,000 per 48 pigs translates into about $2/lb, which is a price of discount pork in local groceries.

See? That's why people in Papua New Guinea are poor. Life is too expensive there!

Anonymous said...

Alas for the simple joys of buying 15 year old virgins with livestock.

Modern dating scene so much less financially rewarding.

bbartlog said...

The excerpt does not actually suggest to me that he squandered the money. A relatively small amount used to throw a big party - I doubt he could maintain his social relations without throwing some of it around. Much of it given to ten wives, who presumably will in turn spend it on various descendants, and who if we might stereotype are likely to be more 'responsible' in a Western sense (saving some for later and so on).
And finally some spent to get another young bride... surely sound from an evo-bio point of view! Frankly the guy's allocation sounds extremely good. What was he supposed to do, put it in a box? Pay corrupt Western contractors to put up public infrastructure? It's only squandered in the sense that he no longer has the cash in hand, but that's not a meaningful critique in a society that has other stores of value.

Anonymous said...

Okay, $20,000 for 48 pigs is about $400 per pig. The usual bride price is 30 pigs, or about $12,000. Heck, I could afford that. Perhaps I should move to PNG.

Default User said...

His face adorned with red and white paint, a pair of industrial safety glasses perched incongruously on a head ornament from which large leaves stuck out

It sounds like he read The Mystery Method.

Anonymous said...

It sounds better than america. Here you have to pay $20,000 to marry the pig.

John McCain said...

Coming to a city near you.

Fred said...

"It sounds like he read The Mystery Method."

That was funny.

Dave M. said...

I've been looking at maps of New Guinea, and I can't find this big central valley. There are some small valleys, but none nearly large enough to support a million people living in primitive conditions. It looks like rather than two parallel mountain ranges, it is one big mountain range with some valleys interspersed within it.

Truth said...

"It sounds like he read The Mystery Method."

That was funny."

I second