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.

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

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.
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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

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/

Modelling culture: An outrigger canoe from Futuna

Guest post by Ross Irving, Assistant Curator, World Cultures, National Museums Scotland

As part of the Pacific Collections review Eve has been steadily working her way through our Pacific collections here at NMS. While studying material from Vanuatu, Eve started looking at the Reverend James Lawrie collection, which came to NMS in the 1890s from a Scottish Free Church missionary who was based on the island of Aneityum in the south of Vanuatu. The collection is quite large, numbering some 370 objects, including weapons, clothing and personal ornaments, objects of ceremonial and magical use and several models. Lawrie collected a number of ‘models’ to bring home with him, many of which survive in the NMS collection. They can tell us a great deal about the objects they represent and are a rich resource for researchers.

One model in particular came to our attention; a boat model from the island of Futuna around 50 miles from Aneityum. This island is not to be confused with the Polynesian island Futuna of Wallis and Futuna. The model represents a small outrigger canoe with dugout hull and sewn washstrakes, panels used to raise the height of the canoe. Models like this were popular souvenirs for European visitors, allowing them to take home examples of traditional craft in miniature (much easier to transport home than the real thing!).

Model of a Futuna outrigger canoe made of bread-fruit wood with paddles and baler (A.1895.413.2 + A-C)

Model of a Futuna outrigger canoe made of bread-fruit wood with paddles and baler (A.1895.413.2 + A-C)


Model of a Futuna outrigger canoe in the NMS collection (A.1895.413.2 + A-C )

Model of a Futuna outrigger canoe in the NMS collection (A.1895.413.2 + A-C )


‘Collection of Native Models Aneityum (now in Edinburgh Museum)’, courtesy of J.H. Lawrie. State Library of New South Wales

‘Collection of Native Models Aneityum (now in Edinburgh Museum)’, courtesy of J.H. Lawrie. State Library of New South Wales


The Futuna model can be seen at the front in the photograph above, interestingly with a fish hook tied over the stern carving which is still in the NMS collection. There is also a comparable model from Aneityum propped vertically at the back. Other models, also in the NMS collection, shown here include the model fish trap, shell adze and model house.

The Lawrie collection highlights the fact that models are extremely useful, along with other evidence like photographs, as records of traditional craft and constructions that would have been impractical for Europeans to bring home. Often constructed to scale (this model is estimates to be ¼ actual size) and using the same building materials and techniques as the full sized objects they represent, they can tell us much that other records cannot. Looking at this particular model, we can draw on Lawrie’s own published observations as well as his photography to learn more about it.

Having an interest in local culture, Lawrie wrote about and photographed different aspects including: appearance, dress and ornamentation, music and instruments, carving, weaponry, legends and traditional belief systems. Lawrie’s article entitled ‘New Hebrideans’ was published in The Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1892. On canoes, Lawrie observed that:

“The canoes on the southern islands are usually small and rude in construction; they are hollowed out of a single log with an outrigger attached, and are intended to carry from two to six adults”

Lawrie then goes on to discuss Futuna canoes in particular:

“On Futuna they have an ingenious method of heightening the sides of the canoes by building on extra pieces. They bore holes in the wood with a heated iron and sew the slabs to the body of the canoe with sennit, plugging up the holes afterwards with coco-nut fibre.”

This is also documented in one of Lawrie’s photographs:

Man with an outrigger canoe, Futuna, Vanuatu. Photo taken by Reverend J.H. Lawrie from 1891-94. Courtesy of J.H. Lawrie. State Library of New South Wales

Man with an outrigger canoe, Futuna, Vanuatu. Photo taken by Reverend J.H. Lawrie from 1891-94. Courtesy of J.H. Lawrie. State Library of New South Wales


The model collected by Lawrie shows this perfectly. Adding wash strakes to raise the height of the sides of the canoe would allow for travel in more open water. William Gunn, Lawrie’s predecessor who was based on Futuna, also commented on this element in his book The Gospel in Futuna (London, 1914):

“The sides are raised by a row of planks, sewn by sinnet, the holes being plugged with coconut fibre…These Futunese canoes, now used when catching flying fish, were their ‘ships’ in early days, for going to other islands. Then two rows of planks raised the height of the canoe and kept out the sea. The baler is a wooden scoop with the handle raised. The natives never go to sea without a bailer, as their canoes always leak, more or less.” P198

This contrasted with those made on Aneityum which Gunn stated were not built with wash strakes and were intended only for calmer waters. The Futuna model comes with miniature paddles and a baler. The model baler can be seen in 1st photo of this blog post. Gunn also mentions that the carved ornament on the stern is “supposed to resemble the tail of a fowl” (this can be seen on both the model, and in the photograph above).

It would appear that the Futuna model was made using the same techniques as described by Lawrie and Gunn. The washstrakes are sewn to the hull using coconut fibre cordage, with cane strips. There appears to be coconut fibre pushed into the joins, the spaces between the washstrake and the hull, a method of making craft watertight known as caulking.

Close up of the coconut fibre binding and caulking used in the construction of the model canoe.

Close up of the coconut fibre binding and caulking used in the construction of the model canoe.


The model appears to be a miniature version of the canoe both in form but also in construction. Although valuable as a record of larger objects, this focus often leads to other interesting aspects of models to be overlooked. A question that springs to mind is ‘why would a model need caulking?’ A master teaching an apprentice, or just a matter of authenticity?

Forming a part of most ethnographic museum in the UK, model boats are commonly displayed and interpreted simply as ‘boats’ rather than being discussed as models. Although they are definitely valuable as historical record of vessel types (which often are no longer made) their status as ‘model’ is rarely discussed. Early trade in these models between islanders and Europeans showed a mutual interest in watercraft and seafaring. Perfect as souvenirs these models were easily brought home as curios and so are widely represented. I feel the appeal and interest in the models from a European perspective is clear, but what needs further research is the history and process of model making from the Pacific islanders perspective. What role (if any) do models and model making have in local culture and craft? Were they made before European arrival and played some part in passing on knowledge about construction and craft, or are they simply a souvenir used to trade with Europeans? The fact that this model is constructed in the same way as the full sized version does suggest that time and care were taken to make them.

What we do know is that the models form part of Lawrie’s record of New Hebridean culture and allow us, without travelling to Vanuatu, to closely study many of these structures which would otherwise have been impossible.