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An Archaeology of Early Christianity in Vanuatu

5

Museum Encounters: From the New Hebrides to the World

Missionaries were some of the first long-term European settlers among the islands of Oceania. They formed the closest social ties with local people of the early settlers, and were the keenest observers of indigenous culture during this era (Douglas 2001; Jolly and Macintyre, eds 1989). Missionaries left ethnographic observations (e.g. Gray 1892; Inglis 1854; Watt 1985) that would form the foundations for subsequent work as the first professional anthropologists entered the region at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to observing indigenous Melanesian culture, a number of Presbyterian missionaries in the New Hebrides became avid collectors of indigenous things (Craig 2007; Lawson 1994a; Smith 1997). The trade in Oceanic ‘curios’ had marked European encounters from early moments of contact in the late 1700s through to the creation of a formal tourist trade in the early 1900s (Thomas 1991; Torrence 2000). Many of the objects collected during this period ended up in museum collections around the world. Much has been written concerning what museum collections reflect about colonial ideologies regarding colonised peoples (e.g. Bennett 2009; Gosden and Knowles 2001; Jacobs et al., eds 2015; Lawson 1994a). In this chapter, what missionaries or other collectors were attempting to represent in the collections will be a secondary consideration, with the focus being the context of Melanesian exchanges, and indigenous contexts of production and use.

The preceding chapters have examined missionary interactions with Melanesian people through the landscapes and sites where missionaries settled. Artefacts recovered from these sites are primarily European in origin. They represent objects brought to the New Hebrides as the missionaries sought to maintain a semblance of ‘respectable’ domesticity in the island environment, and to cultivate an interest in consumer goods among potential converts. Museum collections of Melanesian objects represent the other side of colonial exchanges. It is something of an irony that the majority of preserved indigenous objects from this era are to be found outside of Oceania. In excavating sites on Tanna and Erromango, we recovered hundreds of fragments of ceramic vessels, glass bottles, and iron hardware, while locally derived materials consisted almost entirely of lime mortar (a European material type made using local labour), charcoal, and shell fragments. Most indigenous objects, made of local organic materials, simply do not preserve in archaeological sites in Vanuatu. In a few cases, local people curate 19th-century objects. A friend at Dillon’s Bay keeps two iron axes hafted on traditional Erromangan carved wooden club handles (Figure 5.1). The National Museum of Vanuatu likewise holds a significant but small collection of colonial-era objects from the southern islands (including objects repatriated from Western museums, such as decorated nemasitse, Erromangan barkcloth, from the Australian Museum; see Huffman 1996). But, to see very large assemblages of preserved 19th-century Tannese or Erromangan things, one has to travel to Europe, North America, or the European settler societies of Australia and New Zealand.

Figure 5.1 Iron hatchets hafted on carved wooden club handles, probably from the 1800s. Curated in Dillon’s Bay by Thomas Poki.

Source: James Flexner

As missionaries traded for or were gifted various kinds of objects, they sent them back to their homelands to be displayed. Some of the objects were used to demonstrate the ‘warlike’ nature of the people who were in need of Christian conversion. As missionaries went on furlough, they would travel to offer guest sermons at their ‘home’ churches as part of mission fundraising. They would bring Melanesian things with them as a material illustration of difference for European congregations whose donations were needed to support ongoing mission work. In other cases, directors of the new museums growing in various urban districts would ask missionaries to collect objects as evidence of the technology or culture of living ‘Stone Age’ peoples (Lawson 2005; Smith 2005). Directly or indirectly, objects from the New Hebrides wound up in Victorian museum collections, where they were displayed in a non-religious context but with the same purpose of displaying the inferior otherness of non-European peoples. Today, they represent rare or even unique examples of native craft and creativity during the colonial era.

Assemblages and Networks

Museum collections can be treated as artefact assemblages, and examined from an archaeological perspective as such. Two theoretical frameworks influence my approach to collections from the colonial New Hebrides. Assemblage theory embraces the ‘the interdependence and entanglement of heterogeneous human and non-human elements into an emergent entity’ (Law Pezzarossi 2014: 354). In an analysis of metal objects from a Native American basketmaker’s toolkit, the artefacts consist of a set of things from a particular time and place. They also implicate a host of linked materials, activities, and relationships (Law Pezzarossi 2014; see also DeLanda 2006). Actor–Network Theory likewise deals with webs of relationships. Objects and places as well as people are included as nodes within the networks, which are not stable entities but can shift over the course of everyday lives. Further, the connections in the networks are themselves considered as ‘things’ in the sense that changing or moving a connection will affect the form of the network just as much as transforming one of the nodes (in other words, there is not necessarily a hierarchical relationship between nodes and connections in the network; see Byrne et al. 2011; Latour 2005).

Archaeologists have found Actor–Network Theory to be an especially powerful tool for approaching museum collections (e.g. Byrne et al., eds 2011; Harrison et al., eds 2013). Early ethnological collections have been used to trace changes in indigenous craft production practices, materials use, form, and agency in the colonial curiosities trade, as in case studies from Papua New Guinea and Aboriginal Australia (Clarke and Torrence 2011; Harrison 2002, 2006; Torrence 2000; Torrence and Clarke 2013). In the case of missionary-derived collections, the objects can reflect the intimate connections formed between missionaries and their converts. The collection of Edith Safstrom, a female Anglican lay missionary in the Solomon Islands, illustrates, ‘the gendered perspective of mission life, and the specific social relationships formed between Edith and the women and children of the mission’ (Smith 2010: 207). These kinds of objects can provide data to link everyday exchanges and relationships to the larger historical processes of material change as they relate to religious transformation in Melanesia.

Missionary collections from the New Hebrides are sedimented in the museum stores in which they are held. They have made long journeys from the islands where they were made, used, exchanged within a Melanesian context, and eventually traded to Europeans, sometimes via indigenous middlemen. Starting from the objects and their contemporary context, usually located ‘behind the scenes’ in shelves rarely if ever seen by the public, the networks of relationships, activities, and people related to these objects can be traced into an expanding web eventually beginning with the objects’ origins in the southern New Hebrides. These objects form both a ‘supplement’ to archaeological data, and a significant ‘record’ of indigenous agency in material exchanges during the mission era (Flexner 2016b). Just as previous chapters dealt with archaeological sites and the materials they contain, here I will offer a survey of museum collections, focusing on objects from the southern New Hebrides. A list of most objects analysed in the survey appears as Appendix E (some sensitive or restricted objects and some raw material or ‘natural history’ specimens are not included in the appendix). The discussion below covers generally each of the collections, focusing in each case on a particularly well-represented class of objects or individual objects that encapsulate aspects of religious and cultural change in the colonial New Hebrides. The goal is to expand outwards from the particular ‘archaeological’ context of the museum assemblages to the social lives these objects would have had in their dynamic cultural context in the islands.

A total of 856 objects from 13 museums were examined in this study (Table 5.1). While they derive from ‘ethnology’ or ‘ethnographic’ collections, the objects were treated as archaeological artefacts (Hicks 2013: 3–6). The contexts consist of collection stores rather than stratigraphic units, but the underlying premise is the same: assemblages of objects can be connected to a wider social landscape relating to their life history, from production to deposition. As with an archaeological excavation, there was a sampling strategy, which was judgemental in this case. Each of the collections below could merit an extensive analysis detailing every object. Here, the goal is to highlight representative or evocative objects to explore more deeply issues of material exchange in the New Hebrides missions. Holding to the archaeological analogy, what appears is more of a ‘surface collection’ of data, where deeper digging into these assemblages would certainly produce new and interesting results.

Table 5.1 Surveyed museum collections, and the islands represented therein.

Island

Auckland Museum

Australian Museum

Hunterian Museum

Museums Glasgow

National Museum of Scotland

New Brunswick Museum

Nova Scotia Museum

Otago Museum

Queensland Museum

Redpath Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

University of Aberdeen Museums

Weltmuseum

Grand Total

Ambrym

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Aneityum

3

14

1

14

33

 

2

 

 

1

 

2

 

70

Aniwa

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Anuta/Erro?

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Aoba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

1

Efate

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Emae

 

 

 

5

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

Epi/Paama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

1

Erromango

7

120

3

12

24

1

24

4

11

70

6

11

41

334

Erromango(?)

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

Futuna

 

18

 

13

29

 

 

3

 

 

 

3

 

66

Malakula

 

 

 

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

1

1

 

4

Malakula, Solomon Islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

 

3

New Caledonia

2

 

 

5

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

New Caledonia/New Hebrides

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

New Hebrides

14

4

3

36

27

67

39

3

5

46

15

15

7

281

Tanna

8

20

1

8

6

2

1

7

2

 

 

3

2

60

Tongoa

 

 

 

2

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

Grand Total

35

189

8

97

127

70

66

18

21

117

23

35

50

856

Research focused on objects from the southern New Hebrides to record things most closely associated with the early Presbyterian missions, though objects identified generically to the New Hebrides and a small sample of objects from central and northern islands were also included. In addition to Tanna and Erromango, the neighbouring islands of Futuna, Aniwa, and Aneityum were included in the survey, as were a few objects from New Caledonia. This increased the sample size and richness as more objects of different types were included. There were also regular exchanges between these southern islands, so the material culture could be expected to be somewhat mobile within this geographic range. Roughly two-thirds of the objects came from missionary collections (65.9 per cent, N=564). A small sample of non-missionary-derived collections was examined for comparative purposes (12.4 per cent, N=106), with the remaining objects having documentation that was not available or was unclear (21.7 per cent, N=186).

Table 5.2 Missionary and non-missionary components of museum collections.

Museum

Missionary

Mixed/Unknown

Non-Missionary

Grand Total

Auckland Museum

3

31

1

35

Australian Museum

126

54

9

189

Hunterian Museum

7

 

1

8

Museums Glasgow

79

10

8

97

National Museum of Scotland

104

9

14

127

New Brunswick Museum

23

47

 

70

Nova Scotia Museum

65

1

 

66

Otago Museum

 

18

 

18

Queensland Museum

 

 

21

21

Redpath Museum

117

 

 

117

Royal Ontario Museum

6

16

1

23

University of Aberdeen Museums

34

 

1

35

Weltmuseum

 

 

50

50

Grand Total

564

186

106

856

The objects are made of a variety of materials: shell, stone, wood, leaves, seeds, spider webs, as well as foreign iron and glass. They cover a variety of activities across the range of ritual and everyday life. Originally, missionary collectors believed they were salvaging fragments of a ‘disappearing’ native culture being reformed towards Christianity. Recently, there has been renewed interest in these kinds of collections among artists, cultural practitioners, and communities in Vanuatu seeking to revive traditional craftmaking and related practices (Carillo-Huffman et al. 2013; Craig 2003, 2007; Huffman 1996; Lawson 2001, in press). Kastom, as always, did not disappear so much as evolve. In a sense, despite the assumptions of missionaries and their 19th-century contemporaries, traditional objects have been preserved for the time when they might re-emerge in a new, but still traditional, context.

Canadian Collections

The Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America was the primary supporter of early mission work in the southern New Hebrides (Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America 1849–1873). All of the excavated sites on Erromango were inhabited by Canadian missionaries (see Chapter 2), as was the Imua Mission on Tanna (see Chapter 3). The islands of Vanuatu would be largely unfamiliar to most Canadians today. These collections represent a period when there were close connections between the two places. The Lower Provinces, particularly Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, sent missionaries to the New Hebrides. The missionaries in return sent curios from the South Seas (Lawson 2005; Smith 2005). These collections tend to be among the earlier missionary collections held in Western museums. They also are generally more focused on the southern islands of Vanuatu, since that area was the focus of missionary work through the 1880s.

Nova Scotia Museum

The Nova Scotia Museum’s collection of objects from the New Hebrides is almost entirely attributed to Rev. John Geddie. Geddie was born in Scotland, but his family moved to Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1816. Geddie followed in his father’s footsteps, training as a clockmaker before he was called to missionary work (Patterson 1882: 17–24). A still-working example of one of Geddie’s clocks is located in the First Presbyterian Church in Pictou, which also holds a small collection of wooden clubs, combs, and beaded objects. Geddie’s ‘home church’ also keeps a set of transfer-printed ceramic dishes of ‘British Marine’ pattern whiteware that had apparently been part of the household assemblage on Aneityum. Geddie, as has been mentioned, settled on Aneityum in 1848, and is generally credited with establishing a successful mission that became the stronghold for the Presbyterian Church over the course of its early history in the New Hebrides (Miller 1978: 69–104; Patterson 1882). After 15 years of mission work, Geddie’s health was suffering, and it was determined that a trip home would refresh mind, body, and spirit. He arrived back in Halifax, via Australia and Britain, on 3 August 1864. The furlough was to last for almost two years, which were spent preaching in various congregations in an appeal for greater support for mission work. Geddie departed to return to Aneityum on 2 February 1866 (Patterson 1882: 466–482). The collection now held by the Nova Scotia Museum may partly derive from objects that Geddie brought with him on this visit. However, it is probable that much of the ‘Geddie collection’ in fact came from H.A. Robertson, a missionary on Erromango who was a much more active collector and donor of objects to Canadian museums (Lawson 1994a: 247). While I refer to the ‘Geddie collection’ below, it should be assumed that many if not most of the objects in fact came from Robertson.

If he did engage in assembling objects for the Nova Scotia Museum, Geddie wrote little about his collecting habits. He appears to have generally held a low opinion of indigenous material culture, particularly weapons, though plaited and woven objects are given some praise (Patterson 1882: 122). He also notes his interest in wooden and stone ‘idols’ (Natmas), which were the objects of traditional worship (Patterson 1882: 128–129). A number of the stone Natmas were intentionally buried, or integrated into mission architecture at Anelcauhat, the main mission station on Aneityum (Crook et al. 2015). There is one hint at Geddie’s collecting habits from his biography: ‘describing his departure from Aneityum, which he had found fifteen years before wholly given to idolatry, he had sought for some of the old gods to bring home, but he could find no god on the whole island but the God who had made the heavens and the earth’ (Patterson 1882: 472). This is certainly hyperbole. There are two egg-shaped sacred stones of calcite from Aneityum in the Geddie collection (NS Museum 1971.90.25k, r; Figure 5.2). Geddie could have also taken one of the larger Natmas stones from the mission grounds, though there are none included in this collection. In addition, later missionaries were apparently able to collect sacred stones from Aneityum.

Figure 5.2 Sacred stones from Aneityum.

Source: Image courtesy Nova Scotia Museum.

There are 125 entries attributed to Geddie’s collection in the catalogue of the Nova Scotia Museum. Of these, 66 were available to be analysed during the museum survey. The majority that could be attributed to a specific island (N=24) were not from Geddie’s main base on Aneityum, but from Erromango, two islands to the north, which again points to Robertson as a more likely collector. Of particular interest are four examples of navela, Erromangan ‘stone money’ (NS Museum 1971.90.9, 10, 44, Z.880; Figure 5.3). Navela were extremely valuable exchange items on Erromango. The form was a polished stone ring or crescent-shape, usually of calcite. The largest ring-shaped navela could be 1.5m in diameter, weighing up to 25kg. They were not believed to have been made by people, but were attributed to a supernatural origin, sometimes originating with the creator deity Nobu. Navela could only be traded among members of the chiefly (Fan lo) class, and were only exchanged at significant ceremonial occasions, as during the nevsem. Upon the death of a chief, his navela could be inherited. However, sometimes navela were lost if a chief died suddenly, or without naming an heir. In such cases, the properties of the lost navela could be passed on to a lesser stone held in the chief’s village. Navela had names and special properties. If a navela was found hidden in the bush, it might be recognised as a lost example to Fan lo who held appropriate knowledge (Humphreys 1926: 191–192; Naupa, ed. 2011: 66; Robertson 1902: 390).

Figure 5.3 Navela (stone money) from Erromango.

Source: Image courtesy Nova Scotia Museum.

Robertson (1902: 390) notes the difficulty he had in obtaining navela, which only became available to him after several decades as resident missionary on Erromango: ‘I can often buy them, though, in nearly every case, I am given to understand that I am wonderfully lucky in securing such a prize.’ This begs the question of how Geddie could have secured the four navela now held in the Nova Scotia Museum. There are three ring-shaped examples, which represent the full moon, and one crescent-shaped example, which represents the crescent moon. Both are important symbols in Erromangan cosmology. Of the ring-shaped examples, one is broken into six pieces, which raises the possibility of intentional breakage of the sacred object, though it could also have been broken during shipment to Nova Scotia. There is also a rare example made of a reddish-brown volcanic stone rather than calcite. It is possible that one of Geddie’s early converts had a special connection to Erromango as part of the traditional exchange networks linking the southern islands of Vanuatu. The stones could also have derived from the Gordons, who had settled at Dillon’s Bay before Geddie returned to Nova Scotia. However, it would be surprising if the Gordons had been able to acquire such significant objects considering how poorly the Gordons appear to have integrated into the local community (see Chapter 2). More likely, navela in the Nova Scotia Museum collections should be attributed to Robertson. Robertson (1902: 359) notes being gifted a number of navela as well as trading for them. Perhaps with the epidemics decimating the Erromangan population from the 1850s through the 1880s, as numbers of Fan lo perished, navela became easier to acquire. At the same time, the specific ritual where Robertson was gifted these sacred stones by a particular chief may also have been a way of entangling the missionary in local networks, granting the Erromangan chief control over foreign powers and material connections (see Chapter 6).

The other major group of Erromangan objects in the Geddie collection were wooden clubs. Of 13 wooden clubs, eight were diagnostic Erromango forms (NS Museum 1971.90.1a, b, d, g, h, j, k, i). Clubs on Erromango were of three types: the netnivri, novwan, and telugohmti. The novwan was a simple form that apparently had the same shape on the pommel and club head, though surviving examples of these were not found in this museum survey. The netnivri is a spindle-headed club. It consists of a carved hemisphere on the pommel, with a carved design on the flat end, and a club head consisting of two flat wooden discs beneath a lozenge-shaped head capped with another flat disc (Figure 5.4). The telugohmti or star-headed club had a similar pommel to the netnivri, but a head carved into eight points. The telugohmti was used more for display and exchanges, particularly marriage arrangements, rather than for warfare. Traditionally, the clubs were hung in the rafters of the Siman lo (men’s house; see Chapter 2), where they acquired a dark polish from the smoke of the cooking fire (Humphreys 1926: 144, 163–164; Robertson 1902: 371–372).

Figure 5.4 The two main Erromangan club forms (above, telugohmti star-headed club; below, netnivri spindle-headed club).

Source: James Flexner

Other objects in the Geddie collection included two iron axes hafted on carved wooden club handles, a common hybrid form that emerged from the colonial era (NS Museum 1971.90.14a, b). Further evidence of remixing of European and indigenous forms are evident on a decorated piece of nemasitse (tapa or barkcloth; 1971.90.27a; Figure 5.5). This example includes images of a person on horseback, as well as a person smoking a tobacco pipe. There is also writing on the cloth, which Lawson (in press) translates as ‘May God be with you’ and ‘For you beloved misi’. Lawson suggests this object was presented to Robertson around 1883 and later brought back with him to Canada. The collection also includes seven of the neko (barkcloth beaters) used in the manufacture of the cloth for which Erromango is well known (NS Museum 1971.90.4a–g; Figure 5.6). There were 14 adze blades of the plano-convex Melanesian type (NS Museum 1971.90.25a–j, l–p). These included one adze blade of light, fine-grained stone with a trapezoidal cross-section, and one rectangular adze blade of calcite, which appear to be Samoan forms (cf. Green and Davidson, eds 1969). These might have been collected during Geddie’s brief stop in Samoa on the way to Aneityum (Patterson 1882: 91–105), or brought with one of the Samoan teachers working in the southern New Hebrides (Liua‘ana 1996).

Figure 5.5 Nemasitse (barkcloth) with writing, man on horseback as well as traditional designs.

Source: Image courtesy Nova Scotia Museum.

Figure 5.6 Neko (barkcloth beaters) from Erromango.

Source: Image courtesy Nova Scotia Museum.

Redpath Museum

The collection of H.A. Robertson held at the Redpath Museum in Montreal is the most well-documented of missionary collections from the New Hebrides (Lawson 1994a, 1994b, 2001, 2005). The collection was a source of pride for the Redpath Museum, because of its rare, even unique sampling of Erromangan material culture, but also as an expression of a shift from Canada as a colonised culture to a colonising one (Lawson 1994a: 46–47, 153). A total of 117 objects from this collection were included in this survey. Robertson appears to have focused on many aspects of everyday life. He seems to have eschewed objects relating to warfare in the collection. This was despite the fact that local people were encouraged by the missionary to continue making clubs for trade (Robertson 1902: 372). Perhaps the apparently ‘inferior’ clubs made specifically for trade were considered below the quality of object that the missionary sought to collect for the museum. There are two Erromangan clubs in the collection, both of which are of the netnivri form. This is somewhat surprising considering the near ubiquity of telugohmti in other collections.

Where the Robertson collection truly excels is in its collection of objects relating to Erromangan adornment, specifically women’s clothing (Lawson 1994a: 143–146; 2001). Men’s objects include decorated bamboo combs (N=10; Redpath ACC.481.1–2, 482.1–8; Figure 5.7) and carved coconut shell armbands (N=8; Redpath ACC.484.1–7a/b). Women’s adornment is represented by nemasitse (barkcloth, N=4; Redpath ACC.465.1–3, 466), as well as the neko used to make the cloth (N=3; Redpath ACC.835.1–3), and numplat (grass skirts, N=16; Redpath ACC.464.1–16). Clothing was one of the realms in which missionaries most forcefully sought to change indigenous habits, seeking to replace penis sheaths and grass skirts with trousers and calico dresses. Yet Robertson was something of a grudging admirer of Erromangan clothing. He describes the numplat as ‘very pretty’, and further suggests that some Erromangan male converts disliked the calico dresses introduced by the missionaries, which made their wives appear ‘too slim’ (Robertson 1902: 326–327, 366).

Figure 5.7 Carved bamboo combs from Erromango.

Source: Image courtesy Redpath Museum.

Decorated nemasitse is one of the most iconic of Erromangan things (Carillo-Huffman et al. 2013; Huffman 1996; Naupa, ed. 2011: 52–56). Nemasitse was traditionally a women’s art. It was made with the bark of banyan, mangrove, and a few other types of tree. The bark was removed from the trees, then placed on a long, smooth log, where it was sprayed with water and pounded with the neko. As the bark became a soft pulp, additional strips were added, forming a continuous length of cloth that was then dried. A design could be drawn on the cloth in charcoal while damp, and the cloth could be further coloured using ground nohorat root. Traditional motifs included leaf shapes, the sun and crescent moon, as well as stylised birds, fishes, lizards, or flying foxes. The cloth was a highly valued exchange item, reflecting the contribution of women to the traditional economy. It was worn as a raincloak, and also commonly tied around the shoulders as a baby-carrier (Humphreys 1926: 159–160; Lawson 2001; Robertson 1902: 368–369). The human figures and writing on the Nova Scotia Museum example discussed above were clearly an incorporation of introduced ideas and motifs alongside traditional decorations (Robertson 1902: 369). By the early 20th century, production of nemasitse had largely declined, and the highly carved traditional neko had basically disappeared (Humphreys 1926: 159), though the practice was revived later on (Huffman 1996).

Numplat were the primary article of clothing for Erromangan women. They were made from leaves, usually pandanus, but also banana, young coconut, hibiscus, or the stem of tampoli (native cabbage). For pandanus skirts, the spines on the edges of the leaf and the fibrous centre vein were removed. A pattern was then applied by folding the leaves to produce linear designs or chewing, using the shape of the dental arcade to make a round design. The green leaves were then placed in still, shallow water to soak. After soaking, the ends of the leaves would be cut into strips using a bamboo knife, and then woven into a twine made of the silky inner bark of the worenevau (‘bastard cotton’) tree. The completed skirt could then be coloured by the application of dye, or by burying the skirt in dark mud (Humphreys 1926: 160–161; Robertson 1902: 366–367). Unmarried girls would wear a shorter, usually undecorated numplat, adopting the longer, elaborately decorated version after marriage (Humphreys 1926: 144). Women of the chiefly class (Nasimnalan) might wear as many as 20 or 30 numplat at once, a reflection of conspicuous wealth (Lawson 2001).

In part, the Robertson collection is an expression of missionary ambitions and ideology in relation to the simultaneous erasure and appropriation of ‘heathen things’ on Erromango (Lawson 1994a, 2001). At the same time, the objects were reinterpreted in a museum setting for Victorian audiences who simultaneously may have seen them as ‘trophies’ of colonial religious and cultural transformation, as well as relics of a dying indigenous culture. The museum setting offered those objects an artificial longevity, keeping them intact for much longer than they would have survived in their ‘natural’ tropical environment. In the present, these things may be reinterpreted and revived by indigenous artists and cultural practitioners (Huffman 1996; Lawson 1994b: 34–35; Naupa, ed. 2011).

Beyond this, the objects reflect the choices Erromangan people may have made about what to produce, and what to trade with the missionary. The large collection contains only a single, small example of navela (Redpath ACC.480), the ‘great prize’ that was so difficult to procure (Robertson 1902: 390). Other exchange valuables, such as numpuri (cowrie) were more common, and were displayed on neck ornaments (kirikiri; Redpath ACC474.1–5). There are other things that may reflect the unique position of the Robertsons as missionaries on Erromango over the course of four decades. There is a rare ‘sorcerer’s kit’, consisting of a small rectangular basket that contained four ‘ritual bundles’ of unknown substance wrapped in leaves (Redpath ACC.471.1a–e). There are also several lengths of carved bamboo that may have had a ritual significance (Redpath ACC.485.1–5), and even more personal, the traditional plaited hair of a young Tannese man (Redpath ACC.1354/572).

Royal Ontario Museum

The New Hebrides missionary collection of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is associated with the activities of Rev. Joseph Annand (Smith 1997, 2005). Annand and his wife arrived to take up missionary positions in the New Hebrides, beginning with Iririki in 1873. They would relocate several times: to Aneityum in 1877, and the south of Espiritu Santo Island in 1887. Eventually, Annand was appointed director of the Teacher’s Training Institute in 1894, retiring home to Nova Scotia in 1913 (Miller 1981: 86–87; Miller 1985: 243–244). While Annand was not directly present on Tanna or Erromango, he did spend a decade on neighbouring Aneityum. His role as head of the Teacher’s Training Institute likely also offered him contacts with students from throughout the New Hebrides. There is evidence for an internal network of curiosities exchanges among missionaries, as in 1892 Annand mentions ‘putting up spears for Mrs. Watt [of Tanna] and Mrs. Robertson [of Erromango]’ (quoted in Smith 2005: 268).

Annand’s collection is of interest because it derives from a close relationship the missionary had with David Boyle, who was curator of the Toronto Normal School’s ethnological museum. The collection later transferred with Boyle to the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, now the ROM. Annand was influenced by the Victorian practice of natural science collecting, while Boyle was seeking to expand the geographical scope of his collection to include objects relating to ‘primitive peoples’ throughout the world (Smith 1997: 96–98; Smith 2005: 262–263). The ROM currently holds over 100 objects collected by Annand for Boyle. Because of limited time and the scope of this survey, 30 of these objects were selected for analysis. Half of these (N=15) were identified generically to the New Hebrides, and a further 13 objects were attributed to Erromango. One object was the result of later 20th-century collecting activity by ROM curators, with six objects definitely attributed to Annand, and the remaining 16 probably relating to missionary collecting, though the documentation was somewhat unclear. The examined objects included hafted adzes, one with a stone blade (ROM HB.2052), one from Malakula with a Tridacna shell blade (ROM HB.139), and a Tridacna ‘chisel’ (ROM HB.141), which may have been used for wood carving.

The Erromango objects included two numplat (grass skirts), including one of the shorter examples worn by unmarried girls (ROM HB.109). There were two examples of nemasitse (decorated barkcloth). One, which was definitely attributed to Annand, bears the ubiquitous leaf motif used on various kinds of Erromangan objects (ROM NS.15155). There was a bow (ROM NS.27602) and eight arrows (ROM NS.27614, 27615, 27617–27622), which were probably associated. They derive from the Toronto Normal School collection of Boyle, and thus were almost certainly sent to Toronto by Annand. It is interesting to note Annand’s association with the Robertsons, who were his contemporaries on Erromango. There is no direct evidence, but it is likely that at least some of these objects were exchanged between the missionaries from different islands before being sent to North America. Also notable in relation to these objects is Boyle’s request for objects relating to female activities, which ‘Annand did not deem … feasible, as, in his view, the life of the female native was not distinguishable from that of the male’ (Smith 1997: 106). Nemasitse and numplat were pretty clearly gendered as a ‘female’ object on Erromango, just as club, bow, and arrow could be generally deemed ‘male’. Perhaps Annand’s reluctance came from a belief that the objects would be misrepresented in the museum setting.

New Brunswick Museum

The New Hebrides collection of the New Brunswick Museum derives primarily from the activities of Ewen McAfee, a lay missionary who came to South West Bay, Malekula, with his wife in 1907 as assistants to Joseph Annand (Miller 1989: 486). After the Annands retired to Canada, the McAfees stayed on at Malekula as traders until 1919. Given their association with Annand, it is not surprising that the McAfees took up collecting, and being from Saint John, New Brunswick was a natural destination for their curiosities. This is a large and significant assemblage of New Hebrides objects that warrants additional analysis on its own. For this survey, I focused on objects identifiable to the southern islands of Vanuatu, which are less well represented than the northern and central islands closer to where the McAfees had settled. In addition to the McAfee collection, the New Brunswick Museum holds artefacts attributed to H.A. Robertson, which came to the museum via Pine Hill Divinity Hall and the Maritime Conference of the United Church of Canada (Kirkpatrick 2009). Robertson, as noted above, was an enthusiastic collector who provided large numbers of objects to Canadian museums (Lawson 1994a).

Seventy objects from the New Hebrides were analysed as part of the survey, of which 67 were identified generically, two were attributed to Tanna, and one to Erromango. Included in the collection are many examples of objects relating to personal adornment. There is one of the nearly ubiquitous numplat (grass skirt) found in missionary collections (NB Museum 19031). Most notable are some of the necklaces and pendants from the Maritime Conference acquisition (Figure 5.8). A necklace of polished boar’s tooth beads (NB Museum 2009.11.3) was associated with a tag that read: ‘Necklace of boars’ teeth. These belonged to several generations of chiefs on Aneityum.’ Similar objects are known from archaeological excavations of chiefly burials on Aneityum, suggesting the practice is of some antiquity (Spriggs 1997: 212, 218). There are also five large beads (NB Museum 2009.11.6), three of which are definitely made of ground sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus) teeth. The other two are either ancient teeth that were collected and ground, or possibly Tridacna shell or reef limestone drilled and polished into an analogous form, which is seen in other collections (see Australian Museum below). Whale’s tooth ornaments likewise would have been prestige valuables. As noted for the Tannese by Turner (1861: 80), ‘there is nothing of which a chief is fonder for a necklace than three large whale’s teeth, on three separate strings, and dangling horizontally on his breast’.

Four cowrie shells suspended on a thick cord of vegetable fibre (NB Museum 2009.11.5) represent a necklace supposedly related to one of Erromango’s missionary martyrdoms. They were part of a display case from the Maritime Conference, with a label that read: ‘The tag attached to this relic was torn. What remains reads as follows: “Santo Shell beads. These were taken from the neck of the murderer of …” We believe this refers to the murderer of Rev. George Gordon.’ Tales of murderers and cannibals in the South Seas should be read with a high degree of scepticism, as they were often exaggerated or fabricated to titillate Western audiences (Thomas 1991: 162–167; see also Obeyesekere 2005). It is interesting to note that, despite their attribution to Santo, cowrie (numpuri) shells were important exchange valuables on Erromango. The fact that this object came from Robertson, who later claimed to have converted the son of one involved in missionary deaths on Erromango (Robertson 1902: 322–324), thus also renders the story feasible, if unlikely. That the missionary sought to assert this necklace came from the murderer of one of his predecessors is significant in light of treatment of indigenous objects as trophies won during the conversion process, regardless of the story’s truth.

Figure 5.8 Necklaces of shell, pig tusk, and whale’s tooth from southern Vanuatu (2009.11.2: shell necklace with glass beads; 2009.11.3: necklace of pig’s tusk beads, Aneityum; 2009.11.4: polished cone shell tops; 2009.11.5: cowrie shells on fibre cord; 2009.11.6: whale’s tooth and whale’s tooth-shaped pendants).

Source: New Brunswick Museum-Musée du Nouveau-Brunswick, www.nbm-mnb.ca.

Scottish Collections

Scotland was the spiritual as well as ancestral home for the Presbyterian missionaries who travelled to the New Hebrides. As mentioned earlier, even though the Canadian Church provided the primary source of missionaries and support in the early years, the missionaries would have identified closely with Scotland. Over time, the Scottish Kirk was increasingly involved in the New Hebrides missions. As with the Canadian collections, Scottish museum assemblages of objects from the New Hebrides were sent ‘home’ by missionaries seeking to provide tangible evidence of their successes, and scientific information for an interested public.

National Museum of Scotland

The missionary collections of New Hebrides objects in the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) in Edinburgh as well as Museums Glasgow are primarily from James Hay Lawrie. Lawrie arrived on Aneityum in 1879, and presided over the mission there as it was transferred from the Canadian Church to the Free Church of Scotland. The population of the island continued to decrease, and by 1895 it was determined that a single missionary would suffice for Aneityum and Futuna. Lawrie left Aneityum in 1892, owing in part to his wife’s ill health. He returned to Aneityum in 1894 while Gunn, the resident missionary for Futuna, was on furlough in Scotland. Lawrie was the last full-time resident missionary on Aneityum. He later worked for the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Miller 1986: 134–146). Of 224 objects at NMS and Museums Glasgow examined for this survey, 183 are definitely from Lawrie’s collections. A further 19 objects are not well documented, but may have originated with the missionary.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Lawrie did not leave behind a published diary or autobiography, though he did keep up regular correspondence with the home church (Free Church of Scotland 1889–1894). We know little about his motivations or interests in collecting, though we can assume they were similar to the other missionaries who engaged in this activity. It is clear from the size and scope of his collections that he accumulated large amounts of material culture, covering all areas of daily life. A total of 127 objects was examined from the NMS collection. In addition to finished objects, Lawrie collected raw materials of various kinds, as well as tools relating to everyday life. For example, he collected a box full of quartz drill bits (NMS A.1895.413.22a), eight basically unmodified limpet shells used as scrapers for root crops and breadfruit (NMS A.1895.413.21), and a large piece of branch coral (NMS A.1895.413.37) that could have been used to manufacture a throwing club. Lawrie also collected models of things that would have been too big to ship to Scotland, including several canoe models (NMS A.1895.413.2, 4) and a model of an Aneityumese house (NMS A.1895.413.1).

Reflecting his geographic location, Lawrie’s collections are primarily focused on the southern islands. A total of 126 objects from the missionary collections in NMS and Glasgow could be attributed to the islands of Tanna, Erromango, Futuna, Aniwa, or Aneityum (Table 5.3). The NMS collection has the largest concentration of objects from Aneityum (N=33) and Futuna (N=29) of any of the collections examined for this survey. Included among these objects are things that likely held immense personal value for their owners, suggesting that Lawrie had forged close relationships with his trading partners. There are two rooster feather hair ornaments from Aneityum, similar to the ones still made on neighbouring Tanna today to be worn for dances and other ceremonies (NMS A.1895.413.76, 78). More impressive, Lawrie was able to collect a kweriya, or hawk’s feather ornament, from Tanna (NMS A.1895.413.75). Hawk’s feathers were the privilege of certain high-ranking members of the chiefly order of Yeremwanu (Bonnemaison 1994: 146–148; Guiart 1956: 83–85). The kweriya would have been a treasured gift indeed, perhaps coming to Lawrie via the established mission station on south Tanna, which had close traditional connections to north Aneityum (see Chapter 3), where Lawrie was initially stationed.

Lawrie collected other significant objects in relation to kastom. There is a fish-shaped magic stone from Aneityum (NMS A.1889.527), a wooden kava bowl that would have been important for chiefly rituals on Aneityum (NMS A.1889.563), and a navela (stone money) from Erromango (NMS A.1895.413.104). The collection also includes a variety of pendants and other objects of personal adornment, including the ubiquitous combs and coconut shell armbands. There is a child’s pendant made of a crustacean claw (NMS A.1895.413.48), one of the only missionary-collected objects attributed specifically to Melanesian childhood. There are seven greenstone pendants in the NMS collection, one of which is attributed to Aneityum (NMS A.1889.580a). Greenstone pendants were traditional exchange items from New Caledonia (Aubert de la Rüe 1938). New Caledonia was closely connected to southern Vanuatu via maritime exchange routes. Tanna and Aneityum particularly had close ties to the Loyalty Islands (Dubois 1996; Spriggs 1997: 219–220). Connections from southern Vanuatu to the west are also represented in cord spear-throwers or ‘doigtier’ (NMS A.1895.413.30, 31) that had a common form between the Loyalty Islands, Tanna, and Aneityum. While it is unknown whether these things were directly exchanged, they certainly could represent common ancestry or sharing of technology between these islands (Etheridge 1899).

Table 5.3 Southern Vanuatu objects in the Lawrie collections in National Museum of Scotland and Museums Glasgow.

Object Name

Aneityum

Aniwa

Erromango

Futuna

Tanna

Grand Total

Adze, stone

4

 

 

 

 

4

Bamboo

 

 

 

 

1

1

Basket

2

1

 

5

 

8

Belt

1

 

 

 

 

1

Blindfold

1

 

 

 

 

1

Box

 

 

 

1

 

1

Canoe Model

2

 

 

1

 

3

Carved Bamboo

 

 

4

 

 

4

Club

 

 

4

 

2

6

Coconut Shell Armband

 

 

 

7

 

7

Comb

1

 

1

 

 

2

Coral

1

 

 

 

 

1

Doigtier/Spear Thrower

2

 

 

 

 

2

Drill Bit

1

 

 

 

 

1

Earring

 

 

 

1

1

2

Feather Ornament

2

 

 

 

3

5

Fish Gouge

2

 

 

 

 

2

Flute

1

 

 

 

 

1

Greenstone Pendant

2

 

 

 

 

2

Hair

 

 

 

 

1

1

Headrest

 

 

1

 

 

1

House Model

1

 

 

 

 

1

Kava Bowl

2

 

 

 

 

2

Magic Stone

2

 

 

 

 

2

Neck Rest

2

 

 

 

 

2

Necklace

2

 

 

 

 

2

Pearl Shell

 

 

 

2

 

2

Pearl Shell Ornament

 

 

 

19

 

19

Pendant

1

 

 

 

 

1

Quiver/Arrows

 

 

1

 

 

1

Shell Armlet

 

 

 

1

 

1

Shell Ornament

 

 

 

 

1

1

Shell Scraper

8

 

 

 

 

8

Skirt

3

 

6

 

1

10

Sleeping Mat

1

 

 

 

 

1

Sling

1

 

 

 

 

1

Stone Money

 

 

1

 

 

1

Tapa

 

 

4

 

 

4

Tapa Beater

 

 

2

 

 

2

Throwing Club

 

 

 

1

3

4

Tortoise Shell

 

 

 

1

 

1

Whale’s Tooth Pendant

 

 

 

3

 

3

Wooden Tool

1

 

 

 

 

1

Grand Total

46

1

24

42

13

126

Figure 5.9 Pearl shell pendants.

Source: Image courtesy National Museum of Scotland.

The collection also includes cut and polished pearl shell pendants with forms representing antlion larvae, lizards, and flying foxes (Figure 5.9). Of the 20 examples in the NMS collection, 19 are attributed to Futuna (NMS A.1889.576, A.1895.413.49, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 61, A.1924.806). Pearl shell pendants were a widespread form as well. The style was even reproduced in the Torres Strait after a Tannese man shipwrecked on Mer taught it to some of the local islanders (Haddon 1912: 45). Some of the items of adornment represent the incorporation of foreign materials into traditional forms, as with a tortoise shell ear ornament from Futuna with two hoops made from bent iron nails attached to the shell (NMS A.1895.413.71). There are three whale’s tooth pendants from Futuna in the Lawrie collection (NMS 1895.413.45, 45a, 47), as well as a necklace with four such pendants and Conus shell rings from Aneityum (NMS A.1889.575). These would have been important prestige valuables in their indigenous context.

Museums Glasgow

Museums Glasgow also holds a large assemblage of objects originally collected by Lawrie in the 1880s and 1890s while he was stationed on Aneityum. As at NMS, they have southern Vanuatu pendants of greenstone (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.bx, by), pearl shell (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.bo.1–3), and whale’s tooth (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.bz, ca, cb, cc). As Cook observed on Tanna in 1774:

Both sex wear ornaments, such as braclets, Earings, necklaces and Amulets; the braclets are schiefly worn by the men and made of Sea Shells and others of Cocoa nut shells, Amulets is a nother Ornament worn by the Men, those of most Value are made of a greenish stone; the green stone of New zeland was valued by them for this purpose. Necklaces were chiefly worn by the women and made mostly of shells; Ear Rings were worn in common, those Valued most were made of Tortoise shell, some of our people got this shell at the Friendly isla[n]ds [Tonga] and brought it here to a good market it being of more value to these people than any thing we had besides … (Beaglehole, ed. 1969: 505–506, spelling as in original).

In keeping with Lawrie’s habit of also acquiring examples of raw material, these pendants are accompanied by two large pearl shells that have been partly cut for pendant blanks (Museums Glasgow A.1897.143.bp1, 2), and a large piece of tortoise shell (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.bb). The assemblage of raw materials and tools further includes three stones ‘used for scraping [polishing] bows’ (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.ak.1–3), and a dried piece of kava root (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.ao).

The Museums Glasgow assemblage of Lawrie objects contains other items that do not appear in the NMS collections. For example, there is a long club or staff of hard wood with a triangular projection at the top, which is probably a traditional dance club from Aneityum (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.e). Both NMS and Museums Glasgow included Erromangan items of adornment, including nemasitse (barkcloth) and numplat (grass skirts). Museums Glasgow examples also included a skirt from Aneityum that alternated light strips of pandanus with darker strips, possibly young tree fern branches (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.ds). There was also a skirt made entirely of this darker material (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.du), which was described as a mourning dress.

The collection includes some significant objects from Tanna, some of which derive from non-missionary donations, though their origins are not known from the existing documentation. These include a 1924 accession from ‘Miss A.M. Dougan’ and a 1945 accession from Mrs McGavin. A fairly unique object included in the Museums Glasgow collection comes not from Lawrie, but McGavin, who donated a ‘witchdoctor’s purse’, which consists of a conical bag of matted spiderwebs (A.1945.16a; similar objects are held in the Auckland Museum). This would have belonged to a Tupunas and may have been an object of some fear and power in its time. Generally, such objects have been associated exclusively with missionary collections (Flexner 2016b), and further research into how this object wound up in the Museums Glasgow collections might be informative in this regard. The later date may indicate changing patterns of Melanesian exchange with outsiders over the course of colonial history (Torrence and Clarke 2013).

There are two strands of human hair that has been plaited in the traditional fashion, one from Lawrie and one from Dougan (Museums Glasgow 1897.143.cp, 1924.48ah). Tannese men’s hairstyle was an object of much admiration and interest among European observers, including missionaries. As one of the early ethnographers on Tanna observed:

The native method of hair-dressing is remarkable. A curved wooden frame is used for supporting the neck of the victim, who lies on the ground on his back while the hair-dresser does his work. Beginning at the forehead, strands of hair are plaited with a twine made of fibre from the inner bark of a certain tree. The hair is pulled so tight that a headache lasting for several days often results from a dressing. The whole process is a lengthy one, for, as the hair grows, additional strands of fibre are added. Colour is now seldom used, but in earlier days these wisps would be coloured red or black. When the work is finished, all the plaits are drawn back from the forehead and a band is passed over the head from ear to ear, to hold the dressed hair in place (Humphreys 1926: 38–39).

In the 1840s, Turner (1861: 78) counted over 700 such plaits on a young man’s head. This collection includes an example of the ‘curved wooden frame’ used for the plaiting process (Museums Glasgow 1897.143ac). These plaits are associated today with young men’s preparations for major dance ceremonies on Tanna, especially the toka dance (see Chapter 3). Widows were also said to have worn locks of their deceased husbands’ hair around their necks (Humphreys 1926: 90). Combined with the mourning skirt noted above, perhaps Lawrie attempted to collect objects related to all aspects of daily life, including those that involved mediating relationships with the dead.

Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

The Hunterian Museum holds two significant missionary collections: those of George Turner, who spent a brief time on Tanna and occasionally visited the New Hebrides afterwards (Turner 1861); and those of Agnes and William Watt, who lived on Tanna from 1869 (Watt 1896). The collection was being relocated at the time of survey, so only a handful of objects could be observed. Included in the objects from the Turner collection was a polished cylindrical basalt kawas or throwing club (Hunterian E.432). Turner (1861: 81) noted, ‘It is about the length of an ordinary counting-house ruler, only twice as thick, and that they throw with deadly precision when their victim is within twenty yards of them’. Also included is a wooden ‘canoe model’, which is perhaps better described as a canoe-shaped kava bowl, from Aneityum (Hunterian E.406). The original inscription from Turner’s time, written directly on the canoe in pencil and now illegible, apparently indicated that the canoe was said to have belonged to Aichirai and Nepatimepeke, the gods who had pulled Aneityum from the sea. Turner also collected two pipes, which were long, thin pieces of dark bamboo, apparently used for smoking tobacco (Hunterian E.383, 383.1). The bamboo is identified as ‘native to New Caledonia’ in the catalogue notes, so may indicate the close connections between that island group and southern Vanuatu.

The Hunterian holds five clubs donated by Agnes Watt in 1894 (Hunterian E.548.1–5). As noted above, the Annands and Watts occasionally swapped native curios (Smith 2005: 268). Three of the Watt clubs are Erromangan in style, one the star-headed telugohmti and two of the spindle-headed netnivri form. The other two clubs are ‘spurred clubs’ from Fiji. It is not totally clear how these could have ended up in the Watts possession to be donated to the Hunterian Museum, and without further documentary research the possibilities are too broad to merit speculation. The missionary collections of the Hunterian Museum are likely to offer other interesting data, and certainly deserve further research.

University of Aberdeen Museums

The missionary collections in the University of Aberdeen Museums derive primarily from two missionary collectors. Rev. F. G. Bowie was based in Tongoa at the Teachers Training Institute, succeeding Rev. Joseph Annand, who was likewise a keen collector. Bowie’s missionary career, which focused on south Santo, lasted from 1896 until 1933. He headed the Teacher’s Training Institute for the last 20 years of his career (Miller 1985: 264–272). The other component of the collection comes from Rev. Ross, who was based in New South Wales, but had close connections to the New Hebrides Mission. Ross bequeathed his collection of New Hebrides and Australian objects to the Aberdeen Museum in 1900 (Daily Free Press 1900). The objects were part of the collection of Museum of Marischal College, which has since been absorbed into the University of Aberdeen Museums.

Objects from the Bowie collection come primarily from Espiritu Santo and Malekula, the islands near his base at Tongoa. However, there were 19 objects from the southern New Hebrides, covering Aneityum (N=2), Erromango (N=11), Futuna (N=3), and Tanna (N=2). In addition, there were 15 objects identified generically to the New Hebrides. Included among the latter group was a set of coconut shell armbands (Aberdeen ABDUA.65409–65411) from the Ross collection, which would have been typical of the southern islands. The Futuna objects consist of three pearl shell ornaments from the Bowie collection (Aberdeen ABDUA.65413–65415). The collection also includes two Tannese-style star-headed clubs (Aberdeen ABDUA.3016, 3017), which are much more robust, and not so intricately carved as the Erromangan telugohmti (see e.g. Adams 1998: 35). Presumably the Tanna clubs were used more often for actual combat than the Erromangan versions, which appear to have been more for display and ceremonial functions. There were also two examples of telugohmti (star-headed clubs; Aberdeen ABDUA.3015, 3022) and six netnivri (spindle-headed clubs, Aberdeen ABDUA.3010–3014, 3082).

One of the more unusual finds in this collection is a shark’s tooth dagger attributed to Erromango (Figure 5.10; Aberdeen ABDUA.39214). There are two labels associated with this object. The more detailed, and presumably older, one reads ‘Shark’s Tooth Kn[ife] from South Sea Islan[ds]. (?Erromanga) Presented Mrs Lawrence’. The object is quite clearly of the type produced in Kiribati in Micronesia (cf. British Museum Oc1895.-.697, Oc1921.0221.80). It is possible that we are looking at a simple error where the object was mislabelled either by the collector or as it entered and moved around museum stores over the years. Given the specificity of the attribution, though, there may be more to this (there are plenty of objects generically labelled ‘South Seas’, ‘Polynesia’, ‘New Hebrides’, or similar, but most objects attributed to a particular island are given that attribution for a reason). That said, even the old label indicates ambiguity about the origin of this object, so perhaps it was a case of overenthusiastic (and incorrect) attribution by a collector or museum employee.

There are several alternative possibilities that relate to the increasing mobility of Pacific Islanders over the course of the 1800s and early 1900s. During this time, people from throughout Oceania worked on ships’ crews, and they moved around between different islands as labourers, often going to Fiji, Queensland (Australia), or New Caledonia to work on sugar plantations, mines, and other capitalist enterprises as part of the labour trade (Docker 1970; Moore 1992; Shineberg 1999). Both Kiribati and Erromango were part of these networks linking islands throughout the region in new ways during the colonial era. With this in mind, perhaps this dagger was given to an Erromangan labourer who had worked with an I-Kiribati on a plantation, brought it back to the island, and later traded it to Mrs Lawrence herself, or someone who gave it to her (Mrs Lawrence may have been the wife of Captain W.H. Lawrence who had been involved with the labour trade and other colonial endeavours in the Pacific). Alternatively, the object was produced by an Erromangan person in Kiribati style. Or perhaps, an I-Kiribati happened to be on Erromango at the time this object was exchanged with a European, and left its Oceanic context to become part of the global curiosities trade. Further documentary research would be needed to narrow down the list of possibilities. Regardless, these sorts of ‘out of place’ artefacts are important indicators of the increasing mobility of Pacific Islanders in the colonial era (Flexner 2016a).

Figure 5.10 Shark’s tooth dagger, said to be from Erromango but the form is typical of Kiribati.

Source: Image courtesy University of Aberdeen Museums.

Australasian Collections

Australia and New Zealand were important to Presbyterian mission endeavours in the New Hebrides. Australia especially served as a location where missionaries went on furlough, or as a stopping-off point on the way to and from the New Hebrides. It also served as a source of materials for the mission. Increasingly from the 1880s onwards, New Zealand and Australian churches directly supported mission work, including sending missionaries to the field in the New Hebrides. A result of these processes is accumulation of Vanuatu objects collected by missionaries in collections in the Australasian British settler societies of Australia and New Zealand. The missionary William Gray who worked on Tanna (see Chapter 4) was originally from South Australia, and provided a large number of objects now in the South Australian Museum, though these were not examined as part of this project (see Craig 2007).

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland Museum’s missionary collections primarily derive not from the Presbyterian Mission, as in the other cases discussed here, but from the Anglican Melanesian Mission. The Melanesian Mission worked on an alternative model based on bringing Melanesian students to a central location to learn habits of prayer, bible reading, and other ‘useful arts’. The mission was initially located at Mission Bay (Kohimarama) in New Zealand, near Auckland. Later the mission relocated to Norfolk Island (see Armstrong 1900; Hilliard 1978; Ross 1983). One of the Melanesian Mission buildings at Mission Bay (Figure 5.11) served as a museum displaying a collection of objects from the islands where the missionaries were active, including New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, northern Vanuatu, and the Torres Strait. This collection was later transferred to the Auckland Museum. A small sample of objects from the Auckland Museum (total N=35) is discussed here, including non-mission parts of the Auckland collection with objects from the southern New Hebrides.

Figure 5.11 Melanesian Mission building at Kohimarama/Mission Bay, formerly used as a museum displaying objects collected by the missionaries.

Source: James Flexner

The Anglican and Presbyterian missions in the New Hebrides enjoyed a close and amicable relationship, sharing supplies, information, and perhaps most importantly, ships (Miller 1978: 142–146). It is thus unsurprising that there are some objects from the southern New Hebrides in the Melanesian Mission collections, such as a netnivri (spindle-headed club; Auckland 25249/MEL.11). Other historical collections in the Auckland Museum include the W.O. Oldman collection and a collection of objects from James Edge Partington, who published a significant ethnological catalogue of Pacific objects with Charles Heape from 1890–1895 (Edge Partington and Heape 1969). Edge Partington also contributed a significant collection to the British Museum. The Oldman collection includes a coconut shell armband from Tanna (Auckland 31503/O.697), and a netnivri (Auckland 31829/O.585).

The Auckland Edge Partington collection includes a number of rare objects, among them an extremely rare navela (Erromangan stone money) from a non-missionary source (Auckland 14930/EP.Q53). There are also two cone-shaped bags of matted spider webs (Auckland 14363/EP.Q2, 14936/EP.Q64). These were originally listed as ‘widow’s caps’, but this was probably a sensationalistic fabrication. Early missionaries did remark on the practice of widow strangulation on Tanna, which was said to have been imported from Aneityum (e.g. Turner 1861: 93–94). However, Turner never actually witnessed the practice, so claims about the commonness of the practice are likely exaggerated, and at any rate, there is no mention at all of the use of ‘caps’. It is worth noting that a similar object in the Museums Glasgow collections is described as a sorcerer’s bag. These objects may similarly have had some kind of magical or ritual function.

Other Edge Partington objects from southern Vanuatu include an adze blade from Aneityum (Auckland 14945/EP.Q93), a tapa beater (Auckland 14994/EP.Q134), barkcloth attributed to Aneityum (Auckland 14915/EP.Q37), and arrows from Erromango (Auckland 14902.1–7/EP.Q17–23). While not directly from the New Hebrides, two greenstone adzes from New Caledonia (Auckland 15039.1–2/EP.R103–104) are significant in relation to the labour trade. The collection notes indicate the adzes were used as a form of currency to entice people from the New Hebrides to work in New Caledonia. It is likely that at least some of the greenstone pendants on Tanna came about as a result of this type of exchange (see also Aubert de la Rüe 1938: 258–259).

While Edge Partington was a private collector who travelled widely in the South Pacific, it is also quite possible he was in contact with missionaries who may have been a source of curiosities. Further, it is likely that missionary activities contributed to the ease of acquiring objects. For example, Robertson notes that only Christian converts would part with navela, and even then only at a great price (Robertson 1902: 390). He also apparently encouraged Erromangan people to continue making clubs to trade (Robertson 1902: 372). Regarding greenstone pendants, Aubert de la Rüe (1938: 250) noted, ‘Les indigènes évangelisés de côte n’ont pas le droit de les porter’ (‘Indigenous converts from the coast don’t have the right to wear them’). Many pendants were likely given up for this reason, such as those mentioned above in the Lawrie collection. Even if missionaries were not directly involved in the curiosities exchange, their activities in some cases would have shaped the nature of those exchanges because of changing habits and perceptions of trade with Europeans among native converts.

The library of the Auckland Museum holds a significant object from the Presbyterian New Hebrides mission: a copy of an 1881 printing of Acts of Apostles in the Kwamera language (Figure 5.12). The book was printed at the Glasgow Foundry Boys Society Press, which arrived on Tanna from Scotland in 1873 (Watt 1896: 150). The production of such an object on Tanna may have taken on a localised meaning, as some Melanesians appear to have believed that missionaries worshipped the book itself as a magical object, rather than the words within the book. Printing of Biblical texts in local language also hybridised the concepts contained in the words, as Tannese words for concepts like ‘spirit’, ‘lord’, and so on provided indigenous signifiers for Christian concepts (Adams 1984: 112–113). Other such texts survive in libraries in New Zealand and Australia, and offer important records both of religious translation, and indigenous languages as practiced in the 19th century.

Figure 5.12 Acts of Apostles in the Kwamera language, printed at the Glasgow Foundry Boys Society Press on Tanna by William Gray in 1881.

Source: Image courtesy Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Otago Museum

As at the Hunterian, the Otago Museum’s collections were in the course of being relocated at the time of survey, so only a limited number of objects could be examined (N=18). Dunedin, where the Otago Museum is located, was the home of several Presbyterian missionaries, including Peter Smaill, Oscar Michelson, and William Milne, who served in the New Hebrides (Miller 1987: 127–131, 344–353, 385–404; Miller 1989: 19–26). Milne and Smaill contributed a small amount of material to the museum, largely from the central and northern islands of Vanuatu. At this time not enough documentary evidence has been collected in relation to the other objects in the collection to determine a definite source. However, for the southern Vanuatu materials, I would suggest that the objects derive from someone with close ties to the islands, as the assemblage includes many sacred or otherwise culturally significant things.

Within the sample, 15 objects were from the southern islands, covering Tanna (N=7), Erromango (N=5), and Futuna (N=3). Objects from Tanna include a highly polished greenstone pendant suspended on a piece of red trade cloth (Otago D35.1440), a set of pan pipes (Otago D92.82), and a pearl shell pendant of the antlion larva form (Otago D57.151). There are two coconut shell armbands, one from Tanna (Otago D57.158) and the other attributed generically to the New Hebrides, but probably from Tanna or Erromango (Otago D24.2026). Tools are represented by two coral abraders from Futuna (Otago D23.885, D24.1836). The Erromango objects included one example of a telugohmti (club; Otago D25.1314), and a remarkable four navela (stone money; Otago D21.214, D24.1798, D25.326, D65.1297), including examples of both the ring-shaped and crescent forms. There is also a ‘sacred stone’ attributed to Futuna (D24.2614), which appears to be a fragment of a Tanna-style kawas (basalt throwing club). It should be noted that generally throwing clubs from Futuna were made of coral, while basalt kawas were more common on Tanna. It is possible this object was exchanged, and may have been related to some part of a story relating to warfare or warriors when it was broken and brought to Futuna. A similar fragment was collected from the surface on Futuna in the 1960s by the Shutlers during their archaeological survey of the island (Shutler et al. 2002: 196). A stone from Tanna (Otago D57.153) is listed in the catalogue as a ‘death stone’. The form is similar to stone throwing clubs illustrated in Speiser (1966[1923]: Plate 59).

Australian Museum

The Australian Museum, Sydney, has a large and significant collection of southern New Hebrides objects. Major portions of the collection derive from H.A. Robertson and J.H. Lawrie, complementing these missionaries’ collections in Canada and Scotland. The objects from Robertson were registered over a 20-year period from 1897–1917. Earlier accessions may have been portions of larger shipments, with some of the objects going to Montreal. Lawrie sold both objects and photographs to the museum in 1922, and his connection to the Australian Museum makes sense considering his mission work and residence in New South Wales. There is also a smaller collection of objects from Captain Braithwaite, longtime captain of the Presbyterian mission ship Dayspring. Among the objects Braithwaite donated were five ‘coral gods’ from Futuna, which would have been great prizes collected by the captain of the mission ship. As noted above, though, that mission agents were able to attain such sacred items (assuming they were traded voluntarily) was not so much an expression of ‘Christian triumph’, as of Melanesians entrapping outsiders into local exchange networks, or possibly gaining distance from objects that had become spiritually dangerous for various reasons. Among the non-missionary donors with objects represented in the collection is Sutherland Sinclair, an early secretary of the Australian Museum who kept up correspondence with Robertson (Etheridge 1917; Lawson 1994a: 52). This reflects the professional relationships formed via engagement of missionaries with ethnological pursuits.

Like the other museums with collections from Robertson and Lawrie, the southern islands were represented by large numbers of objects, including 120 objects from Erromango, 14 from Aneityum, 18 from Futuna, and 20 from Tanna. The Australian Museum holds an impressive assemblage of decorated Erromangan nemasitse (tapa or barkcloth). Australian Museum curators have been instrumental in processes of repatriation and renewal of this important cultural practice and art form, and engaging with creator communities more generally, particularly Erromangans (Carillo-Huffman et al. 2013; Christidis et al. 2009; Huffman 1996). Other forms of Erromangan material culture represented widely in other collections, including examples of neko (barkcloth beaters), netnivri and telugohmti clubs, numplat (grass skirt), carved coconut shell armbands, and navela (stone money). The collection also has a few examples of greenstone (Australian Museum E.27023, 27024) and pearl shell (Australian Museum E.27038–27040) pendants from Futuna. Other adornment items significant to the region are whale’s tooth pendant necklaces, with one example each from Erromango (Australian Museum E.27036) and Aneityum (Australian Museum E.27037). The museum holds a large collection of throwing clubs, made from both coral and coarse-grained basalt.

One of the ways that the Australian Museum’s early missionary collections differ is in the large amount of tools and raw materials, particularly in Robertson’s Erromango collections. Such things do occur elsewhere in the Lawrie collections, and they are not entirely absent from the Redpath Museum assemblage of Robertson objects (for example, there is a small bag of red clay, ‘eaten by the Erromangans as children’; Redpath Acc.1366). A similar red clay sample, described as yam root encrustations, and also said to have been ‘eaten by the natives’ was sent to the Australian Museum (E.22603) in a bottle still bearing the label for ‘STEPHEN’S GLOUCESTERSHIRE PICKLES’. Overall, though, tools and raw material samples do not appear in such high numbers at the Redpath as they do in the Australian Museum. Perhaps they were not considered valuable enough to ship over such a long distance. Stone adze blades were ubiquitous in museum collections, but the Australian Museum has the largest number specifically attributed to Erromango (N=10). Other tools include bamboo drills, two with bits made from split pig canines (Australian Museum E.6138, 6140), and the other with a bit made of quartzite (Australian Museum E.6143). Also included were basically unmodified shell scrapers used for cleaning tubers and other crops (e.g. Australian Museum E.7407–7409). Similar examples were collected by Lawrie.

Among the various raw materials Robertson collected, there were samples of wood from the worenevau (‘bastard cotton’) tree, which was used as a construction material for Erromangan houses as well as twine, and the bark used for nemasitse (Australian Museum E.12405.001–002); and mori (‘acacia’) used in fence posts as well as bows (Australian Museum E.17585, 22591.001–002). There were also numerous seeds, presumably presented to the museum as natural history specimens. Included among these items that span the ‘nature/culture’ boundary are a large number of candlenuts, which were used as a source of light in Erromangan houses. These appear both individually (Australian Museum E.12409.001–008), and in ‘strings’ now held on metal skewers (Australian Museum E.7431–7440). The collection includes stone samples of calcite as a raw material for navela (Australian Museum E.7449–7464, 7844–7845). That Robertson sent such a large number of basically identical stone samples to the Australian Museum suggests he may have thought they would be distributed more widely. The other stone sample was said to be of the kind of stone used in axe production (Australian Museum E.7420). However, the coarse-grained basalt sample is markedly different from the adze blades, and would not be ideal tool material, suggesting Robertson had limited understanding of the local lithic technology (which, indeed, was probably largely disappearing as iron tools became ubiquitous by the end of the 1800s).

Rare objects in the Australian Museum New Hebrides collections include a men’s barkcloth belt from Tanna (Australian Museum E.43430), which came from a non-missionary collector, Mrs E.A. Freeman, in 1934. There are also several magic stones from Tanna, including a yam stone, also from a relatively later non-missionary collector. The presence of potentially ritually significant objects in non-missionary collections after the 1930s inverts the pattern seen in 19th-century collections, where only missionaries had access to sacred things. This perhaps reflects changing patterns in indigenous exchange habits, where objects that had once been withheld from outsiders became strategic in creating ties as the nature of colonial relationships in the New Hebrides changed over the course of the 20th century (for a comparative study from New Guinea see Torrence and Clarke 2013). This takes us somewhat beyond the scope of this project, but would be an interesting line of inquiry for future research.

Non-Missionary and Unexamined Collections

A number of collections were not included in this survey due to constraints in time and funding. Missionary William Gray, who was stationed at Waisisi (see Chapter 4), donated a large collection of objects to the South Australian Museum, which included a significant assemblage of southern Vanuatu materials (Craig 2007). The ethnographer Felix Speiser carried out one of the first major ethnographic surveys in the New Hebrides (Speiser 1996[1923]). Speiser collected a large number of objects himself, which are primarily held at the Museum für Volkerkunde in Basel. Speiser also purchased objects for the museum, including a collection from Aubert de la Rüe (Kaufmann 1996: 306), the French geologist who first published a detailed account of Tannese greenstone pendants (Aubert de la Rüe 1938). These and other important early New Hebrides collections, such as that of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, would doubtless provide additional valuable data, and may be included in future research.

Weltmuseum

I was able to include two museums with Vanuatu materials that derive exclusively from non-missionary sources in the survey. The Weltmuseum in Vienna holds two significant collections. The first consists of objects collected by Johann Reinhold Forster during the second expedition of Captain Cook. The expedition spent several weeks at Port Resolution (see Chapter 3; Beaglehole, ed. 1969: 482–509). The Weltmuseum holds a wooden headrest of the type used in the process of men’s hairdressing on Tanna (Weltmuseum 000008; Figure 5.13; Humphreys 1926: 38–39) and a set of pan pipes (Weltmuseum 000001). Pan pipes generated some interest among 19th-century scholars because of the possible relationship between shared musical traditions and prehistoric migrations (O’Reilly and D’Albe 1893).

More significant for this study is a collection of objects from the voyage of the SMS Fasana, a ship of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, which stopped at Umpongkor (Dillon’s Bay), Erromango, in 1889 (Von Jedina 1891). There are at least 41 objects from Erromango in this collection, including 27 arrows and four bows. The bow (nefane) was traditionally made from a section of trunk from a mori (or moré) tree. The wood was split with an axe, and then polished and shaped using a pig’s tusk. The bowstring (nelas) was made from the inner part of the hibiscus bark. Arrows (nagesau) were made of a shaft of straight cane with a hardwood tip, which could be barbed or not. The arrows were not fletched, but had a fine cord of coconut husk wrapped around each end of the shaft (Robertson 1902: 370–371). The Fasana collection also included wooden clubs of the netnivri (spindle-headed; Weltmuseum 041639, 041660) and telugohmti (star-headed; Weltmuseum 041640) forms. There are also three numplat (grass skirts; Weltmuseum 041643, 041645, 041646). Considering the date and location, the crew of the Fasana almost certainly would have interacted with Rev. Robertson, and these objects may have been examples that were produced specifically for trade by local people at Dillon’s Bay, encouraged by the missionary (Robertson 1902: 372). Also included in the Fasana collection is a dance girdle with a wooden back support and strings of beads on the front, which is attributed to Erromango but of a form traditional on Espiritu Santo (Edge Partington 1969 Vol. 2: 76).

Figure 5.13 Polished wooden headrest, Tanna. (Weltmuseum; Inv. Nr. 8, Neckrest, Island of Tanna, New Hebrides, Vanuatu, Coll. James Cook [1774], Weltmuseum Wien 1806 [former: Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien, 1806]. Polished wood [the root of a tree, mangrove ?]. Measurements: L. 28.5 cm, W. 12.5 cm, H. 17 cm.)

Source: Gabriele Weiss, Weltmuseum.

Queensland Museum

The Queensland Museum holds the other non-missionary collection examined as part of this survey. Many of the Vanuatu objects in the collection were donated by a Dr Marks in 1920, who served as a physician for South Sea Islanders working on Queensland sugar plantations. Other early donors included L.H. Maynard (accessioned 1912), Mrs H. Seaton (accessioned 1909), and the ‘Home Department’, Brisbane (accessioned 1914). The collections included 11 clubs, nine of which were attributed to Erromango and two to Tanna. These included examples of both netnivri (e.g. Queensland E1049), and telugohmti (Queensland E6984). However, there are several examples attributed to an island that doesn’t match the traditional club forms. One of the ‘Tanna’ clubs appears to be a form attributed to Tanna, Efate, and possibly Ambrym (Queensland E.5772; Speiser 1996[1923]: Plates 57–60), while an Erromango club is a form typical of Efate (Queensland E.5589). There is also a club attributed to Erromango that is the more robust Tannese form (Queensland E.1059).

These could be interpreted as simple errors in attribution, especially where objects were obtained indirectly. However, we should also consider the increasing mobility of Pacific Islanders over the course of the 19th century because of opportunities on whaling ships, labour traders, and so on. Especially in multicultural contexts like plantations, where people from many islands were in the same place, we might expect islanders to trade objects among themselves, or even learn new styles. This could further explain why objects that are stylistically ‘typical’ of one island were attributed to another. There were of course already traditional routes linking Tanna to Erromango, and Erromango to Efate, but where more far-flung connections are possible, it is likely these emerged from new forms of labour migration over the course of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Where missionary collections are informative for understanding the extended social networks of Melanesian objects created through exchange, non-missionary collections provide an interesting comparative perspective. First, sacred objects such as stone money or other magic stones are basically absent from 19th-century non-missionary collections. Much more common are the arrows, clubs, and other objects that could generally be made quickly and cheaply for exchange with visiting Europeans. The commonness of these objects can be interpreted as an indication of attempts to demonstrate the ‘warlike’ qualities of Pacific peoples. However, it is also likely that in many cases, this was all that was being offered to European visitors who didn’t have close connections to local communities (Thomas 1991: 138, 165). A lack of familiarity might also explain the number of ‘mis-attributed’ objects in the non-missionary collections. As mentioned above, though, the possibility of wider indigenous movements of people as well as things during the colonial era should not be ruled out to explain this phenomenon (Flexner 2016a).


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