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.

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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

A look at Vanuatu collections in National Museums Scotland

Last week I hosted a visit from Christian Kaufmann former Curator of the Oceania Department at the Museum der Kulturen in Basel. We spent two days in store at National Musuems Scotland mainly looking at collections from Vanuatu. The four project partner museums (National Museums Scotland, Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow Life and University of Aberdeen Museums) all have material culture from Vanuatu which we knew from the beginning of the review had connections to Scottish Presbyterian missionaries who lived on the islands, mainly in Southern Vanuatu, from the 1840s-1940s. During the course of the Pacific Collections Review we have found the missionary connection is much more significant than first believed, with many more artefacts than we originally thought being traced back to missionary collectors once you scratch the surface of the documentation.

Map of Vanuatu

Map of Vanuatu


At National Museums Scotland (NMS) there are around 550 artefacts from Vanuatu and 250 of those were brought to Scotland by Reverend James Hay Lawrie, a missionary who was based on the southernmost island in Vanuatu, Aneityum, from 1879-1896(also known as Anatom and marked as such on the above map). Lawrie brought back material from Aneityum, Aniwa, Futuna, Tanna, Malekula, Epi, Ambrim, Nguna, Efate and Tongoa. The descriptions Lawrie recorded of the artefacts he collected give an insight into the culture on the islands at that time. They show he had a real interest in the culture of the people of Vanuatu, as opposed to some missionary collectors who focussed on using material culture to over emphasise cultural differences and justify what they saw as a need for mission work.

The first Presbyterian church in Vanuatu was established on Aneityum in 1852 by Rev John Geddie. Geddie was born in Aberdeenshire in Scotland and his family emigrated to Nova Scotia in Canada when he was young. Geddie was on Aneityum from 1848 and was joined in 1852 by another missionary, a Reverend John Inglis from Scotland. The Vanuatu collections in Scotland that were collected by missionaries reflect their interests and work on the islands: there are artefacts such as sacred stones and items of dress that reflect the missionary desire to modify people’s behaviour and convert them to Christianity, there are objects that tell the story of local culture and everyday life at that time, and there are artefacts that reflect the cash economy that missionaries were helping to create such as samples of arrowroot (a plant people were encouraged to cultivate and process for trade). There are also some items in Scottish collections that may not automatically be thought of as being associated with Vanuatu including bibles that have been translated into the local language of an island and communion tokens. Tokens are particularly associated with practices of the Scottish Presbyterian church and I gave a paper on them at Pacific Arts Association Europe conference last month in Cologne. Communion tokens offer a starting point to think about the complex relationships that existed between missionaries, local communities and others in Vanuatu in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
IMG_9069

Both sides of a communion token from Aneityum, first used on the island c.1852. One of 2 communion tokens brought to Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie.

Both sides of a communion token from Aneityum, first used on the island c.1852. One of 2 communion tokens brought to Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie.


Rev. JH Lawrie’s collection includes a wide variety of material ranging from body adornments such as combs…
Comb from Erromango (A.1890.170)

Comb from Erromango (A.1890.170)


To clubs including this dance club carved at the end with a shark’s tail…
Club (nelup) of wood from Aneityum which was used in dancing. Donated to National Museums Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie in 1889 (A.1889.514)

Club (nelup) of wood from Aneityum which was used in dancing. Donated to National Museums Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie in 1889 (A.1889.514)


Detail of one end of club (nelup) from Aneityum which was used in dancing. Donated to National Museums Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie in 1889 (A.1889.514)

Detail of one end of club (nelup) from Aneityum which was used in dancing. Donated to National Museums Scotland by Rev JH Lawrie in 1889 (A.1889.514)


To two tree fern grade figures from Malakula which Lawrie sent to the museum in 1896.
two fern grade figures from Malakula collected by Reverend James H Lawrie and donated to National Museums Scotland by him in 1896 (L-R: A.1896.15 & A.1896.14). The suit of armour from the Scottish history collection gives an idea of scale!

two fern grade figures from Malakula collected by Reverend James H Lawrie and donated to National Museums Scotland by him in 1896 (L-R: A.1896.15 & A.1896.14). The suit of armour from the Scottish history collection gives an idea of scale!


These figures relate to grade taking ceremonies where a person rises in status. They are made of a tree with multiple aerial roots. The green pigment is special and is particular to one area of Malakula from which it was traded.
Reverend Lawrie took many photographs during his time in Vanuatu and also brought a photo collection back to Scotland. Sadly the collection has been lost but there are still copies of many of his photographs in the Mitchell Library in Australia. One of these images shows an older man with a caption reading ‘Numrang, sub-chief of N side of Aneityum – Bequeathed his beard when dying to his successor. The beard was intermixed with dried seaweed and worn by the man in the opposite photo. 1890’The photo of the younger man shows him wearing the neck ornament and after studying these photos and the artefacts in Scotland I’ve discovered that the neck ornament is now here in Edinburgh in National Museums Scotland:
Chiefly neck ornament from Aneityum, Vanuatu, made of seaweed and human hair on a twisted plant fibre cord. Pieces of pink coral still remain attached to some parts of the seaweed (A.1895.413.74)

Chiefly neck ornament from Aneityum, Vanuatu, made of seaweed and human hair on a twisted plant fibre cord. Pieces of pink coral still remain attached to some parts of the seaweed (A.1895.413.74)


In addition to Lawrie’s collection, there is other important material from Vanuatu here in NMS. Christian and I were particularly interested in some of the older ceremonial masks such as this one of Malakula. It was brought to Scotland in 1890 by Reverend William Watt of Edinburgh who was a missionary based on Tanna with his wife.
Ceremonial mask of wood overmodelled with clay from Malakula (A.1890.428)

Ceremonial mask of wood overmodelled with clay from Malakula (A.1890.428)


Side view of mask from Malakula

Side view of mask from Malakula


One of the earliest set of artefacts from Vanuatu in National Museums Scotland are three skirts from Ambrim which would’ve been worn in layers. Although we don’t have an exact date, we know the skirts came via the University of Edinburgh collection which dates them as pre-1854.
One of three skirts from Ambrim, Vanuatu (A.UC.579A)

One of three skirts from Ambrim, Vanuatu (A.UC.579A)


I have recently been awarded generous funding from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Strathmartine Trust to travel to Vanuatu to carry out more research relating to the missionary collections in Scotland. I’ll be on Aneityum for 2 weeks in July and am excited about being able to take photographs and information on the collections in Scotland back to Aneityum where there is work on-going on the island to establish a museum and archive. I’ll be there with archaeologists from Australia National University who are carrying out fieldwork on the site of the old church and missionary’s house from the 19th century. In preparation for going to Vanuatu I have been working through the missionary archives at National Library of Scotland and have recently found what is best described as a scrap book compiled by a friend of Rev. JH Lawrie in Edinburgh. It contains some photographs taken by Lawrie as well as letters from him and pressed plant samples. The photographs from the album have been digitised and you can view them here: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/search/field/refere/searchterm/Acc.7548%252FF%252F19

– 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

Life histories: the Reverend James and Mrs Emma Hadfield collection

Chantal has written a blog about an exhibition at the Museum of New Caledonia which has told the story of the Reverend James Hadfield and Mrs Emma Hadfield, and their 40 years as missionaries in the Loyalty Islands. This exhibition included 13 artefacts from National Museums Scotland’s Hadfield collections. Read more here:

http://feastbowl.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/life-histories-the-reverend-james-and-mrs-emma-hadfield-collection/

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

A visit to the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

I recently visited the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum to have a look at Pacific material in their collection. I spent the day in the museum store with Michael McGinnes, Collections Manager at the museum, and two of his student volunteers who kindly showed me around. I also met Oswald the museum cat who has his own YouTube channel! The Smith was founded in 1874, funded by a bequest from local artist Thomas Stuart Smith. It has a large art collection as well as local history, archaeology, natural sciences, and world cultures collections.

Historical photograph of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, c.1900

Historical photograph of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, c.1900


The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum today

The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum


The museum cares for around 200 artefacts from the Pacific, which came into the museum in the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of these objects are from Melanesia and the associated donors are connected with the Stirling area. There is material from the Solomon Islands, including a collection of twenty eight fish hooks made of turtle shell donated by Colonel J.S. Stirling in 1882. The Colonel was a local man interested in natural history who published extensively on the flora of Stirling area. From the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands, is this bag made of banana fibres:
Woven bag from Santa Cruz islands made of banana fibre, probably late 19th century

Woven bag from Santa Cruz islands made of banana fibre, late 19th century


These finely made bags were woven on a backstrap loom. It would have been used to carry equipment for the process of chewing betel, a plant that acts as a mild stimulant.

The Smith also houses an interesting collection of around 70 objects from Vanuatu that came to the museum in 1930 and includes arrow, clubs, spears, combs and body ornaments. Over the course of the Pacific Collections Review project, we have found that the majority of artefacts from Vanuatu in Scottish museums we have visited were collected by missionaries. It seems likely this collection also has a missionary connection.

Woven girdle of pandanus leaf from Vanuatu. Aquired by the Stirling Smith in mid-20th century.

Woven girdle of pandanus leaf from Vanuatu. Aquired by the Stirling Smith in mid-20th century.


There are a number of clubs from Fiji and Tonga acquired from Sir Seton-Steuart in 1928, the year he sold the Touch House estate (situated outside of Stirling) and auctioned the contents of the house. Two of the clubs are intricately carved in the Tongan style and if you look closely you can see small depictions of frigate birds and people holding clubs or paddles.

Michael has worked at the museum for 34 (and a half) years so knows the collections very well. He told me his favourite object in the Smith collection from the Pacific is an ear ornament of Maori green stone. Maori greenstone, or pounamu, has ceremonial and special significance and this body ornament would have been a treasured object. It is recorded as being found on the North Island of New Zealand in a rifle pit after the battle of Gate Pā on April 29th 1864. Gate Pā, now more commonly known as Pukehinahina, was one of two key battles in the Tauranga area, and part of the New Zealand Wars fought between Maori and British government forces in the 1840s and 1860s. In this particular battle, 250 Ngāi Te Rangi Maori inflicted a heavy defeat on a much larger British force of 1700 men.
You can see a picture of the pendant here:
http://www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk/collections/world-cultures/australianew-zeland/maori

You can find out more information about the Stirling Smith and its collections here: http://www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk/

-Eve