The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 476-479
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Body Trade: Captivity, Cannibalism, and Colonialism in the Pacific, edited by Barbara Creed and Jeanette Hoorn. New York: Routledge, in association with Pluto Press Australia Pty Ltd and University of Otago Press, 2001. ISBN0-415-93842-2; xxii + 296 pages, figures, photographs, notes, appendixes, index. US$32.95.
Scholars in several fields have recently begun to view the human body as a product of specific social, cultural, and historical contexts, challenging the truth claims of the medical and epidemiological sciences concerning the physical body and the assumed universality of its biological base (see, eg, Margaret Lock's 1993 article, "Cultivating the Body," in the Annual Review of Anthropology 22:133-155). Discontent with a discursive trend that appears to him to remain overly narrow, David Harvey also suggests in his book, Spaces of Hope, that proponents of the body as a locus of analysis should take a broader approach to body politics. Body talk, he says, should be integrated with globalization talk (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
Both camps should welcome this compendium of essays that takes as its focus the notion of the subjugated, captive body, a central construct in recent debates in feminist theory, postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, and theories of narrativity. Body Trade is the first book to present theories of the body in relation to the colonial histories of Australia and the Pacific. Contributors to the volume come from the fields of history, literature, film studies, cultural studies, fine arts, and anthropology. The essays are dedicated to Gananath Obeyesekere, a contributor whose work is taken to be emblematic of the strain in postcolonial studies that brings together literary analysis, historical contextualization, and anthropological understanding.
In Part 1 (Circus, Trade & Spectacle), Paul Turnbull examines the circumstances in which phrenologists acquired the skulls of Australian Aboriginal people, sometimes illegally, in order to answer a colonial question of the 1820s: What was the destiny of indigenous Australians in the wake of settler expansion? Turnbull shows that the phrenological knowledge gained made a scientific contribution to the antiquarianism of the day, setting the course for colonial ambitions concerning land and culture. For historians of racial thought, this is a chapter in a larger story of the relations between European sciences of humanity and colonial aspirations in Australia.
Chris Healy documents the practice of issuing breastplates to be worn by indigenous people in Australia as a kind of passport. Distributed by all state governments (except Tasmania and South Australia) from 1815 until the 1930s, the plates conferred "titles" on their wearers. In Healy's view, the inscriptions also tell a story of European domination and subjugation and were a signifier of the genocide to come.
Yves Le Fur introduces us to Ahutoru, a Tahitian presented to the French court in 1769. For his part, Ahutoru was fascinated by the opera with its mechanisms of representation and illusion, which Le Fur notes were integral rituals of social intercourse in eighteenth-century France. Ahutoru [End Page 476] died during his return voyage to Tahiti in 1771, three years before Cook brought the Tahitian chief, Omai, to Europe, where his presence sparked a tattooing vogue among the English aristocracy. Additional examples of turn-of-the-century voyeurism include the story of Kabris, a European shipwrecked in the Marquesas Islands in 1795. He subsequently reached St Petersburg, where his tattoos excited the interest of the Tzar, and then that of visitors to the Bordeaux Cabinet of Curiosities. After his death an amateur collector attempted to obtain Kabris' skin to stuff and mount it for display. William Mariner, a Londoner who visited Tonga in 1805, and Barnet Burns, who arrived in New Zealand around 1830, provided European audiences with life histories of daring adventure in exotic lands. Finally, we hear about the New Caledonian Kanaks brought to Paris for the 1931 Exhibition, where they were exhibited as wild cannibals and polygamists despite the fact that most were practicing Catholics.
The first section ends with an essay by Mary Mackay concerning the Australian Native Mounted Police. Enforcers of...