The Pacific Collections at Museums Victoria: A brief introduction and aspirations for the future
Dr Elizabeth Bonshek, 10 August 2016
OK, we might kick off. I'm Philip Batty and the senior curator in the Humanities Department. I'm stepping in for Lindy, whose on fieldwork in Arnhem Land, poor thing. Today-- well, before we kick off, I'd just like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are on today. The Boonwurrung and Woiwurrang people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects elders both past and present.
Today, we've got Elizabeth Bonshek, who is a relatively recent addition and a great addition to the Humanities Department staff. And already we're seeing things in the Pacific Collection we haven't seen for decades being noticed and looked at. Liz has worked in museums and with museum collections from the Pacific region since 1987. Her doctoral research was undertaken in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea, and she was awarded her degree by the Australian National University.
Her research focuses on the material culture of the Pacific region, especially Melanesia, and upon both historical and contemporary collecting and indigenous responses to museum collections. She has also worked in the Solomon Islands. Her publications included a tour of contribution and authorship of Melanesia Art and Encounter, focusing on the Melanesian collections at the British Museum. She has recently been exploring memory and silence in interpretation of contemporary manufacture of museum collection. So without further ado, I'll welcome Liz.
Hi, everyone, thanks for coming. Today, I want to give a brief introduction to the Pacific collections, followed by a glimpse into three research projects I've been working-- either worked on or I'm still working on. In so doing, I'll illustrate my approach to researching museum collections.
It's common place for the researchers to acknowledge their intellectual influences. Mine is the work of Nicholas Thomas, who has moved research on Pacific museum collections from the context of their use to what academics refer to as the search for indigenous agency, and the collecting processes of the past, and what these collections can tell us about how people interacted with one another and how they engaged with one another. So we might look at such an image and wonder exactly what is the nature of the understandings that are happening in this transaction.
Investigations of specific contexts of past engagements can better reflect upon the unfolding of colonialism in specific times and places. But, also, it is through engagements with Pacific Islanders with the collections today that from a museum perspective, we can investigate what is important to people now, what things are held as significant, and what issues are of concern to them in the future.
Thomas has recently described the process of a critical engagement with museum collections as the museum as method. And so he talks about the museum not just being an institution or a collection but a method and a kind of activity which has significant moments that come out of it. So a critical engagement with museum collections can de-stabilize orthodox understandings of the past and shed light onto new ways of understanding the past, the present, and project these into the future, too.
So today, I'm going to-- oops, wrong device-- I'm going to try and whiz through four points. So I'm afraid I might be cramming in too much, so I might have to accelerate at some point. But a brief survey of the museum's Pacific collections, a glance at one of the earliest collections from New Caledonia, Sir William MacGregor's collection from Papua New Guinea, a longer response, which is a work that I did before I came here where visitors from Solomon Islands came to see their cultural heritage, and I really and very briefly with some aspirations for the future.
So the Pacific-- starting with the first one-- the Pacific collections here at Museum Victoria comprise around 22,300 artefacts and 8,000 images. I'll just leave you to peruse those figures. We do not hold objects from every nation in the Pacific in equal numbers, but many are represented. The Pacific region is culturally diverse and has the greatest linguistic diversity per capita in the world. Papua New Guinea alone, for example, has more than 800 languages.
When early exploration in the Pacific region by Europeans began, Pacific Islanders were described by the newcomers as belonging to three groups Melanesians, Polynesians, and Micronesians. These divisions were originally based on racial characteristics. However, while these terms have retained currency, they have lost much of their meaning as derogatory racial indicators. Today, the terms continue in use, repurposed to embody positive sentiments.
The collections at Museum Victoria represent early colonial history in the region. And in terms of number of items, it heavily reflects engagements with our most northern neighbour, Papua New Guinea. 60% of the collection is from Papua New Guinea. The earliest collectors we're not necessarily focused on collecting for the sake of collecting. They were often undertaking secondary collections, as writers such as Mike O'Hanlon and Rob-- Rob Walsh-- would term it.
That is, they were-- they had other business. Their business sort of focused elsewhere. They were into resource extraction. They were gold mining, whaling, timber loggers. They were beche-de-mer fishing. They might be establishing plantations. If they were missionaries, they were busy proselytising. Exploration expeditions were sent out by governments, and also there were probably beach bums out there as well.
But, certainly, there were also collections of natural history and curios. And we have a fair share of those. 20th century collectors include anthropologists-- including Bronislaw Malinowski, a major figure in Pacific anthropology-- early officials of the administration of the Australian controlled Papua-- the Chinnery collection leaps to mind-- and more recent fieldwork collections-- where I mean in the last 50 years-- have been added, including that of the former curator Ron Vanderwal. And most recently, I've purchased some contemporary artworks from PNG and intend to build up a contemporary collection.
So I want to move now and take a glance at one of the earliest kind of collections from New Caledonia. So Museum Victoria's earliest Pacific objects are recorded in the annual report of the trustees 1870, '71 and refer to items from New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu-- which at that time was New Hebrides-- Samoa, New Caledonia, Nui-- which was recorded as Savage Island-- and Tahiti.
However, not all of the objects listed in the report have been identified in the collection. For today, I want to focus on the material from New Caledonia, which was exhibited at the intercolonial exhibition in 1966. The exhibition, which included various objects demonstrating resources, manufacturers, and enterprise-- these were displayed in six different classes, two of which are of interest for us today. So I'll leave you to look at those.
So Victoria offered various objects for display, as did their sister colonies, which at that time included New Zealand. In an accompanying guide the writer states, quote "rejoiced indeed are all in affording a hearty welcome to the commissioners who visit us with exhibitions from the French colony of New Caledonia. A happy proof that the amicable relations existing between the mother countries extend to those remote colonies in the southern hemisphere," end of quote.
So amicable relations we might term-- take as code for trade competition. According to the museum's annual report, 44 objects from New Caledonia were acquired from intercolonial exhibition. Identifying them is not is another matter. According to the official guide, the governor of New Caledonia-- who at that time was Charles Guillain-- is quote "especially entitled to our gratitude for the handsome manner in which he responded to the appeal of our commissioners and also for the valuable services rendered to the exhibition by Messrs. Matthew and Boutin-- the gentlemen sent expressly from New Caledonia to represent the colony here."
The companion guide extols the quality of the jade stone displayed in the New Caledonia court and describe New Caledonia as a young colony with great potential for sugar production, which quote "will probably be a valuable commodity in the future," unquote. It was also growing coffee, maise, rice, and tobacco, and producing essential oils. He notes the weapons of the Aborigines of the island constitute an interesting item but then actually describes the beche-de-mer as the most interesting display and something he thinks not-- that he's not aware of having seen in Melbourne before.
So the objects appear secondary to these focus on commerce and new resources. So to assess the significance of the objects, we need to look at the development of New Caledonia a little bit further. In 1866, the year of intercolonial exhibition, the French colony of New Caledonia was only 11 years old. It had been cited by Captain Bougainville in 1768, discovered by James Cook on his second voyage, and annexed by the French in 1853.
Of course, the people living on the islands that we now call New Caledonia did not feel themselves to be recently discovered. Archaeological evidence suggests that the islands were first occupied 3,000 years ago. The finds of pottery called Lapita, which have been found by archaeologists, have been incredibly important in reconstructing theories of migration into the Pacific by people originating in Southeast Asia.
When Europeans arrived in New Caledonia, they observed a number of clans from 200 to 5,000 people in size, 36 different languages, and no common language. Yams and taro with the dominant cultivars. The former was considered sacred, and ritual practises accompanied its cultivation. Yams were grown by men. Taro was grown by women. These two cultivars formed a complementary pairing of male and female. There was a relationship to the land that was yet to be understood by the European visitors. There were a few European visitors prior to 1800, but interactions between New Caledonia and their neighbours to the north-- what is now Vanuatu-- were ongoing and based upon traditional exchange relationships.
So by the first half of the 1800s, explorers traders, whaler, arrived more frequently, and trading posts were established on the main island Grande Terre, despite resistance by the indigenous people now known by the term Kanak. The London Missionary Society established missions in 1840 and 1841, and the Roman Catholics followed three years later. Not only were they two mission-- not only were they the two rival mission groups, they also represented and promoted different national interests. The LMS were British, the Roman Catholics French. So both missions disapproved of polygamy, were troubled by the absence of the concept of private property, and acted to change local customs.
So it's on the 24th of September, 1853 that the French emperor Napoleon III annexed new Caledonia to preempt British interests in the area. The French wanted to establish a new colony, similar to New South Wales, complete with a penal settlement. France's prisons were overflowing. In addition to their criminal detainees, they housed prisoners following the 1848 Parisian worker's insurrection. In 1851, Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat added more political prisoners to this number. And French settlers began to arrive. And as they did so, they seized upon Kanak ancestral land.
During the period 1859 to '68, the French government promoted cattle grazing, which resulted in land seizures and destruction of Kanak crops and traditional burial grounds. Governor Guillain issued a number of decrees in 1868, '76, and '97, legalising alienation of Kanaks from ancestral their lands. And after 20 years, there was an indigenous uprising. So it's under Governor Guillain's watch that the collection appearing at the intercolonial exhibition was sent to Melbourne.
So what does it mean to have these objects? Clearly, they're obtained in turbulent times, but truth be told, we don't really know. But let's look at what some of these, or the one object, is. So the exhibition catalogue tells us that the New Caledonia court contained the following items. I'll leave you to look at those there. The items in red are the ones that are of interest to us-- the headdress and mask made of feathers, and in another class, the native fabric made of the barkcloth of the ficus prolina, and samples of native workmanship, and so on.
The museum's annual report lists 43 items presented by the honourable commissioners from New Caledonia. And it's in the annual report that a chief's hat and mask are mentioned. And that is the hat. The remaining items listed in the annual report-- slingshots, and a carrying bag, women's skirts-- have question marks hanging over them as to how they relate to the display in the New Caledonia court. And more-- at the moment, more work needs to be done to identify whether two jade axes, coins of metal, or medals of baked clay-- which I'm not quite sure what they are-- and 15 weapons are present.
But let's stay with the hat. If we look closely at the hat, we can say that its fabrication is incredibly detailed, and that there is also a red fur braiding attached, which is actually woven into that plant fibre work. And this is flying fox fur. The annual-- I'm sorry-- according to the Kanak political leader, Jean-Marie Tjibaou, quoted by Emanuel Kasarherou, the land itself is conceived of as the house of the Great Chief. The ground-- quote, "the ground is his chair. The course of the rivers are his blood. The chief is himself the land." So obviously, a chief's hat, we're looking at something with considerable status attached to it.
According to Kasarherou, the earliest accounts from 1791 to 1794 agree that the manner of wearing the hat-- as we see here-- involve the hair being pulled up through this cylindrical basketry frame, which was worn only by chiefs and important men. Sometimes these hair frames were accompanied by a band of decorated shell beads, such as this one, which is in the BM's collection. And it has pendants of shell, which can represent different objects. I was talking about these things here. So they might represent different objects sometimes-- fish and feather plumes from an owl species or an egret might also be attached.
The army surgeon on the voyage of Dr. Augustus 1791 1794 observed that these were already becoming rare-- difficult to procure. Such an object, then, would not be destined for exchange in local networks, as were other kinds of objects called by Europeans money. These consisted of beads made of green stone or brown seashells. Such valuables were utilised in the course of ceremonial exchange in parts of New Caledonia and were associated with presentations at births, initiation, marriage, funerals, along with other precious, precious things. In former times, a special place was held by braids of flying fox fur. So we can see that that was an important item on the hat.
So then we can ask ourselves how did the governor of New Caledonia obtain such a hat? Did a chief try and form an alliance with the governor? Did a chief concede to him through the presentation of the hat? Or did a chief run foul of him? Or did the governor obtain it from one of his officers or from some other middle man? We need more research in the archives and with cultural experts to explore that. Certainly, Emmanuel Kasarherou, formerly of the Territorial Museum New Caledonia and now Adjunct Director of Patrimony Collections and Research at the Quay Branly, has told me that this museum's collection from New Caledonia is an important one. And it has been included in his survey of Kanak artworks around the world.
So let's move to New Guinea. So I wanted to talk a little bit about William MacGregor's collection. This work is being undertaken as part of an ARC project, titled Excavating MacGregor, Reconnecting a Colonial Museum Collection-- Reconnecting a Colonial Museum Collection. And it brings together a number of researchers from three museums in Australia.
So William MacGregor was the first administrator of British New Guinea. He assembled his collection of 13,000 objects between 1888 and 1898. The official collection was then distributed between the Queensland Museum, the Australian Museum in Sydney, and Museum Victoria, because these colonies had contributed to the cost of making the collection. Museum Victoria received around 600 objects. Objects also went to the British Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.
MacGregor's personal collection is housed in Aberdeen. This collection represents-- the total collection represents an abandoned history. Little research has been carried on it to date, although a large component of it-- about 2/3-- was repatriated to Papua New Guinea in 2000. And that repatriation has been described by Mike Quinnell, former curator at the Queensland Museum.
The size of the collection, its geographical coverage-- encompassing diverse cultural groups-- presents a challenge for re-assembling the collection in a virtual form. One of my projects is an analysis of the parts from Collingwood Bay. So Collingwood Bay-- let me put my glasses on-- is down here, this area here. Port Moresby's over here.
So and through looking at this pottery collection to explore the engagements between MacGregor and the people he encountered, so in academic speak we're looking at the-- or searching for the indigenous agency in the making of this collection. So MacGregor collected 107 pots in all. 26 of which are from Collingwood Bay, where I carried out my fieldwork in 2001 to 2003-- for which I thanks to the Wanigela women and men who assisted me with research at that time and whose work is now appearing in the research project.
MacGregor made several trips to Collingwood Bay over the period of his administration. Government officials travelled with him. In fact, it's not always clear who made a collection, nor are the exact number of objects acquired noted in the annual reports of British New Guinea, nor are the locations necessarily reported accurately, because MacGregor and his officers were mapping new territory as they travelled. So while he's going he's making this official collection, which he intended to be held in posterity for the people, all of-- then British New Guinea, now Papua New Guinea-- because even at the turn of the 19th century-- the end of the 1800s, he noticed that cultural practises and social practises were changing. So in some ways he was a bit of a visionary.
His trips in Collingwood Bay commenced in 1890. And while each was often a first encounter, engagements appear to have involved an initial flight response on behalf of the locals or a shy interaction of sorts. But notwithstanding this, most occasions MacGregor found people in Collingwood Bay pretty eager to engage in exchange, once they'd recovered from the shock.
For example, on the 29th of July, 1890, MacGregor stopped at a place called Fir Tree Point. Some 10 miles on, the party came across a lagoon and happened upon two large canoes. The occupants ran from them into the bush. MacGregor placed a small present in one of the canoes, which he saw was taken.
His next stop was Phillips Harbour, and this is the place that he noted some four years later that the pots for the public collection were acquired. He did make return trips and was particularly good at remembering the people he met and was on the lookout for those he perceived to be leaders. He wrote quote "some very remarkable pottery was obtained at Maisina-- which is Phillips Harbour-- for the public collection. The pieces are bowl-shaped and have on the outside raised designs as if a small cord had been half inserted into the clay and left there. This raised form of design is the only example I have seen of relief ornamentation in Papua pottery."
So I'll just whiz through some of the examples. So these may be some of the ones he collected. I haven't been able to narrow it down, but they're certainly candidates. So this raised design is what he's talking about. And it is quite distinctive.
OK, so we know when we look at the appendices, we know that MacGregor didn't actually make this particular collection himself. He went off charting the bay, while his officers [? Morton, ?] [? Guys, ?] or [? Armet ?] landed and did the actual acquisition. As I mentioned, there's this problem of where he went and identifying places and groups. And language is an issue-- the fact that so many languages were present is an issue.
So MacGregor tends to identify the whole of Collingwood Bay as Maisina Territory. And on the occasion mentioned above in 1894, he comments that the pots were required from Maisina at Phillips Harbour, which is located-- he says-- at the southernmost end of Collingwood Bay. But he also tells us earlier in July 1890 that it is the Kapi Kapi language speakers of Cape Vogel, who are even further south, speaking another language, who refer to the people of Collingwood Bay as the Maisina tribe. So MacGregor is really thinking about Collingwood Bay with southern eyes.
Contemporary research has established the linguistic diversity in Collingwood Bay. And there's several different language groups in operation there. And there's no real reason to assume it wasn't operating there before. So we have-- trying not to move away from the mic, we have the [? Yareba ?] language down here. Moving up, some Maisin language appears here again, the [? Yareba ?] appears again, but there's also Onjob language and [? Isa ?] language in there. And let me go further up, and Maisin re-appears, and then further up here, we get [? Minaveha ?] and [? Karafe ?] languages appears. So there's lots of stuff going on in Collingwood Bay.
So trying to trace the route of where MacGregor went and what he did is actually a really confusing thing. And so what I've done is sort of try to turn to the pots-- because I do know a little bit about the pots-- and try to figure out what may be going on and how that can inform our question about indigenous agency in collecting.
It is interesting that MacGregor noticed the form of these pots as something to be noticed, because I think form is key. And he notes that these raised designs are striking, and he's right. And over 100 years later, Margaret Tuckson and Patricia May inform us that this is the only type of raised poetry style in Papua New Guinea. And I'll just quickly show you how they make these things. I'm going to spend too much time.
But the technique of making is very particular, too, so this cylinder of clay is put on its end. The base is drawn up like a mushroom. The sides come up, as we can see here. The centre piece is gone to to obtain more play to form the coils, which are then attached to the pot in a more conventional manner in a coil pot technique. This is perhaps more conventional, too, with the patting of the pot to get it into shape. Standing upside down while applying a design is an extraordinary thing-- I can tell you. That did my head in. And here they finish it off on the base. And these are the tools they use. So this cylinder idea with the clay coming from inside of the pot to form the coils is very distinctive.
So MacGregor-- so we need to go to other collections, too, to inform our knowledge here. MacGregor recommended the first site of the establishment of the Anglican mission. And it did end up in Wanigela. And there are a number of missionaries-- Wilfred Abbot, who was there from 1898 to 1900. Percy Money was there from 1901 to 1910, so he was a long resident. [? Chignall ?] and Ramsey followed. They all made collections within 10 years of MacGregor. And a Viennese scientist Rudolph [? Perque ?] and an American museum collector [? Abby ?] [? Lewis ?] joined them briefly.
So in her discussion of colonial collecting in this area, Anna-Karina Hermkens discusses the categories of objects collected by these men. And she suggests that because stone adzes, ornaments, pottery, and barkcloth were major items of local exchange, these objects are reflected in what these collectors brought home and gave or sold to the museums in Australia, Europe, and America. And as such, the agency of Collingwood Bay locals is reflected in the composition of the collections.
So ornaments are the most frequently acquired items, and spears are the less frequently acquired item. What I'm interested in is that the number of pots and barkcloth seem to be roughly equivalent, which I think is interesting. And I think it's interesting, because in terms of indigenous exchanges, these two objects are equal. They are more or less comparable. So a barkcloth can equal a spring bag in exchange networks.
Money doesn't give us much detail about this exchange relationship, but he tells us that pots and barkcloth were exchanged between the villages of Wanigela, which are not Maisin speaking villages, and [? Uyaku, ?] which are Maisin speaking villages. So there are two different language speaking groups exchanging with one another here. And furthermore, the pots can only come from Wanigela, because they've got the clay sources. So the pots are appearing in-- throughout Collingwood Bay, but they are only made in Wanigela.
So Money was in the area only three years after MacGregor, so there seems little reason to not assume that the local exchange networks that he witnessed three years after MacGregor were not in place. So during my own fieldwork in Wanigela, women exchange pots for barkcloth made by the women at the Maisin villages-- one for one, as well as for string bags and mats made by the [? Minaveha ?] and [? Karafe ?] women living to the north of the bay.
So these items form part of a niche-- indigenous exchange network, which extended throughout Collingwood Bay and truth be told outside of it as well, and particularly to the north. And furthermore, outside of this one-to-one relationships, pots could be exchanged in various numbers for other things like canoes, pigs, and dogs.
And there were also particular numbers of pots, which were conventionally exchanged in other contexts. So while one pot equals a barkcloth equals a string bag equals a mat, 20 pots were required as a gift accompanying bride price payment. And in earlier times, when shell valuables were still used, you needed 20 pots for one [? nunug, ?] a shell valuable. So we can see here that there's an elaborate form on and important part-- an important indigenous scale of value in operation. And they're also used for cooking and to provide the means to exchange for other items which you can't make yourself, namely the string bags, the mats.
So it's not surprising they turn up. But there is another-- there's a further dimension here-- in that, the pots with these wavy designs turn up in MacGregor's collection, and they turn up in Money's collection, and they don't turn up in other people's collections. So I want to look at those a little bit further.
So it's really the pots that have these designs that enter the one-for-one exchange network, and it's the pots with these complicated designs that stay at home. My next picture. So pots-- Money noted that pots were-- clan-designed pots-- were placed on the side of graves to mark the place of the deceased and identify them, too, through their designs. And that practise continues today. I photographed a pot used in the same way, when I was there doing my fieldwork in the cemetery. But they're also held onto by people as family heirlooms. So they're about attachment.
So cooking pots, which don't have these design, because you're going to put them in the exchange network, they're are much different design. They have a lot of incised designs, and you don't really want to be giving something personal away about your clan to somebody else. So there's this separation of designs on pots, depending what's going to happen to them. So that makes MacGregor's pots really interesting and also Money's pots, because they've got a predominance of design-- clan designs on them.
So we know MacGregor dropped into Collingwood Bay on occasions, and his officers patrolled through the area, and that Percy Money lived in the area for 10 years. So perhaps Money-- he's trading on his longstanding relationships with the locals and they with him. Many of the clan pots he collected were from men who then became Christian converts.
So I suggest that people were trying to draw Money into serious relationships, building relationships with him, although he was probably just thinking he was collecting for a museum. And I think the same was going on for MacGregor, because he visits infrequently, but he's a powerful man. He travels with a powerful escort. He's got an armed native constabulary with him. He carries out punitive expeditions from time to time. He does one on the Musa River to the north of Collingwood Bay. And this news would have gone all over Collingwood Bay. So I suggest that MacGregor represents a force to be reckoned with, and pots of these more elaborate nature are being given to him in a way to try and manipulate some sort of relationship with MacGregor, who's probably totally oblivious.
So this is a way-- this is an example of the way that I've been trying to think about collections in terms of historical collections-- what they might mean, what they may conceal in terms of interactions. But also contemporary responses to collections are obviously really important, and I want to turn to the last case study if I've got time-- hopefully I do-- to look at what is of importance to people today, which may not be what is important from a historical point of view, of course.
So let's move to the Solomon Islands, and I'm going to talk about the Longgu, who are I can't actually see. I'll have to move away. [INAUDIBLE] So the Longgu-- this relates to research I did with a linguist Deborah Hill, at University of Canberra, who has carried out fieldwork with the Longgu for over a decade. And in 2012, we brought two Longgu people to Australia to see the collections made there by the anthropologist Ian Hoban in 1933. And his collection is stored at the Australian Museum-- the Macleay Museum in the Sydney University archives.
So the visit was a result of earlier process of consultation, which had begun in 2011, when Hill took a selection of Hoban's photographs to [? Nongali ?] village. Following this, two people were selected by the Longgu villagers and their chiefs to make this visit to Sydney and see Hoban's material. So they were given sanction to speak for the Longgu.
The Longgu is the name of the language spoken by several hundred people living in the northeast of Guadalcanal. In 2012, all administrative wards in the Solomon Islands elected chiefs to represent them in the House of Chiefs. Ward 15, which is the Longgu area, had five tribal groups, and each had elected two men to represent them in the House of Chiefs. In addition, three men were appointed as advisors to the chiefs. [? Stewart ?] [? Bengana ?] was one of these three. And Florence was selected to participate by this group. The chiefs' support for facilitating my research application to the Solomon Islands government, and of course we couldn't proceed until that had been issued.
So the two delegates represented-- were represented-- so the two delegates represented were regarded as not only holding the appropriate knowledge to successfully deal with the task at hand, but to have the fitness to withstand the journey itself. Success in dealing with the trip involve cultural knowledge about Longgu, but also knowledge in dealing with non-village ways of doing things, ability to deal with the demands of the project itself, and the life experience to deal with the strains of living for one month away in a distant country. The delegates were then fully empowered by the community through the chiefs to undertake what was considered an arduous physical journey from Solomon Islands to Australia, but also to take an intellectual and emotional journey across time and place on their behalf.
So [? Watapura ?] and [? Bengana ?] visited the collections, and they saw material from other Solomon Islands-- shipped places in the Solomon Islands and indeed further afield within the Pacific. The visit exposed them to the particular methods employed by museums to keep track of the past and indeed the present. These incorporate all the infrastructural components of museum work-- object labels, shelf labels, computer printouts, archival letters, together with a defunct image format, such as glass plate negatives. But they were also seeing and experiencing the Western conception of heritage in action. That Westerners or at least some of them placed a high value on the importance of history did not need to be articulated in many ways, because they were witnessing it, and they were caught up in it. So contemporary museums and archives manifest this preoccupation.
And the delegates commented on this. They were impressed-- not only by the objects, images, and archives that they saw, but also specifically commented upon what appeared to be to them as networks. That was networks between all the stuff. And I think they probably overnetworked things, because we were different institutions. But they had in mind that we were all connected and working together as one.
We saw a lot of things. I'm only going to talk to you about the bowls, which came up as important for-- as I'll talk. So this is an example. On the left, one of the bowls in the Australian Museum and one of the bowls in situ in Longgu. So they told us about the bowls. So they named them. They're called [? lolli. ?] And we were told that they were differentiated by size. Some are as large as from the ground to chest height.
When the bowls are very large or heavy, they're carried across the shoulder with the use of a stick, or they're slung between two carriers. But smaller ones might be carried on a woman's head-- only a woman's head. Men don't carry things in that way. Regardless of size, their use remains the same-- the presentation of cooked food on ceremonial occasions, which mark a large community activities, such as housebuilding or digging a garden. These are heavy duty labour activities.
The four corners of the ball represent the four corners of a Longgu garden. And the zigzag lines at either side of the central panel-- and I'm referring here to the one on the left-- these are snakes. And snakes are really good, because they protect the garden and ensure a good harvest. The other designs on the surface received little explanation, but the diamond and cross shapes on the-- again, on the ball to the left at the top-- were compared to face tattoos, as were the patterns in what we would describe as concentric circles, which were referred to by the Longgu as biru, meaning a twist, as much as you would twist a lock of hair. And these are-- this is a picture of a woman who has these sort of shapes tattooed on her face.
So the bowls were used by a host family to carry cooked mashed root vegetables to those who have assisted in heavy work projects. And this is mostly in-laws. The gifting of food is extremely important for Longgu, as it is in much of Solomon Islands. So feasting really dominated their thoughts. This is Hoban's picture of feasting in 1933. People live a subsistence lifestyle, organised around kinship relationships. Root vegetables are staples, complemented with seafood and meat. And the gift of food on any occasion-- big or small-- marks the involvement and acknowledgement of a connection between those who are giving and receiving food.
A man needs these bowls to make a presentation. I think you should be able to see rows of them out towards the right hand side. No glasses on. I think that's them there. Lost my place. So a man needs these bowls-- still needs these bowls to make presentations, and he will borrow them if necessary. So the bowls have a place within this complex network of social obligations and continue to be important. And the delegates came to focus on this.
So [? Stewart ?] and [? Florence ?] realised during that visit that the knowledge of making the bowls was therefore important and emblematic of social life in Longgu. And when I visited [? Nongali ?] about a year later, they had decided to carve wooden bowls and make a new connection to have the technique videoed. On this set-- so they had a concern to document this activity, which had once been widespread, but now there was only one senior carver-- a man called Isaac [? Popegoer, ?] who could-- who knew how to do it.
So the visit presented moments of discovery for [? Stewart ?] and [? Florence. ?] And on I'm using that word in the way that Thomas uses it in his museum moments. This was something that they had not previously recognised about Longgu life in the village. And this is the fact that bowls are in a precarious-- the making of bowls is in a precarious situation.
The visit did not simply acknowledge their status as indigenous experts or informants, nor did it solely recognise their authority to speak about the objects. It did do those things, but the interaction with the museum activated or galvanised the will of both of them to act in the interests of preserving their cultural heritage back home. So their visit was not just one of viewing objects, but one of witnessing the object's status within the museum as something worthy of preservation or something worthy of considering preservation.
Things from the past were experienced in the physical tactile way, and this interaction became akin to Thomas's museum moments or museum as method. They said that seeing the care with which museums treated these materials made them feel proud about being Longgu, and it generated a desire to preserve Longgu culture. The visit raised the potential for a way in which to try to make a difference-- that was their phrase-- in what appears to be an unrelenting path of social change, which is resulting in the loss of some cultural practises as well as language loss. And indeed the two are connected.
One of the difficulties, they said, was that they wanted to address the problem of teaching younger generation to value village ways. Young people are, they said, increasingly moving to the nation's capital Honiara for secondary school teaching-- schooling. And they learn a different set of skills. So many social changes witnessed by Longgu today are related to the effect of increasing interconnection with global forces. They certainly originate in the colonial period, and they continue in the post-independence period in terms of how people interact in the national economy, as opposed to the local economy in education and in also their religious affiliations. So they chose to make a set of wooden bowls to create the conditions in which to demonstrate and revalue village skills.
So I might just conclude-- going out with some future aspirations, I suppose. So we have a new Pacific gallery on the horizon. And it is important to have a sound understanding of the nature of the museum's collections, which includes not simply who the collectors were, but-- where it is possible to discern it-- the nature of the interactions and engagement that took place or surrounded the acquisition of collection items.
As we've seen from the examples of New Caledonia and British New Guinea, the context of collecting are important to reveal hidden stories of interaction. 19th century Victoria's interest in the mercantile activity of French colonies in the Pacific does not loom large in our history books. While Papua New Guinea may well be on many people's radar today, thanks to detention centres, such as the one on Manus or through the memorialisation of Australian war history in various forms, including movies about the Kokoda Trail, and tourist walks along the track, and the generous actions of the Papuan carriers.
How many are aware that Victoria along with other colonies contributed to the administration of the new territory, and through MacGregor's collection actually contributed to what must be one of the first collections made with a view to preserving cultural heritage for the future of Papua New Guineas, not simply for distribution to Australian and European museums? This is not to say that MacGregor's collecting was not a part of a tradition of colonial collecting-- and certainly it was-- but by researching deeper into the collection and its making, we can reveal new dimensions that would otherwise remain unexamined.
Failure to do this would, I suggest, conceal the actions of people such as those in Collingwood Bay to draw-- trying to draw MacGregor and his party-- undoubtedly powerful newcomers on their shores-- into relationships through which they could influence and manipulate or try and influence and manipulate. I think that the Collingwood Bay pots in MacGregor's collection shout out statements about clan identity and of efforts to bring MacGregor into a relationship with them.
But we don't need to add engagement with Pacific Islanders with the collections. And that's something that will be implemented as part of a two year programme, for which we've been funded to develop projects that feed into a new Pacific gallery. So we are well and truly into an aspirational zone now and entering a phase of developing plans. And in this, we or I will not be concerned only with the past but also with the present and the future. As we've seen with the Longgu example, the contemporary voices of Pacific Islanders and their descendants in the diaspora can make a new sense-- can make new sense and new understandings of the collections in ways which reflect what is important to them now and in the future.
I would anticipate that some of the things people might want to talk about will include-- as the Longgu have demonstrated-- the transmission of cultural knowledge from the older generation to the younger generation, the continuity and loss of tradition and how this is perceived, the problems of how to live with the consequences of climate change, and the problems of development, and the problems of not being developed. But what actually emerges remains to be seen. Thank you.
Thanks, Liz. That was a great talk, about expanding the horizons of the collection. Its relationship to colonial history in the Pacific, I thought, was really interesting. I mean, you're right. We don't really have a great sort of public perception of our place in the Pacific so much, except for things you mentioned-- Second World War, et cetera, et cetera. It's an interesting insight. Do we have any questions for people for Liz? Deb?
Thanks, Liz. That was very insightful and interesting. I was really interested in you talking about the language groups in PNG around Collingwood Bay and that sort of thing-- how many different language groups and the exchange of deals between language groups. What sort of multilingualism was going on? To what extent were those overlapping groups? And when you say someone that is part of a language group, that their main language, and they would also speak multiple languages? How-- think of the practicalities of that?
Well, people are multilingual, basically. They know more than one language. So they have the language of their mother, the language of the father. They will have to learn the language of the person they marry. It's sort of tied up with residence. Does the woman move with the man to the man's place, or does the man go to the woman's place? So people will learn each other's languages. But within that, there is this sort of affiliation with one's own sort of clan that one is born into. So absolutely people are interconnected.
In days prior to colonialism, they were-- to MacGregor's entry, they were connected by intermarriage. They also had alliances with different groups, which brought one group into contact with another to support them in a fight. So they had lots of different connections. And often, if you pursue people now about how their exchange relationships are working-- which I did do with the pots-- often the people they exchange with are in fact are connected with them in some way, if you push them hard enough to think about the connection.
So there's this view that everyone is disconnected, and while in academia or in anthropology today, this view is sort of old fashioned, it still remains a popular view that the Pacific is these remote areas, full of people who have never been discovered before. We're still discovering one. I think we discovered one last week. Something someone was discovered last week in a news report. I can't remember which one it was.
But there's this popular perception that people are out there. They don't know each other-- other groups there. But it's not true. They know other-- each other is there. They know the language. They often talk about the path, knowing the path to go and visit someone else, so you can't move freely from where you live somewhere else. You've got to have a path. How do you get that path? Perhaps your great, great, great grandfather married in, and that will give you a path.
So yes people are separate. They have these differences of language, but they in no way necessarily impede movement. Yeah, people are multilingual. There's three national languages in Papua New Guinea-- so English, Tok Pisin, and Motu, despite the other 800.
Any other questions for Liz?
Here I am. Thank you. I'm really interested in that whole question around the agency of people in making those trades with MacGregor. Could you talk a little bit more about the way in which you try and interrogate that?
Well, with the Collingwood Bay pots, I started trying to trace his records, which in some ways are helpful and otherwise are not, because the-- when he maps his travels, which he does, he then as the years progress and knowledge gets better, sort of names change. So it's actually quite difficult, and names have also changed since that time as well. So we've got changing names, the attribution of languages-- which may be correct or may not be correct. So the idea was to go through his diaries, go through his annual reports, and sort of hopefully find some sort of written evidence of these interactions. But once I actually started to do that, it just got as muddy as everything. I have felt less confident about anything, you know. I was less confident than when I started.
But he had these pots. And he-- I'd already noticed that the pots that he had are the excuse me, I can't stand this light anymore. The [INAUDIBLE]
The pots that he had are these very highly elaborate ones with clan designs on. So when I first saw them, I could see I had clan designs on them. And so that then began-- this started the process of thinking how is it that MacGregor has got these pots? Because in the contemporary world, you can't just get those pots. If you go there now, you'll be given the trade pots if you're going to get them. You're not going to get these incredibly ornate pots. So what is going on that he's got them? Is that what you're asking me?
Well, no, because he doesn't give us that information in his diaries. He doesn't give us any specific information in his diaries. I went to Maisina, which we're not quite sure where that is. We picked those up at Phillips Harbour. So Phillips harbour is nowhere near Wanigela, where the clay sources are. So the clay-- the pots have moved, and he doesn't know that. So the pots have been made in Wanigela. They've moved. How have they moved?
We don't actually know, but I can surmise from what I know about what people are doing with pots today that they have given them to make alliances, perhaps someone's intermarried, take some pots with them. The clan-designed pots, you don't give them away freely. It's like chopping your arm off and giving it to somebody. You keep those things about your clan to yourself. And if you give it away to somebody, you do it for a reason, because you want to develop some sort of significant relationship with them. If they just say I'm want a cooking pot, then they're going to give you a cooking pot which has no clan designs on it.
So that's the basis upon which I'm making these speculations. And it is theoretical, because I did ask people in Wanigela about the highly designed pots, because in fact they're not making very many of them now. They tend to make the pots without the highly ornate clan designs on. And that's another paper, as to why they don't do that. And it is about clan and perhaps not wanting to push clan associations, but to promote something more like a pan-Wanigelan sentiment, so to appeal to co-residents of a wider area. And what is similar? And what is similar amongst these-- a number of different villages? What pulls them together is their being from Wanigela, as opposed to that which differentiates them, that which belongs to their clan, because that might lead to conflict.
OK, we might want it up there. Like I'd just like to thank Liz again for a very interesting talk.