Ongka's Big Moka: A Glimpse into the Intricacies of Tribal Economics

Topics: Anthropology

‘Ongka’s Big Moka’ is an intriguing anthropological documentary that provides a fascinating insight into the socio-economic practices of the Kawelka tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The film revolves around the character of Ongka, a tribal leader, as he spends several years meticulously preparing for a ‘Moka’ – a ceremonial exchange of gifts.

The Moka is an integral part of the Kawelka tribe’s culture, serving as a means of establishing and reinforcing social relationships, demonstrating generosity, and gaining prestige.

A Moka is not merely an exchange; it’s a significant social event that often involves hundreds of people and can take years of planning and preparation.

Ongka, as the film presents, is a charismatic and respected leader determined to host a ‘big Moka.’ His goal is not only to enhance his standing within the community but also to create lasting bonds with neighboring tribes, thereby promoting peaceful relationships.

The documentary captures the intense effort Ongka puts into preparing for the Moka.

He must convince, persuade, and negotiate with his tribe members to contribute pigs, axes, money, and even motorbikes. These items represent wealth in Kawelka society and will be given away freely during the Moka ceremony. It’s fascinating to observe Ongka’s excellent negotiation and leadership skills as he manages the challenging task of amassing the required resources.

One of the most intriguing aspects of ‘Ongka’s Big Moka’ is the insight it provides into the value systems of non-western cultures. The Moka, contrary to the principles of accumulation and consumption predominant in capitalist societies, emphasizes the act of giving.

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For the Kawelka, prestige is earned through the giving away of wealth, not its accumulation. This practice highlights the idea of reciprocity, which is central to their societal functioning.

Furthermore, the documentary illuminates the concept of ‘big men’ in Melanesian cultures. Unlike western connotations of power and hierarchy, a ‘big man’ in these societies isn’t a ruler but an influencer. Ongka doesn’t enforce his will on the tribe members; instead, he persuades them, demonstrating the relational and transactional dynamics of power within the Kawelka community.

‘Ongka’s Big Moka’ also underlines the influence of modernity and globalization on traditional societies. We see the Kawelka tribe engaging with elements of the modern world, such as money and motorbikes, and incorporating them into their traditional practices. This presents a compelling snapshot of how traditional and modern ways of life coexist and interact.

In essence, ‘Ongka’s Big Moka’ offers an absorbing exploration of the Kawelka tribe’s social and economic systems. Through Ongka’s efforts to stage a successful Moka, we gain valuable insights into a culture that values generosity, reciprocity, and social bonds over individual wealth and accumulation. It’s a thought-provoking look at an alternative perspective on wealth and societal prestige, challenging our understanding and offering a different lens through which to view our world.

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Ongka's Big Moka: A Glimpse into the Intricacies of Tribal Economics. (2023, Jul 24). Retrieved from

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