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Mixed MessagesCultural and Genetic Inheritance in the Constitution of Human Society$
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Robert A. Paul

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226240725

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241050.001.0001

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Conclusion: The Giant Yams of Pohnpei

Conclusion: The Giant Yams of Pohnpei

(p.283) Conclusion: The Giant Yams of Pohnpei
Mixed Messages

Robert A. Paul

University of Chicago Press

Boyd and Richerson suggest that the practice of growing giant yams on the island of Pohnpei is an example of a runaway process at the symbolic level, paralleling the runaway process in biological evolution that produces phenomena such as the peacock’s tail. Taking this as a test case, this chapter places the practice in the context of the complex social system of Pohnpei, and argues that the yams are part of a symbolic system that redirects competition from selfish to prosocial ends by means of the important system of prestige, won in the public arena in which display is all important. It is shown that the socio-cultural system of Pohnpei exhibits the various features predicted by the model of dual inheritance proposed in this book, and stresses the role played by cultural symbols in maintaining the wider tribal society proposed by Boyd and Richerson.

Keywords:   Pohnpei, Yams, runaway process, peacock’s tail, prestige, public arena, Boyd and Richerson, symbols

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