All things Trobriand

Wisse, Desiree (2018) All things Trobriand. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

Dr. G.J.M. Gerrits was stationed on the Trobriand Islands as the Medical Officer between 1968 and 1971. In this period he collected approximately 3000 artefacts from the Trobriand Islands and the surrounding region. Approximately two-thirds of these objects are presently held in museums in Europe, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The study places Gerrits’ collection into a historical context of Trobriand collecting encounters and gains insights into ethnographic collection formation, considering various aspects of collecting. These include a collector’s multiple motives (Grijp, 2006), the desire to collect (complete) series of objects and unique pieces (Baudrillard 1994, Elsner and Cardinal, 1994) and differences between stable and mobile collecting (O‘Hanlon, 2000: 15). The study utilises Gerrits’ documentation, the collections of artefacts and photographs, conversations with Gerrits, Trobriand Islanders and other collectors, and draws on the literature on collecting research and publications containing information on Trobriand Island contact history.

Being situated in the 1960s and 1970s, this work contributes an alternative perspective to collecting research which mainly thematises early 20th century and earlier collections. Also, ethnographic collecting has so far hardly been addressed within the extended body of Trobriand Island research. This study helps fill this gap and hopes to inspire further research into Trobriand collecting history.

Gerrits is shown to be probably the only collector within Trobriand collecting who established a comprehensive and well documented ethnographic collection. He included those Western influences which he perceived as being creative and innovative, with specific differences between his collections of artefact and photographs. Two key factors in shaping the collection are his wish to establish a comprehensive ethnographic collection and his wish to capture and preserve a Trobriand world, which has an element of salvage collecting but beyond that also has an emotional component. Within the colonial context, collecting connected people but also kept them apart, allowing individuals to belong without belonging.

Gerrits’ register of acquisitions is shown to be conscientious, but some of its categories to be ambiguous and partially biased. Gerrits’ case is of broader relevance here, as these concepts are used more generally in collecting and research. Indigenous agency is shown to be present in the documentation.

Gerrits collected a great variety of object types with significant differences between numbers of objects per type. These differences reflect differences in availability, Gerrits’ interests and budgetary limits, and thus the intertwining of agencies. Other circumstances more generally shaped the collection, such as Gerrits’ attitudes towards indigenous people and Westerners, and the Trobriand context as a relatively homogenous cultural region with some variety.

Approximately 57 % of the acquisitions came from Kiriwina, the main Trobriand Island, 53 % originate from the surrounding region. Differences between these areas are due to differences between stable and mobile collecting, but also due to differences in material culture (for example different canoe types) and the fact that certain practices had been abandoned in Kiriwina but not in more remote places. Collections from different areas complemented each other to form comprehensive museum collections.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Gillian Aldus
Date Deposited: 02 Apr 2019 08:05
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2019 01:38
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/70428
DOI:

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