Exchanging Knowledge about Pacific material culture

In September I ran a Knowledge Exchange workshop as part of National Museums Scotland’s national programme. The workshop ‘An Introduction to Pacific Collections’ was aimed at other museum and heritage professionals in Scotland who care for Pacific collections. This event was one of the outcomes of our Pacific collections in Scottish Museums project. It was an opportunity to share the knowledge I have been developing since beginning the project in April 2013. The event was a one day workshop where attendees could learn about identifying, caring for, displaying and interpreting Pacific material culture.

We began the workshop with an overview of the project, followed by an introduction to the type of material and the cultural areas likely to be found represented in Scottish collections. This information was based on trends which became apparent in the course of reviewing the four project partner collections although of course there will always be surprising artefacts hidden in collections too. I then took everyone around the Facing the Sea Gallery at National Museums Scotland. For any readers who haven’t had a chance to visit the museum, this gallery provides an insight into Pacific culture through display of artefacts from across the region. I talked through different subjects ranging from the concept of mana, the reasons for making and collecting boat models, and changing ideas about how Kiribati coconut fibre armour was be worn.

Looking at the Kiribati coconut fibre armour on display at national Museums Scotland

Looking at the Kiribati coconut fibre armour on display at national Museums Scotland


I took the opportunity to pause at one of my favourite parts of the gallery – a display of fishhooks from all over the Pacific which is great for showing the types of materials used, the variety of distinct styles and the workmanship that went into them. I had also brought some handling materials along for everyone to study and think about styles and materials. We wrapped up the morning with a discussion about collections care, hazards, and considerations when working with secret or sacred material. We discussed cultural considerations in more depth through a case study in which I invited everyone to imagine they had a mask in their collections that was men’s business and that women could not look at or touch. I asked how everyone would approach such an item if it needed to be moved and only a female member of collections staff was available.

After lunch we got into groups to discuss some artefacts which I had invited everyone to bring with them. We had fun trying to figure out where some unprovenanced items in the collection from the Falconer Museum in Forres, near Aberdeen, were from (only one was Pacific!) This was an opportunity to explore what great collections other Scottish museums and archives have.

Discussing some of the mystery artefacts from the Falconer Museum in Forres

Discussing some of the mystery artefacts from the Falconer Museum in Forres


I had then planned an activity to get people thinking about tourist pieces, authenticity and the way items were made for trade. I wanted to show how you might differentiate artefacts as ‘authentic’ but also encourage everyone to think about the notion of authenticity. There are often interesting stories to be told about trade pieces or items that incorporate designs or materials from outside the local community. It can be easy to forget that trade items for a European market were being made right from the point of contact as communities, as you would expect, took the opportunity to engage in exchange transactions. I had taken three hei tiki pendants from the museum stores – one a beautifully carved early example from the late 18th century, another a well made but possibly for trade item from the early 20th century, and the third a plastic version bought in the 1990s. I had also brought along two flesh forks, often called cannibal forks, from Fiji. These were both rather oversized unused items – one late 19th century bought by Constance Gordon Cumming and the other a roughly made piece from the mid-20th century.
Workshop attendees discussing issues of authenticity of artefacts

Workshop attendees discussing issues of authenticity of artefacts

The final part of the day involved a presentation from Pat Allan, project partner and Curator of World Cultures at Glasgow Museums. I invited Pat to speak about working with communities and I ended the session with a film of Marshallese poet and writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner reading her moving poem ‘Tell them’. I have shared the link previously and you can find that video here on Kathy’s blog. I wanted to illustrate the contemporary stories which we can tell through our collections such as the massive impact of climate change. It can be easy for museums with 19th century collections to focus on the past but it is important to acknowledge the contemporary nature of every culture.

The knowledge exchange workshop has been developed into a resource entitled Introduction to Pacific collections. This is one of the core outcomes from the Pacific Collections in Scottish Museums project and will be available online from the 25th November 2014 at www.nms.ac.uk/pacific

– Eve

Mysterious tribute to a Hawaiian Princess

While checking over the galleries at National Museum of Scotland this morning we were intrigued and excited to find two anthirium flowers and a photograph placed on the plinth beside the large Cook Islands feast bowl on display.

Feast bowl from the Cook Islands in the Grand Gallery of National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Feast bowl from the Cook Islands in the Grand Gallery of National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh


They were accompanied by a message in red ink reading:
‘In memory of Dear Friend of Titaua Whom spent family gatherings in Anstruther – Princess Victoria Kaiulani Cleghorn – (16.10.1875 – 6.3.1899) For the deep kinship between the Pacific Princesses’
Tribute to Princess Kaiulani placed beside the feast bowl on the day of her birthday in 1875 - the16th October

Tribute to Princess Kaiulani placed beside the feast bowl on the day of her birthday in 1875 – the16th October


Princess Kaiulani was part of the Hawaiian royal family and daughter of a Scottish man Archibald Cleghorn and Princess Likelike of Hawaii. During the 1890s she spent time in Scotland with the Tahitian Princess Titaua who at that time lived in the Scottish fishing town of Anstruther. The feast bowl next to which the tribute was placed is part of a larger collection at the museum which belonged to Princess Titaua. This particular piece was originally gifted to her in 1871 by Parua, the high chief of Atiu in the Cook Islands.
Princess Titaua was the daughter of an English man and the sister of Queen Pomare IV of Tahiti. Queen Pomare IV adopted Titaua in accordance with a Tahitian custom and gave her the royal name of Tetuanui-reia-ite-raiatea. At fourteen Titaua married Scottish trader John Brander. Following his death, she married Brander’s business associate, a Scottish businessman named George Darsie. In 1892 they retired to Darsie’s hometown of Anstruther.

National Museums Scotland recently acquired a Jour Apres Jour Book (Birthday Book) which belonged to Princess Titaua Darsie. It contains a number of signatures, as was the practice of registering a signature on the appropriate birthday. The book reveals further people within Titaua’s network and adding to her important collection.

Jour apres Jour book whihc previously belonged to Princess Titaua of Tahiti

Jour apres Jour book which previously belonged to Princess Titaua of Tahiti

Barkcloth and the Baining: Masks in New Britain

Post written by Inna Yaneva-Toraman, University of Edinburgh
Baining masks are one of the most famous artefacts of Papua New Guinean cultures. A tourist cannot visit the country without encountering these masks in one form or another. They are printed on tourism brochures and post stamps, used in various advertisements, and displayed at museums and art galleries. Made from white bark cloth, and painted with natural black and red dyes, these masks have become a symbol for Baining culture and society.

As a PhD student working on Baining masks, I am grateful to Chantal Knowles and Eve Haddow for inviting me to join them on their review of the collection of masks and headdresses from Papua New Guinea at the National Museum of Scotland stores.

Eve excitedly unpacking the mask so we can study it's construction and style

Eve excitedly unpacking the mask so we can study it’s construction and style


During this visit we had a brief discussion on the use of new materials in the composition of masks made after European contact. The Baining mask at the museum stores, for instance, contained a layer of printed paper (probably pages from an old book) underneath the bark cloth, which seemed to stabilize the structure while at the same time keeping the mask as light as possible. When we compared the Baining mask with other Papua New Guinean masks made from bark cloth, we saw that there was a considerable difference in their weight. This led us into a discussion about the use of these masks and the characteristics of the dances for which they are made.

The Baining are a non-Austronesian speaking people, who live on the Gazelle Peninsula in northern portion of East New Britain. They are best known for their spectacular masked dances performed at night. The name “Baining” means “inland people” – bai as “to go inland” and nig or nig-nig as “wild, uncultivated area” (Corbin 1976). Therefore, it is assumed that the name originated among the Tolai people, who live along the Northeastern coasts of the peninsula.

Mask from the Baining people, early 20th century (A.1968.736)

Mask from the Baining people, early 20th century (A.1968.736)


The mask at the museum is an example of the smaller Baining masks called Kavat, which are used in the Baining Fire dance. In the anthropological literature this dance is also known as the Baining Snake dance because it used to include snake handling (Bateson 1931/1932). The Kavat dances are the most vigorous and ecstatic performances at the Baining night dances. The dancers jump in and over a large bonfire, wave burning sticks in the air, and kick the embers to create waves of sparkles around themselves. A good Kavat performance is said to be the one that draws attention with its energetic moves, thus accounting for the need of lighter masks.
A view inside the mask showing the construction of barkcloth stretched over a cane frame

A view inside the mask showing the construction of barkcloth stretched over a cane frame


This particular Kavat mask had been made of a single layer of fine white bark cloth and thin flexible branches. In order to keep the mask light, it is possible that the Baining man who made it chose to use printed paper rather than an additional layer of bark cloth. This example shows that the characteristics of the dances for which these artefacts were/are made, can also tell us about why particular ‘innovations’ in mask making were incorporated into the mask designs. Similarly, by looking at the composition of specific artefacts, we can understand how they were used. In many Melanesian dance contexts, features such as light/heavy, bright/dark, shiny/matte, and high/low, play a significant role in the composition, display, and reproduction of social relationships (A. Strathern & M. Strathern 1971). Thus, by examining the structure and design of artefacts such as masks, we can also learn something about the people who have made them, and the meaning of particular qualities like lightness and heaviness.

Works Cited:
Bateson, G. (1931/1932). ‘Further Notes on a Snake Dance of the Baining’, Oceania, Vol.2, pp.334-341.
Corbin, G. (1976). ‘The Art of the Baining of New Britain’. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, (doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 1976).
Strathern, A. & M. Strathern (1971). Self-decoration in Mount Hagen. London: Duckworth.

Material culture and missionary history on Aneityum island

This is the 4th post in a series fosussing on research in the Pacific around Vanuatu collections, acquired by Scottish missionaries who lived on the islands from the 1850s-1940s.

Following my time working in Port Vila, I travelled to Aneityum the southernmost island of Vanuatu. It is located closer to the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia than it is to many of the northern islands of the country. With a population of around 1000 people, it is relatively small with a close-knit community. The island is very green with no road network. The tourism industry there mainly comes from cruise ships who anchor in the bay on the south west coast, with the tourists travelling on small boats to Inyeug, or Mystery Island, a smaller island in the coral reef off Aneityum. It is on Mystery Island that our 12 seater plane landed before getting small boats over to the main village of Anelcauhaut.

Inyeug, also known as Mystery Island, off the south west coast of Aneityum

Inyeug, also known as Mystery Island, off the south west coast of Aneityum


Looking across to Anelcauhaut from Mystery island

Looking across to Anelcauhaut from Mystery island


Anelcauhaut is the location of the first Presbyterian church in Vanuatu, established in 1852. As I have detailed in previous posts, it was this connection with the history of Presbyterian missionaries that has led to Vanuatu material in Scottish museums. Both National Museums Scotland and Glasgowlife have material from Aneityum. These items came through Reverend James Hay Lawrie who was based on the island from 1879-96. Lawrie was at the mission station at Aname on the north of the island. I had taken photographs with me of the artefacts in Scotland and some copies of historical photos taken by Reverend Lawrie in the 1890s, most of which are in the Mitchell library in Sydney.
During my visit, I accompanied researchers from Australian National University who were running an archaeological fieldschool on the island. The team was led by Professor Matthew Spriggs and Dr Stuart Bedford who were working closely with Richard Shing an archaeologist from Aneityum. Fieldwork has been taking place on the island for several years. This year, the research sites included the old church and mission house at Anelcauhaut built by Reverend John Geddie. This Scottish born man was brought up in Nova Scotia, Canada, and he was responsible for setting up the first Presbyterian church. The excavations also centred around the area in which Geddie’s printing house was located, a burial site occupied by local and European 19th century graves, an area in which missionaries had buried old sacred or tabu stones, and an area of swamp.
The site of Reverend John Geddie’s house at Anelcauhaut

The site of Reverend John Geddie’s house at Anelcauhaut


Inside the site of Reverend John Geddie's house

Inside the site of Reverend John Geddie’s house


The research team involved in the Australian National University archaeological fieldschool on Aneityum

The research team involved in the Australian National University archaeological fieldschool on Aneityum


Following our arrival, my first task was to meet Nelly Nepea Tamalea who is the female field worker on the island. The Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta have an excellent system whereby volunteers from each of the islands in the country work as fieldworkers doing their own research with the community and also assisting visiting researchers. The two fieldworkers for Aneityum are Frank and his sister Nelly. I met Nelly in Anelcauhaut village where she and two of her sisters were rolling pandanus leaves in preparation for making baskets. Unsurprisingly, my attempts to roll pandanus took a lot longer! Meanwhile, the women were tending to an earth oven where food was being prepared for a welcoming ceremony we were all shortly to attend with the council of chiefs. After receiving garlands of inpa leaves, a kastom leaf in Aneityum, we were introduced and talk turned to the work we would be doing this year. All research is carried out in conjunction with the community and no research is carried out that is not supported by them. This was my first opportunity to share some of the photographs I had brought with me. Everyone was really excited and interested to see what I had been able to bring. It was decided that I should do a presentation one evening that week using a projector to display the images on the outer wall of the local primary school. This was an opportunity for anyone to see the photos that could make it there. In the end, around 100 people were able to attend. The historical photos show scenes from around the island but also feature some named individuals including Numrang who was an ancestor of the local teacher who helped me with the projector. National Museums Scotland also care for a beautiful neck ornament of seaweed which incorporates human hair from Numrang’s beard which I was able to show the community.
Showing images of the collection in Scotland and Reverend JH Lawrie’s historical photos of Aneityum to the council of chiefs on Aneityum

Showing images of the collection in Scotland and Reverend JH Lawrie’s historical photos of Aneityum to the council of chiefs on Aneityum


Delivering a presentation to the community in Anelcauhaut, Aneityum

Delivering a presentation to the community in Anelcauhaut, Aneityum


As there are no roads on Aneityum, everyone either travels by foot or by boat. I took a boat one day to the north of the island near Port Patrick. I wanted to go there not just to share the images with more people but also to see the mission station at Aname where Reverend John Inglis (from the Scottish borders) and subsequently Lawrie, had been based. As well as the missionary house there had been a church and teachers training college at Aname. Reverend Inglis arrived on Aneityum in 1852 representing the Scottish Presbyterian mission and he worked with Geddie. I found out that Inglis had originally built his house on top of the sacred meeting place, or nakamal , at Aname. This was a common practice for 19th century missionaries in Vanuatu as part of an infringement on local belief systems and their desire to exert influence over the local population. Still in situ where the entrance to the teachers training building would have been is a sacred stone which Inglis placed as a door step after it was given to him by some islanders who had converted to the new religion of Christianity. The stone is named Rangitafu and was apparently used to influence the sea and shipwrecks.
Rangitafu in situ at what would have been the entrance to the Teachers Training Institute

Rangitafu in situ at what would have been the entrance to the Teachers Training Institute in north Aneityum


Showing some of the artefacts in Scotland and Lawrie's historical photos to Pastor Isaac and his uncle at the site of Lawrie's mission house at Port Patrick (Aname), north Aneityum

Showing some of the artefacts in Scotland and Lawrie’s historical photos to Pastor Isaac and his uncle at the site of Lawrie’s mission house at Port Patrick (Aname), north Aneityum


I found that the 19th century photographs of the island were most recognisable to younger people on the island whereas because many of the artefacts are no longer made or used, they seemed more familiar to older people. For me, that made it feel even more important for the artefacts to be seen by the community and for them to have a record of some of the material held in museums elsewhere in the world. Jack Ketati who had been the first ni-Vanuatu curator at the cultural centre and who lives on the island was especially excited to see three dance clubs Reverend Lawrie donated to NMS in 1897. This includes one club in the form of a whale’s tail. He explained that the dances are still known and they are trying to revive the practice but that the knowledge of the style of the clubs has been lost. Having the photos of these 19th century clubs Jack told me that he would now be able to commission a carver on the island to work on the historical designs.

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain: Vanuatu’s first UNESCO world heritage site

The cultural tour begins at Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta which houses a display on the Roi Mata site. We were treated to a performance by musician and artist Edgar Hinge who sang, played the flute and demonstrated sand drawing. Sand drawing is a kastom art form which features on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. The artist uses only one finger dragged in a continuous line through the sand to create an elaborate drawing. Drawings have different purposes and meaning, sometimes as part of a ritual. Edgar create a number of drawings for us, each with its own story which he told us as he drew. This one relates to a tale of a blackbirding ship which visited one of the islands of Vanuatu:

Sand drawing by Edgar Hinge depicting a blackbirding ship

Sand drawing by Edgar Hinge depicting a blackbirding ship


Artist and Musician Edgar Hinge perfomaing at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta

Artist and Musician Edgar Hinge perfomaing at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta


Following Edgar’s performance, we travelled by bus to the west coast of Efate where boats waited to take us to another part of Efate mainland called Mangaasi, which had been the location of Chief Roi Mata’s residence. At this first stop we were greeted by a number of performers acting out the process of Roi Mat bringing peace to Efate. We walked around the area of his residence, passing a number of tabu stones, a large banyan tree and ending at a modern slit gong. The slit gong has significance because Roi Mata attended the feast on Lelepa at which he died following a disagreement over the playing of a large slit gong, or tam tam.
Modern slit gong, or tam tam, at Roi Mata's former area of residence at Mangaasi, Efate island, Vanuatu

Modern slit gong, or tam tam, at Roi Mata’s former area of residence at Mangaasi, Efate island, Vanuatu


Back in the boats, we headed to Artok, also known as Hat Island due to its shape. This is the location of Roi Mata’s burial site, excavated in 1967 by French archaeologist José Garanger. There is a strong oral tradition surrounding Roi Mata and the sites relating to him. In the 1950s, French anthropologist Jean Guiart recorded these stories and Garanger subsequently followed them up by excavating sites identified in this local knowledge (including Artok, Mangaasi, and a site called Fels cave which we visited next). The burial site on Artok was discovered to include the grave of Chief Roi Mata, and around 50 other burials but there is thought to be potentially as many as 300 burials. Local tradition tells that these other people were buried alive as part of the ceremony surrounding Roi Mata’s death and it has been found through excavation that many of the bodies exhibit signs of this having been the case. A number of graves were found to contain men and women together.
View across to Artok, or Hat Island, the site of Chief Roi Mata's burial

View across to Artok, or Hat Island, the site of Chief Roi Mata’s burial


Burial site of Chief Roi Mata and others who were buried there as part of a ceremony surrounding his death. Roi Mata's grave is maked by the large headstone to the right of the photo

Burial site of Chief Roi Mata and others who were buried there as part of a ceremony surrounding his death. Roi Mata’s grave is maked by the large headstone to the right of the photo


We then travelled by boat to Lelepa, the site of Roi Mata’s death. Following lunch in the local school of laplap and fish curry, we walked around the island to Fels (or Feles) cave. The imposing white rock is formed of compressed ash and pumice. This cave is apparently where Roi Mata was taken after falling ill and it was where he finally died. Inside are petroglyphs depicting whale, turtles, humans and other creatures, the earliest of which are thought to date from around 900AD. There are also markings believed to be a type of counting system.
The entrance to Fels Cave

The entrance to Fels Cave


Rock art inside Fels cave depictiing a man (possibly Chief Roi Mata), a turtle and a bird

Rock art inside Fels cave depictiing a man (possibly Chief Roi Mata), a turtle and a bird


Rock art inside Fels Cave depicting a whale

Rock art inside Fels Cave depicting a whale


The tour of Roi Mata’s domain is incredibly informative and enjoyable and a great way to see the island of Efate, but it also gives a glimpse the ways work is being done to preserve Vanuatu’s unique and rich cultural heritage. The trips to the three sites (Mangaasi, Artok and Fels Cave) are available for anyone to book and are run by Roi Mata Cultural Tours, a community-owned tourism business. This is an environmentally and culturally sustainable community tourism project and the tours help the Mangaliliu and Lelepa communities protect their World Heritage area. I was particularly interested in experiencing the tour as it is hoped that one day the missionary sites on Aneityum (the southernmost island of Vanuatu to which I would be flying the following day) will also receive World Heritage status.
You can find out more about the Roi Mata site here: http://chiefroimatasdomain.com/
– Eve

Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta Research & Workshop

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.

The Archive and Library building, Port Vila, Vanuatu

The Archive and Library building, Port Vila, Vanuatu


Exhibition space inside entrance to Vanuatu Archive and Library

Exhibition space inside entrance to Vanuatu Archive and Library


Anne Naupa, Eve Haddow and Augustine Tevimule inside the Vanuatu national Archive building

Anne Naupa, Eve Haddow and Augustine Tevimule inside the Vanuatu National Archive building


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.
Workshop with staff from the Archive, Photo and Film Archive, Library, Museum and Cultural Centre at VKS, Port Vila

Workshop with staff from the Archive, Photo and Film Archive, Library, Museum and Cultural Centre at Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta, Port Vila


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.

Henline Mala and Evelyne Pouleigh looking at photos of Vanuatu artefacts housed in Scotland

Henline Mala and Evelyne Pouleigh looking at photos of Vanuatu artefacts housed in Scotland

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:

Henline Mala and Eve Haddow in front of quilt made by Mrs Lawrie and women of Aneityum in the 1880s. Mrs Lawrie was the wife of Reverend James Hay Lawrie who was based on Aneityum, Vanuatu from 1879-97

Henline Mala and Eve Haddow in front of quilt made by Mrs Lawrie and women of Aneityum in the 1880s. Mrs Lawrie was the wife of Reverend James Hay Lawrie who was based on Aneityum, Vanuatu from 1879-97


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.

Evelyne Pouleigh showing Chantal Knowles the store for women's kastom artefacts

Evelyne Pouleigh showing Chantal Knowles the store for women’s kastom artefacts


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:
http://vanuatuculturalcentre.vu/
This research has been made possible with the generous support of grants from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Strathmartine Trust)
– Eve

Missionary Diasporas: Researching Vanuatu collections in the Pacific (part 1)

Over the past five weeks I have been working in the Pacific in Vanuatu, incorporating two weeks related research in Australia. The research has several key aims: to discover how those working with collections of Vanuatu material in Scotland (and the UK more broadly) can make collections accessible to originating communities; to explore the significance of Vanuatu artefacts and related photographs and archives in Scottish museums to communities today; and to gather stories and information relating to these important assemblages which can be fed back into the collections. In a previous post I wrote about the Vanuatu collections in Scotland and explained their significance and also their strong connection with Scottish Presbyterian missionaries who lived and worked in the country from the 1840s-1940s. This summer a team of international archaeologists and archaeology students on an Australian National University fieldschool were excavating missionary sites on the island of Aneityum, the southernmost island in Vanuatu. As both Glasgow Museums and National Museums Scotland have collections from Reverend Lawrie who was a missionary on Aneityum from 1879-97 I took the opportunity to travel to the island with the group for 2 weeks. Prior to flying to Aneityum I spent several days in the capital of Port Vila with Chantal Knowles who has been part of the Pacific Collections Review project and who recently joined the Queensland Museum in Brisbane as Head of Cultural Environments. During our time in Vila we worked with staff at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS). While travelling back from Aneityum I also had the opportunity to spend several days on Tanna island where I travelled to some historical mission sites and visited the Tafea Kaljoral Senta (TKS) which covers the whole of Tafea province (including the islands of Erromango, Aniwa, Aneityum, Futuna and Tanna).

Leaving Scotland at the end of June, my first destination was Canberra, Australia. I spent a week consulting material related to the Presbyterian missions which are part of the collections at the Pacific Manuscript Bureau at Australian National University. Some of these resources have been microfilmed from other archives and libraries but there are also archives from private individuals. You can find out more about the Pacific Manuscript Bureau here: http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/pambu/

National Library of Australia in Canberra which provides access to all Pacific Manuscripts Bureau microfilm material.

National Library of Australia in Canberra which provides access to all Pacific Manuscripts Bureau microfilm material.


In the forthcoming blog posts I will give details of the project and my findings in Vanuatu, and share my experiences of working in a wonderful Pacific country.

I have been able to carry out this research with the generous support of grants from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (http://www.socantscot.org/) and the Strathmartine Trust (http://strathmartinetrust.org/grants.htm).
-Eve