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

Material culture and missionary history on Aneityum island

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

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

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

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


Looking across to Anelcauhaut from Mystery island

Looking across to Anelcauhaut from Mystery island


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

The site of Reverend John Geddie’s house at Anelcauhaut


Inside the site of Reverend John Geddie's house

Inside the site of Reverend John Geddie’s house


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

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


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

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


Delivering a presentation to the community in Anelcauhaut, Aneityum

Delivering a presentation to the community in Anelcauhaut, Aneityum


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Sand drawing by Edgar Hinge depicting a blackbirding ship

Sand drawing by Edgar Hinge depicting a blackbirding ship


Artist and Musician Edgar Hinge perfomaing at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta

Artist and Musician Edgar Hinge perfomaing at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

The entrance to Fels Cave


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

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


Rock art inside Fels Cave depicting a whale

Rock art inside Fels Cave depicting a whale


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

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

Exploring Papua New Guinea collections at University of Aberdeen

Today we began week 2 of our review at University of Aberdeen museums. A large part of the Pacific collection is from South East Papua New Guinea. This material came to the Museum from Sir William MacGregor (1846-1919). The son of a crofter from Aberdeenshire, MacGregor was one of 9 children who was to travel the world. He studied Medicine at Aberdeen University before working in Fiji as Chief Medical Officer. He was Administrator of British New Guinea for the British government from 1888-1894 before returning as Lieutenant-governor fro 1895-1898. Later, MacGregor became Governor of Lagos, Newfoundland, and Queensland.

The MacGregor collection includes several shields unique to the Trobriand Islands, situated off the eastern coast of New Guinea:
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A large part of MacGregor’s collection relates to the ‘kula’. This complex system of exchange, which has been a subject of great interest for anthropologists, involves trading of manufactured valuables between islands in the Massim area of South-East Papua New Guinea. The two most valued items were shell necklaces (soulava) and pairs of shell armbands (mwali).

University of Aberdeen were given a number of Mwali by MacGregor such as these two:
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We have been studying these armbands closely, which were adorned with other materials to increase their value. The adornments include seeds, glass trade beads, pink spondylus shell discs, and pandanus leaves:
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MacGregor’s collection at Aberdeen University was his personal one. However he left an even bigger collection, about 8000 objects, in trust with the Queensland Museum in Australia with the wish that they be repatriated to Papua New Guinea for the people there when a suitable museum was created. Much of the material has been repatriated and is housed at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby.

– Eve

Raising project awareness across the globe

Post by Chantal Knowles:

I recently attended the Pacific Arts Symposium at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. The symposium provided an amazing opportunity to hear from Pacific islanders, academics, curators and artists working in the field of Pacific arts. I was able to present a paper on the collections of Tahitian Titaua Darsie-Brander held in the National Museums Scotland (more about her to come in a future blog) and encourage colleagues and friends to begin contributing to, and visiting this project website.

Musqueam elder Larry Grant greets Eruara Nia representing the Pacific Arts Association and Pacific Island community at the opening of the symposium and exhibition Paradise Lost? Contemporary Works from the Pacific at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver.

Musqueam elder Larry Grant greets Eruara Nia representing the Pacific Arts Association and Pacific Island community at the opening of the symposium and exhibition Paradise Lost? Contemporary Works from the Pacific at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver.

The symposium attended by over one hundred delegates was the most international forum yet that we have used to bring this exciting project to the attention of a wider audience. But our first three months of the project have been far from laid back, with project partners delivering talks across the country.

Artists Rosanna Raymond and Katrina Talei Igglesden perform at the opening of the conference, 5 August 2013.

Artists Rosanna Raymond and Katrina Talei Igglesden perform at the opening of the conference, 5 August 2013.

Presentations elsewhere have included Neil Curtis and Chantal Knowles’s paper ‘Pacific collections in Scotland – a review’ presented at the Museum Ethnographers Group annual conference in Brighton in April this year (see http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk/en/conference/331-2013-conference.html); Jilly Burns discussed the role of the project in knowledge transfer at a Museums Galleries Scotland event in April; and both Neil Curtis and Chantal Knowles presented individual papers on Fijian collections at the Fiji Art Project Symposium at the University of Cambridge in June.

Looking forward we have several presentations coming up in the near future. Eve Haddow will be highlighting the work done so far at the University Museums in Scotland conference at St Andrews in October and Chantal Knowles will be at the Museums Galleries Scotland conference this week.

The project is rapidly making progress with new information coming to light daily. If you or your organisation want to hear more about the project or its outcomes as they develop please do get in touch. We are keen to involve as many people as possible in order to make the most of this opportunity to get Pacific Collections in Scotland known to a wider audience and connected to the people who care most about their future.

A trial review: Looking at Hawaiian collections in National Museums Scotland

Although we’ve only recently gone live with this site, the Pacific Collections Review project actually started at the beginning of April this year. Needless to say a lot more has happened over the past 5 months than I can fit into one blog post but I thought I would share a little about one aspect of the collections I have reviewed so far. The idea of the review is to give an overview of different groups of objects at each of the four partner museums and also to highlight some areas for further research. Following research of other collections review approaches e.g. UCL’s toolkit and that used for the Egyptology collection at Salford Museum and Art Gallery presented in the ‘What’s in Store? Collections review in the North West’ publication, I have formulated a review method to fit the aims and timescale of this project.

In order to ensure this methodology was suitable to be taken forward, it was decided to test it on the collection from the Hawaiian Islands held at National Museums Scotland (NMS). This collection numbers 98 objects, a third of which are status objects. Most of the material was collected in the late 18th and early 19th century. Among the items are eight objects believed to be collected on Captain Cook’s third voyage (1776-9), such as this figure carving, or akua ka’ai:
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Some of the most striking objects in the Hawaiian collection are the feather cloaks and capes (ahu’ula). Different types of feathers were collected from native birds to make ahu’ula. Those composed of red and yellow feathers were associated with the highest chiefs. Yellow signified political power and red was the colour associated with the sacred. These are two of the seven ahu’ula in the NMS collection:

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I was particularly struck by the barkcloth or tapa (kapa) as Hawaiian examples are very distinctive. There are 28 pieces of kapa at NMS. Earlier tapa tended to be thicker with bold, more free-hand patterns such as this example:

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At NMS there are examples of tapa collected on Cook’s third voyage as well as several pieces collected on Captain Beechey’s voyage on HMS Blossom which visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1825-6. One of the pieces from Beechey’s voyage is actually 4 pieces sewn together:
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It seems it was common in the 19th century for collectors (and possibly those working in museums?) to cut sections from a large sheet of tapa to be inserted into books, exchanged as samples and suchlike. There are several pieces from which samples have clearly been cut at some point such as this piece, also collected by Captain Beechey:

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Today, the thought of a collector or curator slicing up a textile in this way would strike fear in the heart of many working in museums, but it appears at one point it was perfectly acceptable. That part of the tapa’s history now becomes another part of the story it tells.

– Eve