The Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea have been depicted as a place of sexual freedom ever since these small atolls in the southwest Pacific were made famous by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the early twentieth century. Today in the era of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, how do Trobrianders respond to public health interventions that link their cultural practices to the risk of HIV? How do they weigh HIV prevention messages of abstinence, fidelity, and condom use against traditional sexual practices that strengthen inter-clan relationships in a gift economy?
Written by an anthropologist who has direct ties to the Trobriands through marriage and who has been involved in Papua New Guinea's national response to the HIV epidemic since the mid-1990s, Islands of Love, Islands of Risk is an unusual insider ethnography. Katherine Lepani describes in vivid detail the cultural practices of regeneration, from the traditional dance called Wosimwaya to the elaborate exchanges that are part of the mortuary feasts called sagali. Focusing on the sexual freedom of young people, the author reveals the social value of sexual practice. By bringing cultural context and lived experience to the fore, the book addresses the failure of standardised public health programs to bridge the persistent gap between HIV awareness and prevention. The book offers insights on the interplay between global and local understandings of gender, sexuality, and disease and suggests the possibility of viewing sexuality in terms other than risk.
Islands of Love, Islands of Risk illustrates the contribution of ethnographic research methodology in facilitating dialogue between different ways of knowing. As a contemporary perspective on Malinowski's classic accounts of Trobriand sexuality, the book reaffirms the Trobriands' central place in the study of anthropology.
This book is the recipient of the annual Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Prize for the best project in the area of medicine.