Gulf Spirit Boards – a pre-contact social narrative.
Talk by Dr Jim Rhoads
Leo Fleischmann Fellow, Australian Museum, University of Western Australia.
Australian Museum (Theatre).
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 @ 1pm.
FREE. Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) Seminar Series
Traditional material culture of Papuan Gulf peoples was abundant and richly designed. Not surprisingly, it became the object of continual acquisition by European visitors, especially London Missionary Society missionaries and government officials. Elaborate ceremonial objects from the Gulf now fill the collections of museums around the world, and retained memories largely comprise all that remains of traditional ceremonial life in this region.
My current research on a class of object known as spirit boards centres on the decorative elements that once served as kinship group ‘identifiers.’ This information will be used to determine the geographic distribution of these groups and monitor differences among Gulf social systems. In turn, the data will help establish the social dynamics of the Gulf communities who were a key element of the Motu hiri trade system that began 500 years ago.
Another, perhaps more important objective of my research is to participate in reconnecting contemporary Papuan communities with their past, for which material culture and documentation now mostly resides in overseas institutions. The seminar presentation will focus on the socio-cultural context for the material culture, analytical processes and initial results. A rehearsal of the next steps in advancing the research program closes the presentation.