The Kula Ring of Bronislaw Malinowski: Co-evolution of an Economic and Ceremonial Exchange System

Rolf Ziegler


The Kula Ring described by Bronislaw Malinowski is a system of the ceremonial exchange of gifts among a number of tribal societies inhabiting various island groups in the region east of Papua New Guinea. Two ceremonial gifts continually circulate in opposi¬te directions: necklaces clockwise and armshells counterclock¬wise. After a brief description of the social system of Kula exchange, a game-theoretic interpretation of the ceremonial exchange as a signaling system for peaceful relationships, with inbuilt checks against cheating, is given. A simulation model of the starting mechanism is presented to account for the emergence and stability of the observed pattern of circular exchange of the two ceremonial gifts. Three processes are distinguished: the development of an economic trading network, the spread of peaceful relationships and the evolution of a ceremonial exchange network of Kula valuables. These processes are systematically linked to model the spontaneous emergence and co-evolution of the Kula Ring.

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Review of European Studies   ISSN 1918-7173 (Print)   ISSN 1918-7181 (Online)

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