When Europeans began colonizing coastal western Melanesia in the
mid to late nineteenth century, they found a number of trading systems
which effectively ringed the island of New Guinea and linked i t with
nearby island arcs. The f i r s t anthropologists to study these systems
found them to be quite remarkable, in that in the absence of complex
socio-political structures they facilitated the movement of large
quantities of valuable and utilitarian commodities over often
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