The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 518-520
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Hunting the Gatherers:
Ethnographic Collectors, Agents and Agency in Melanesia, 1870's-1930's
Hunting the Gatherers: Ethnographic Collectors, Agents and Agency in Melanesia, 1870's-1930's, edited by Michael O'Hanlon and Robert L Welsch. Methodology and History in Anthropology 6. New York: Berghahn Books, 2000.ISBN1-57181-811-1; xviii + 286 pages, maps, figures, tables, notes, chapter bibliographies, photographs, index. Cloth, US$70. Paper, US$25.
Ethnographic artifacts have long played important roles in the developing discipline of anthropology. Their component materials, crafted surfaces, supposed or documented uses within indigenous cultures, and their histories of exchange have in turn been part of the vocabulary of ethnographic study. Artifacts, individually and sometimes collectively, have been seen as proof of theories, as illustration of cultural practices, as debate-starters, as rightful compensation, and as unlawful plunder.
The editors of this important study have collected an impressive array of essays constituting an ethnography of artifact collection in the southwestern Pacific over a period of roughly seventy years. Not content just to discuss objects of wood, stone, and fiber, the essayists have ranged widely over the field, and convincingly include photographs and anthropometric measurements as kinds of artifacts. One essay ironically examines an Australian opportunist's flaunting of western artifacts (including canned goods, other special foods, medical supplies, hardware, and tools) in a bid to impress other expatriates to offer him a permanent position. Disparate as these essays can be, they are held together by the bookends of Michael O'Hanlon's substantial and well-designed introduction and an insightful epilogue by Nicholas Thomas, whose 1991Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific is acknowledged as one inspiration for this volume. Footnotes and bibliographic citations are copious: the bibliography for the introductory essay alone contains forty-eight items.
O'Hanlon, author of the 1993 Paradise: Portraying the New Guinea Highlands, shows how the collecting of artifacts has had changing meanings over the years, tied to issues of representation and local agency.
Helen Gardner explores the juxtaposition of science and religion in [End Page 518] the evangelism-inspired collecting of George Brown, a Methodist missionary to Samoa, the Bismarck Archipelago, and later the Trobriands and d'Entrecasteaux Islands. Brown's zealous natural history collecting was endorsed by a Methodist publication that stated: "the chief object of the missionary is to spread the gospel, but he does not forget the claims of science" (37). As Brown's collections expanded into cultural artifacts—at his death the collection contained nearly3,000 items (49)—Brown wrote a series of anthropological papers and maintained a lively correspondence with many prominent scholars of the day, including Edward B Tylor and Sir William MacGregor. Some of Brown's artifacts helped him and others advance then-novel theories of cultural diffusion in the Pacific, typified by the discussion of artifactual and linguistic differences between Melanesians and Polynesians.
Three essays explore the effects of the "salvage paradigm" on Melanesian collection. Rainer Buschmann surveys the commercialization of ethnography in German New Guinea, chiefly in the operations of the Berlin Museum, the Godeffroy Company, the Neu Guinea Compagnie, and Max Thiel of the Hernsheim organization. Buschmann dramatizes these abuses with the example of the "Matty-Mystery." Sir William MacGregor's official collection of artifacts from British NewGuineais the subject of MichaelQuinnell's essay. As fans of New Guinea's ubiquitous yellow Rhododendron macgregoriae can attest, MacGregor was an honored naturalist as well as an indefatigable administrator, who saw exploration as an "essential tool to promote the extension of government control" (82). The history of his New Guinea ethnological collection and its eventual—and complex—repatriation to Papua New Guinea is itself an artifact of changing museum politics. Then, in her essay, Elizabeth Edwards examines the "dense and nuanced" relationships between collecting photographic images and physical objects, as evidenced by a case study of the 1898 Cambridge Torres Strait Expedition's comparative studies in British New Guinea by Haddon, Ray, Seligmann, and Wilkin. Edwards gives helpful...