Exploring Papua New Guinea collections at University of Aberdeen

Today we began week 2 of our review at University of Aberdeen museums. A large part of the Pacific collection is from South East Papua New Guinea. This material came to the Museum from Sir William MacGregor (1846-1919). The son of a crofter from Aberdeenshire, MacGregor was one of 9 children who was to travel the world. He studied Medicine at Aberdeen University before working in Fiji as Chief Medical Officer. He was Administrator of British New Guinea for the British government from 1888-1894 before returning as Lieutenant-governor fro 1895-1898. Later, MacGregor became Governor of Lagos, Newfoundland, and Queensland.

The MacGregor collection includes several shields unique to the Trobriand Islands, situated off the eastern coast of New Guinea:
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A large part of MacGregor’s collection relates to the ‘kula’. This complex system of exchange, which has been a subject of great interest for anthropologists, involves trading of manufactured valuables between islands in the Massim area of South-East Papua New Guinea. The two most valued items were shell necklaces (soulava) and pairs of shell armbands (mwali).

University of Aberdeen were given a number of Mwali by MacGregor such as these two:
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We have been studying these armbands closely, which were adorned with other materials to increase their value. The adornments include seeds, glass trade beads, pink spondylus shell discs, and pandanus leaves:
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MacGregor’s collection at Aberdeen University was his personal one. However he left an even bigger collection, about 8000 objects, in trust with the Queensland Museum in Australia with the wish that they be repatriated to Papua New Guinea for the people there when a suitable museum was created. Much of the material has been repatriated and is housed at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby.

– Eve

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