Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism

Gary Kildea
54 minutes


At the beginning of the 20th century the game of cricket was introduced on the Trobriand Islands by British missionaries. The Islanders have adapted this very British sport to their local environment.

In the 1980's cricket is still played on the islands, but now with completely different rules. A merger of a homegrown riutal and the old British rules of the game has brought into exsistance a completely new game. There is no longer a set number of players - all those gathered are included. Every match begins with a show of strength by both teams. In formations reminding one of the military drill of British soldiers the teams enter the field. New songs have been made glorifying the potential of the team. When the team begins its objective is not to win - all matches end with a draw - but to show that one in different individual ways have been a good player.

A whole new game came into being, responding to the inventive mechanisms of mimicry, transformation and parody. For present day Trobrianders the game of cricket is explicitly a kayasa, a competitive feast described fully by Malinowski in "Coral Gardens in their Magic". The large teams, four to five times bigger than the British model, include all the men in one village clan. They parade in colourful outfits to the host village, and during the breaks they perform stylized triumphal dances: entire choreographies, almost like numbers from musicals, with an unexpected symbolism that quite evidently refers to the colonial past. The match is under the influence of magic. The referee - who obviously (!) also can play - is allowed to use magic on the competing teams under the match. The exuberant players imitate with ease the American bombers of the Second World War. In this way they transform the commotion of war into an infectious ritual.

Jerry W. Leach
Suggested readings: 
Leach, Jerry W. 1988. Structure and Message in Trobriand Cricket. In J. Rollwagen, ed., Anthropological Film-making (Harwood Academic Press, Chur): 237-51.
Rpt. of paper given at British Association for the Advancement of Science symposium "Problems of Anthropological Filming," University of Lancaster, 6 September 1976.
Other keywords: 
Cultural change