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

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

Collections, Collaborations and Communities

The 2014 Museum Ethnographers Group conference was held last week at the University of Aberdeen. The conference topic of ‘Collections, Collaborations and Communities’ brought together speakers from the UK and elsewhere, and from different disciplines, including curators, artists, academics, and other museum professionals.

Some of the speakers shared their experiences of working with communities whether that is a community local to a museum, or source communities that may be more geographically distant. The discussions around community engagement often came back to questions of who should guide a project when a museum works in collaboration – is a project more effective if a community approaches an institution with a need, or should a museum form a project for a perceived need and then flexibly map that into reality? This tied in to another recurring theme of the conference: communication. There was a clear agreement of the importance of communication to working in collaboration.

The subject of ‘knowledge’ arose throughout the conference – questions were raised over how one defines knowledge, who holds knowledge, and how we share it? At times more specific questions were asked such as ‘how do you display sensory knowledge?’ It seems collaboration is often about different individuals or groups bringing different knowledge to the table. In an ideal situation the equation for collaboration might read: knowledge + knowledge= increased knowledge and understanding.

Eve Haddow presenting to the Museum Ethnographers Group conference 2014 on the Pacific Collections Review project. Photo courtesy of Chris McHugh.

Eve Haddow presenting to the Museum Ethnographers Group conference 2014 on the Pacific Collections Review project. Photo courtesy of Chris McHugh.


I presented a paper at the conference focussed on the Pacific Collections Review project. It was an opportunity to share some of our work with collections over the past year. I reflected on the value of working in partnership with other museums, particularly in terms of exchanging knowledge and looking at networks of objects. I also presented the ways in which we have been trying to connect with different communities, whether that community is the Scottish Museum community, a Pacific island community, a research community, etc. Finally I considered the potential legacy of this project and the types of communities for whom we hope it will have impact.

In addition to the papers delivered at the two day conference, delegates had the opportunity to visit the University of Aberdeen Museums collections centre and the Fiji exhbition currently on at King’s Museum. We also all enjoyed dancing at a Scottish ceilidh!
You can find out more about the Museum Ethnnographers Group here: http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk/en/

– Eve

Pacific Presences conference & workshop

All images courtesy of Chris McHugh, Artist and Researcher at University of Sunderland – With thanks

Chantal and I have just returned from a 2 day conference and workshop at Cambridge University as part of the Pacific Presences: Oceanic Art and European Museums research project. This five year project, funded by the European Research Council, involves research of Pacific collections in museums across Europe.

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge


Following an opening conference dinner held in Corpus Christi College the first day of the conference included presentations from international speakers from Norway, Palau, New Zealand, Hawai’i and New Caledonia as well as papers from the project team and those affiliated with the project in the UK. The conference culminated in a panel discussion that looked at the role of cultural heritage in the Pacific, the dispersal of collections, and on-going work to facilitate community access to collections.
One of the conference Q&A sessions featuring Nicholas Thomas (Director of Museums of Archaeology and Anthropology ,University of Cambridge) and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (Head of Arts and Visual Culture, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

One of the conference Q&A sessions featuring Nicholas Thomas (Director of Museums of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (Head of Arts and Visual Culture, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)


In the evening was a performance at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) by Michael Mel from the Western Highlands province of Papua New Guinea. Michael is a performance artist, teacher and writer and is currently an Associate Professor in Indigenous Art and Education at the University of Goroka. His performance involved Ali Clark of the Pacific Presences project and Anita Herle, Senior Curator for World Anthropology at MAA. It was a moving piece that took place in the world cultures gallery. It commented on the place of both people from Papua New Guinea and their cultural heritage in European museums. As well as reflecting on the complex and sometimes difficult history of the European relationship with Papua New Guinea, the performance revealed something of the issues facing the country today.
Michael Mel performing in the gallery at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with Senior Curator Anita Herle

Michael Mel performing in the gallery at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with Senior Curator Anita Herle


We had the opportunity afterwards to view ‘Tapa: Barkcloth paintings from the Pacific’, an exhibition of barkcloth including historical pieces from the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. There were two contemporary works by women of the Omie community of Papua New Guinea, acquired in 2012 with the support of the Art Fund.

The workshop on the second day focused on recent collections research carried out on material in some of the museums involved in the Pacific Presences project. I was particularly interested in a paper by Elena Gover of Australia National University looking at tahi poniu neck ornaments of wood decorated with abrus seeds from the Marquesas Islands as there is one of these in the collection at National Museum Scotland. I also found a paper given by Maia Nuku of the Pacific Presences project focused on material from Nauru a small island in Micronesia fascinating. Maia opened her presentation with a video of Marshallese poet and writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner reading her moving poem ‘Tell them’. You can find that video here on Kathy’s blog: http://jkijiner.wordpress.com/video-poems/

This conference gave us an opportunity to find out more about the Pacific Presences project and ongoing international work with Pacific material. It also gave us a chance to consider the place of collections held in Scottish museums in the context of a much wider network of people, places and things.

You can find out more about the Pacific Presences project here: http://pacificpresences.org/

– Eve

Traders, Travellers, Ships and Sugar

The McLean Museum in Greenock opened in the 1870s, funded by a wealthy local timber merchant from whom the museum takes its name. It was built adjacent to the James Watt Library which had been opened as a monument to the Greenock born engineer and inventor in the 1830s. With the formation of the local philosophical society in 1861, it became increasingly clear that a purpose built museum building was needed for a growing collection. At that time Greenock, which is on the west coast of Scotland along the Firth of Clyde from Glasgow, was a thriving port. It was a centre for trade and export with people using the port to travel in and out of Scotland, as well as being a significant industrial hub. The early collections at the McLean were largely built through associations with wealthy merchants and traders, particularly those born in the Greenock area who had left their home to travel the world but who always considered Greenock home. Knowing there were important collections at the McLean and keen to find out more about them, Chantal and I went to Greenock for the day to meet with Val Boa (Curator) and George Woods (Assistant Curator). George and Val were great hosts and shared their invaluable in-depth knowledge of the museum and it’s collections with us.

View of the World Cultures displays in the upper gallery at the McLean Museum, Greenock.

View of the World Cultures displays in the upper gallery at the McLean Museum, Greenock.


Of all the world cultures material at the McLean, the largest proportion is geographically from Oceania and much of this material is Melanesian. We were delighted to discover on our visit that the McLean have arguably the best collection of New Ireland material in Scotland. These artefacts were donated by Captain David Swan, a Greenock born man who served with the local shipping company Gulf Line for around 25 years in which time he made many journeys across the western Pacific. He was in command of the ship Gulf of Genoa in the 1890s and given that he donated the New Ireland material in 1894 it seems likely he collected it when he was voyaged to New Ireland in 1893/1893 on that ship. The collection includes Malangan decorated with coloured cotton cloth which would have been traded into the island, known as tradecloth, and feathers. Swan also collected body ornaments.
Malangan
Two examples of malagan from New Ireland donated by Captain Swan to the McLean Museum in 1894.

Two examples of malagan from New Ireland donated by Captain Swan to the McLean Museum in 1894.


Chantal Knowles and George Woods discussing some of the malagan pieces in the McLean Museum collection

Chantal Knowles and George Woods discussing some of the malagan pieces in the McLean Museum collection


We were interested to see a collection at the McLean from David M. Ballantine who was Treasurer and Controller of Customs in the British colonial administration in New Guinea. Ballantine, who was also born in Greenock, served under Sir William Macgregor who I introduced in a previous blog – MacGregor donated an important and extensive collection to University of Aberdeen Museums. Ballantine’s material was given to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911, two years after his death. It includes neck ornaments, stone headed clubs and other items from South East New Guinea.
One of two ornaments which would be worn held in the mouth when fighting, collected in British New Guinea in the 1890s by David Ballantine, and donated to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911. They are made of wood and decorated with abrus seeds, shells and boar tusks. This one has an attachment of barkcloth and red feathers.

One of two ornaments which would be worn held in the mouth when fighting, collected in British New Guinea in the 1890s by David Ballantine, and donated to the McLean by his mother Jessie in 1911. They are made of wood and decorated with abrus seeds, shells and boar tusks. This one has an attachment of barkcloth and red feathers.


The second of the mouth ornaments.

The second of the mouth ornaments.


The Mclean also has some material from Vanuatu from the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, and a small collection of objects from the Solomon Islands. There are several Fijian artefacts, donated by Thomas Steel, an industrial chemist and naturalist who worked at a sugar refinery at Nausori, Fiji. Greenock was a significant location for the sugar industry. Refining began there in in the 1760s. By the end of the 19th century, around 400 ships a year were transporting sugar from Caribbean holdings to Greenock for processing. The most famous company with an active refinery in the town was Tate & Lyle.

Before leaving the McLean we saw this impressive double hulled canoe model with pearl shell inlay and finely woven sails, donated to the 1870s.

Boat model with pearl shell inlay from Manihiki in the Cook Islands donated to the McLean Museum, Greenock in the 1870s.

Boat model with pearl shell inlay from Manihiki in the Cook Islands donated to the McLean Museum, Greenock in the 1870s.


It had been attributed to Polynesia and we were able to be more specific as there is a similar model at NMS which is on display in the Facing the Sea gallery. Details of this type of canoe are published in ‘Canoes of Oceania’ (Haddon & Hornell) and they are from Manihiki in the Cook Islands, Polynesia.

The museum still engages in contemporary collecting, the recent acquisition from the Pacific being material from Papua New Guinea. A large number of the Oceania collections at the McLean Museum are now available to search online and George told us that they are working towards getting the remaining objects digitised. You can access the online database here:
http://mcleanmuseum.pastperfect-online.com/36003cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks
– Eve