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Panel 23: The Pacific lost and found: Old and new archival environments and the structuring of Pacific worlds


Rainer F. Buschmann, Marc Tabani

Session presentation

Increasingly researchers have relied on audiovisual, iconographic and written archival sources and records as a safeguard to the practice of fieldwork. Rather than regarding the archive as a mere depository for historical sources, researchers now pay close attention to the archive as an environment that informs and structures perceptions about the Pacific. Also, the more recent establishment of archives by independent countries in Oceania reveals cultural and national histories and identities. The panel invites anthropologists, archeologists, linguists, and historians who have performed archival research in numerous European and Pacific institutions or who have themselves contribute to the creation of personal archives and specialized databases. We seek presenters who will illustrate how archival holdings reflect disparate views both outside and within the oceanic realm. Special attention will be paid to archives in different social, cultural and historical contexts: competing views and diverging archival contents; social and technical inequalities inherent in archival institutions or systems; policy restrictions and political importance of archival sources and records; colonial and postcolonial archives, and the writing of national or ethno-cultural histories.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Introduction to the Panel

Rainer F. Buschmann (California State University Channel Islands)

Marc Tabani (CNRS - Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique)

The organizers of the panel will give a brief overview on the anthropological and historical dimensions of archives and trace theoretical as well as methodological approaches to this relatively new area of research.

The representation of New Guinea tree houses in the popular medium of trade cards

Hermann Mueckler (University of Vienna)

The presentation attempts to outline the reception of the contemporary popular medium of trade cards (collectors cards) in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century based on the subject of tree houses in New Guinea. Trade card collections of those times are held today by museums as well as private colletors and are a source of information about a specific viewing angle of Europe-Pacific relations. The presentation discusses the medium of trade cards in its history, function and effects as well as presenting variations in the representation of New Guinea tree houses as a example of the different topoi regarding the representation of Oceania in Europe during colonial times. For the first time an attempt is made to associate a topos of a popular medium of its epoch with aspects of construction and building history. This raises the question of whether statements about the nature and function of native forms of architecture can be derived from these popular cultural representations. Or were trade cards pure propaganda and offer only limited stereotyped information about the then colonized Pacific Islands?

"Pacific Island voices in Pacific Island archives"

Kylie Moloney (Australian National University)

Pacific Island archives make use of new technologies to increase access and preserve significant historical documents. What do digital archives mean to Pacific Islanders and how is access to these collections shaping Pacific identity, environments and knowledge? This paper will argue that some of the challenges of working with archival collections in the Pacific region have been augmented by the introduction of new technologies. This paper will propose how archivists might strengthen “Pacific Island voices in Pacific Island archives” by acquiring, capturing, preserving and integrating new Pacific Island digital content, such as social media pages and oral histories, into existing historical archive collections.


David Manzano (Spanish National High Research Council (CSIC))

During the whole overseas Empire, Spaniards did not know exactly where the borders of their colonies in the Micronesia were. We can appreciate this phenomenon when we cross the message of the literature and cartographic sources. These sources do not localize the Spanish borders in the Micronesia in the same point. The influence of colonialism popularized names as Marianas, Caroline islands or Pelew in the speech of the erudite people at end of the 19th century. However, the majority of them did not know where the Spanish colonies were in the maps as shown by the cartographic sources.

This paper focuses its attention on the cartographic sources, creating with this research a bridge between the past and the present. The past is represented by the factors which created the cartographic materials and the present is constituted by the analysis of the Archives which hold it (where these archives are, what the state of preservation of the sources is and what the main problem is when we try to find them and look them up).

Reports, Narratives and Early Colonial Relations in British New Guinea

S R Jan Hasselberg

With the re-appearance of CAW Monckton’s official report from his extraordinary expedition from the Waria to the Lakekamu River in 1906, I take the opportunity to give a fresh look at the writings of this most controversial government officer. This expedition – which can now claim its place among the epic New Guinea exploratory adventures – will be described in the paper, and form the basis of a discussion on colonial relations, politics and challenges.
While Monckton’s popular books give us an unusual insight into early colonial life in BNG (combined with his pretentious presentation of his own persona and views), they also, seen together with his and others’ official reports, contribute greatly to our understanding of the developments in the most troubled districts of the colony. The two texts on 1906 expedition - which was Monckton’s last - give insight into the relations between the Government agents and the natives - both the constables, the carriers, and the villagers experiencing ‘first contact’; it sheds light on the impact of gold prospectors on the colonial development; and it is also a chapter in the drama of notorious intrigues within the administration and of a complicated political situation in British New Guinea.
I will comment on this early era of expeditions, on Monckton’s reputation of brutality, and the texts will be compared and weighed for the validity of their information.

Methodological requisites for anthropohistory ("ethnohistory"): Samoan and Tahitian examples

Serge Tcherkézoff (EHESS - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

In the specialised field of the anthropohistory (I prefer this term to “ethnohistory” and the presentation will first present the reasons) of first and early encounters between Pacific peoples and Europeans, archival material is evidently the main and often the only source available. As this material is most often if not always authored by Europeans of the time, it obviously conveys a European bias. Can it still be useful for an anthropohistory of early encounters? The question arises when one aims at building a dialogue between two historical visions: the European self-centred vision of “their discoveries”, and the indigenous self-centred vision of the circumstances when people of the place had, reluctantly or not, to discover the existence of these Europeans met at sea and then on land. Some colleagues have answered with a definite “No!” and have dismissed the entire content of all European archives, such as G. Obeyesekere in his arguments with M. Sahlins, a while ago. Other have answered “Yes!”, with a number of methodological precautions and procedures (B. Douglas, M. Jolly, Dame A. Salmond, N. Thomas, etc.). My own answer has also been “Yes!” when working on some material related to Samoa and to Tahiti. But there was a precise set of conditions: 1) building ways to “hear” indigenous voices within the European authored narratives, and 2) cross-checking the results with data from later times when indigenous voices and visions could indeed be heard and recorded, up to nowadays, — which then raises the epistemological issue of conditions for comparing historical times set wide apart. The presentation will consider some precise examples from the Samoan and Tahitian data as well as reconsidering the definition of the field of “ethno-history”.

Modeling or muddling the institution ? interactions with ethnographic archives at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Marc Rochette (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The goal of the present discussion will be to present a very recent trend in the multi-secular history of a cultural institution like the Bibliothèque national de France. The integration of archives, records, and materials from anthropologists and ethnographers along with genuine materials collected among non-western populations is an event which took place only a few decades ago. We will focus on the diversity of the materials and the cultural areas covered, corresponding to the scope of the French ethnographic school, ancient and modern, and question how it face the institution with its own historical tradition, social habitus, cultural policy and its strategic plan for the future. But most important we shall consider in which ways a national cultural institution fits the prerequisite of an anthropologically and culturally sensitive material to conserve, transmit and put it under the light of mass cultural display. The discussion will be illustrated with items from the “ethnographic” collections of the Bibliothèque national de France and the different projects and partnership with scientific institutions to integrate these very specific materials. At the ends we will scrutinize the pertinence of a French national cultural institution to keep culturally sensitive materials.

Archiving a prophecy : ethnohistory of the John Frum Files (1941-1980)

Marc Tabani (CNRS - Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique)

People from Tanna have a bad reputation in Vanuatu. “Strong heads” is the ethnophaulism used by other inhabitants of Vanuatu when expressing their distrust. However, denigrating Tannese is nothing new. Observations made by Europeans since the 19th c. already insisted on their bellicosity. Even after decades of aggressive mission work, Presbyterians never ceased denouncing the stubborn persistence of pagan beliefs and infamous social practices on that island. When direct administrative control on Tanna took over, records of the colonial office continuously insisted on “native” inclination to reject foreign political interference. After a long lasting coercive missionary and then administrative rule, repeated signs of a large-scale rebellion arose in 1941. All the former allegations against Tannese were resumed under a single grief. Civil disobedience was emblematized in the reference to a prophetic figure named John Frum. Since then, in order to repress any local opposition, the British administration started compiling thousands of pages of grey literature until the independence. The so known “John Frum Files”, long considered as having been lost by former specialists, reveal how colonial administration was turned into an amazing paper tiger, as inquisitive as inefficient to bring Tannese back to their sense. My analysis of the John Frum archive will try to highlight how colonial bureaucracy has contributed to rank this prophetic movement as one of the most famous cargo cult.

Epistemological precautions in the use of authoritative references

Bernard Rigo (Université de Nouvelle-Calédonie)

It is impossible to study the cultures of Eastern Polynesia without referring to the work of Teuira Henry, Ancient Tahiti ; impossible to look at the Kanak cultures without knowing the work of Mr. Leenhardt. However, these two authors are also at the origin of a number of major misunderstandings. This raises the question, in the first case, of the biased translation of the sources in languages, from Tahitian to English and then from English to French, in the other case, of the interpretation of the language and of the facts of culture in service of an a priori theoretical framework. Our paper will deal with the necessary epistemological precautions in the use of authoritative references.

Iberian Archives in the Making and Unmaking of Pacific Worlds

Rainer F. Buschmann (California State University Channel Islands)

If we were to follow the late Oscar Spate’s suggestion that the Pacific Ocean is creation of European expansion, this ocean emerges as a troubled European artifact. The alternating Spanish phrases used for this ocean mar del sur (as opposed to mar del norte) and Oceano Pacifico are terms that have entered the common vocabulary about the waterlogged region. This paper will not only trace the known and lesser known contradiction inherent in these terms, but also how these terms were enshrined in the confines of Portuguese and Spanish archives. Influenced by the critical literature on the nature of the archive—most notably Nicholas Dirks and Anne Stoler—this paper tests whether or not the Pacific as a region has a noticeable salience in archives around the Iberian Peninsula.

The native as an anthropologist

Patrice Godin (Université de Nouvelle-Calédonie)

In 2002 -2003, two researchers from the local languages section of the Free Protestant School of New Caledonia edited the personal notebooks of Boesou Eurijisi, a kanak minister and one of Maurice Leenhardt's well known collaborators. Readers who were unaware of the existence of these texts discovered, that the main works published by the French ethnologist and missionary between 1930 and 1935 often merely repeated or even simply translated all the information provided by Boesou Eurijisi. Therefore, the question to ask – the question Leenhardt couldn’t ask at his time - is, about the actual status of these notebooks . Simple answers to the questions posed by the ethnologist ? Or the first ethnographic work about an Oceanian society written by one of its members? A true Kanak anthropology ?

Archives, oral history and archival oral history: Miklouho-Maclay and the Revolt of Bilibili

Andrey Tutorski (Moscow State University)

The focus of the paper will be on the perception of Maclay (a semi-divine figure named after an early Russian anthropologist Nicolas Miklouho-Maclay) in oral histories and legends of the Papuans of the Rai-coast, Madang province of Papua-New Guinea. I argue that most of oral history texts came to life after the WWII and were shaped by Australian dominance in the region. The materials from the Archive of United Lutheran Mission (Vereinigte Luethrische Mission im Wuppertahl) let us find another history of the Rai-coast and “western” – “local” relations.
In legends and oral stories collected in 1940s and thereafter the image of Maclay is good (he is a culture hero), the image Germans is bad (they are invaders and oppressors) and the image of Australians is “likely realistic”. In documents of Lutheran Archive the figure ‘Maclay’ is a figure of an average European, who were mostly Germans at that time, but the evaluation of what Maclay (=Germans) was (were) doing was positive. The good example of this is a short story of Maclay written down from Bilibili people in 1906 and the story of Siar revolt written down in 1970s by Mary Mennis. Archival materials give us a quite different view on this event with totally different evaluations of what had happened. The introduction of those materials to local people may let them make peace with the past through understanding of the roots of mythologisation of Germans in their legends.

Publishing Carl Strehlow’s Aranda, German, Loritja and Dieri dictionary manuscript (1900)

Anna Kenny (Australian National University)

Carl Strehlow’s unpublished handwritten dictionary manuscript (circa 1900) like many other early ethnographic materials in Australian archives have been dormant for the last 100 years or so. Since the event of Native Title in Australia in the early 1990s these ethnographic materials have become of great interest and have assumed new meanings and uses. While in the context of these claims they are of political and legal importance, on a broader level the cultural representation of such archival sources and records has a multiple audience that perceive them in diverse ways today.

Tracing the journey of Carl Strehlow’s handwritten manuscripts over the past century and in particular his large dictionary manuscript with 7600 entries, I will explore the diverging perceptions of this type of fascinating archival documentation. The competing views and understandings of their contents and significance has at times made it difficult to bring even non-restricted information into the public domain. In Central Australia, for example, the cast of onlookers of the Strehlow materials included individuals of the Lutheran community, different Arandic groups and several governmental institutions.

Knowledge access and sharing and archives policy restriction at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta

Antoine Hochet (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

Access to archives at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta is strictly controlled for foreigners and Ni-Vanuatu people. A tabu room, located in the National Audiovisual, Sound, and Photography Fund, classifying thousands hours of tapes and photographies, aggregates a variety of informations about traditional aspects of livelihood activities of insular life. But, the tabu room also archives records of official meetings, scientific conferences and, above all, the annual fieldworkers workshops organized since the end of the 1970’s.
All these informations are precious and lusted by numerous researchers interested about the different aspects of Vanuatu cultures. But, since a decade, foreign organizations, especially donors, are increasingly interested by the “traditional knowledges” encapsulated in those audiovisual and sound records in order to implement their projects. Due to diverse technical, organizational and policy restrictions access, none of these organization had been authorized to gather any data from the tabu room until 2016, even if they fund a digitalization project of the audiovisual archives or a remarkable and expensive National archives designed building.
Based on two years fieldwork as chargé de mission at the VKS, this presentation will discuss the different reasons of the policy restriction to archives and its impacts.

Discourse on overpopulation, land-hunger and resettlement in the Kiribati National Archives

Petra Autio (University of Helsinki)

This paper discusses archival material collected at the turn of the Millennium at the Kiribati National Archives (KNA). The data consists of Gilbert and Ellice islands Colony official/demiofficial correspondence from the 1940-1960s, on the topics of resettlement and migration. It is supplemented with digitized Harry Maude papers (University of Adelaide online archives) from the 1930s-1940s on the same topics.
In the archival material there emerges, beginning in the 1930s, a continuous discourse about overpopulation, land scarcity (”land-hunger”) and hard ecological conditions, and an urgent need for resettlement and migration outlets for the Gilbertese (present-day I-Kiribati). Two well-known colonial resettlement schemes were carried out, but above all the archival material is characterised by a continuous search for relocation and other migration opportunities; a history of unfulfilled resettlement plans.
In this paper I discuss firstly how archival practices - the classification and filing system in the Kiribati National Archives – have served to establish or strengthen the idea of ”colonisation” and ”resettlement” as solutions. Secondly, I aim to place the discourse in the broader British colonial context: overpopulation, land-hunger and relocations of people are issues also frequently discussed in the British colonial Africa.