Part 2 of ‘Missionary Diasporas: Researching Vanuatu Collections in the Pacific’
Following a week in Canberra researching material held by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Chantal and I travelled together to Vanuatu where we spent 5 days in Port Vila. Vila is the nation’s capital city on the island of Efate. We wanted to meet with staff working in the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta, and the Museum, Archives and Library to discuss collections from Vanuatu currently held in Scotland. Once I had arranged my research permit (all researchers must go through the Kaljoral Senta) we met Anne Naupa, Chief Archivist at the national archives. Anne gave us a behind the scenes tour, telling us about their work to make archival material accessible in Vanuatu. There are a range of holdings there including land deeds, maps, and government documents. The Archive building opened in 2010 and incorporates the National Library. Inside the entrance to the building is an exhibition space featuring work by contemporary Ni-Vanuatu artists. The archives are publically accessible every weekday morning. In the afternoons they close to visitors so that Anne and her assistant Augustine can work on their collections. Chantal and I had the opportunity to use the library as a study space and to consult material only available in Vanautu.
Later in the week we met with Anne Naupa (Chief Archivist), June Norman (Chief Librarian) , Maurisco Batick (Photo Archivist), Augustine Tevimule (Assistant Archivist), Henline Mala (Office Manager, VKS) and Evelyne Pouleigh (Women’s Culture Program Coordinator). Chantal and I facilitated a workshop in which we shared the Pacific collections review results relating to ni-Vanuatu collections in Scotland.
As the relevant material currently held in Scotland has strong links with Scottish Presbyterian missionaries who were in Vanuatu from the 1840s to 1940s, we talked about the islands on which those missionaries were based and the type of cultural material they collected. We hoped to find out how we could make this material accessible for people in Vanuatu. Prior to the workshop Anne Naupa suggested we develop a finding aid to provide a guide to Vanuatu collections in Scotland. This document is now available at the National Archives in Vanuatu and will be available via the Pacific project website over the coming months. The finding aid is intended as a tool to guide people around the collections in Scotland. In addition to giving an overview of the Vanuatu material at the four partner museums involved in the Pacific Collections Review, it provides links to useful online resources and a guide to the names associated with the collections. It’s intended the guide will enable a researcher to know where to look and who to contact and means archivists and other staff in Vanuatu do not have to do the initial work of seeking material out or requesting from other institutions. It is an important resource in terms of drawing attention to the Vanuatu collections in Scotland.
I took digital and physical photographs of Vanuatu artefacts in Scottish collections to share throughout my trip there so during the workshop we all looked through and discussed these. It was fantastic to be able to talk about the collections and learn more about use and relevance of different artefacts.
Following the workshop, Chantal and I visited the National Museum of Vanautu to meet Henline and Evelyne. They showed us around the displays and talked through the content. Amongst the displays of exceptional kastom artefacts, we were surprised to see this quilt:
On closer inspection we found it was made by the wife of Reverend Lawrie with women of Aneityum. The missionary Rev. Lawrie (based on Aneityum 1879-97) gave a considerable collection to National Museums Scotland and Glasgow Museums in the late 19th century including around 460 kastom artefacts.
Evelyne largely works with women’s kastom projects and showed us the museum store where many of the objects relating to women are stored. This part of the collection includes bags and baskets of pandanus leaf and palm leaf as well as mats, fans and other female related artefacts. Evelyne talked us through the numerous styles of baskets made on different islands in Vanuatu. We looked at large dyed mats made in Ambae, Maewo and Pentecost. The mats made in Ambae are dyed today using synthetic dye but Maewo and Pentecost still use traditional plant based dyes.
Chantal and I were also able to see the location for the new archaeology stores and workshops at the Museum. Professor Matthew Spriggs of Australian National University and one of the honorary Curators of Archaeology at VKS gave us a tour of what had previously been the area used by the archive and photo archive but was now being modified for the important archaeology discoveries being made of the islands. Matthew has been working in Vanuatu since the 1970s and is one of the leaders of the Aneityum fieldschool which I accompanied this year.
During our short time in Vila, Chantal and I were able to share Vanuatu collections in Scotland which we hope will facilitate greater access for the communities from which they originate. We learned about the ways in which we can achieve improved access: by working with existing cultural workers in country; by providing a clear guide to what is in Scotland and how to find out more; by giving copies of relevant material to the most suitable in-country repository; and maintaining continued dialogue with a range of individuals and organisations invested in cultural heritage. The last point seems crucially important. Maintaining new relationships we formed by working in person with cultural workers in Vanuatu is a key method for continuing to develop effective ways of sharing information about Vanuatu collections in Scotland and the UK more generally. On-going dialogue will enable us to keep up to date with new projects and initiatives led by VKS and to think about the ways that museums and archives with Vanuatu collections in the UK can feed into those.
The week was rounded off with a visit to the Roi Mata domain, a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and a subject which requires its own blog post.
You can find out more about Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta and related organisations here:
This research has been made possible with the generous support of grants from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Strathmartine Trust)