By Barry Craig. Continued from the last edition of the OAS Journal
In a previous issue of the OAS Newsletter, I provided an introduction to the WW1 military collectors and the collections of things that came to the South Australian Museum. In this issue I provide a sample of the biography and collections of Arnold Mercer Davies.
Davies served for well over a year in South Africa during the Boer War and was a ‘mine manager’ (actually metallurgical assaying) at the time of enlistment to the AN&MEF. His age at enlistment in 1914 is given as 38 which indicates he was born in 1876.
He was the eldest child of Sir Matthew Henry Davies (1850-1912), solicitor, speculator, politician and philanthropist in Melbourne, Victoria. Arnold’s marriage in 1907 was a glittering social affair with a prodigious list of expensive wedding presents. He was clearly a member of Melbourne’s nouveau riche social class but I have been unable to find any information to indicate whether or not he found this congenial. Nor have I located an image of the man.
When Arnold enlisted, he was given the rank of Corporal and promoted to Sergeant 15 May 1915. The record of his service is sparse but there is evidence he was in the Morobe District before going on leave to Australia in January 1916.  There is a period from April 1916 till November 1917 that is not accounted for except for a week or so in July 1917 at Namatanai (New Ireland). He was then posted to Kieta (Bougainville) November 1917 to March 1918 and discharged 9 May 1918.
Davies sold his collection to the South Australian Museum in early 1921, then returned to New Guinea, probably prospecting for gold. According to a National Archives file, during 1921-22 he lost his AN&MEF ‘badge’ while crossing a river in New Guinea. The possibility of him being a prospector is consistent with his employment as a minerals assayer before the War. Further, in 1942 he enlisted in the army as a ‘prospector’ at age 55 (and birth date of 1887, which is inconsistent with his WW1 enlistment details; evidently he gave his age as eleven years younger than his actual 66 years, so it is no surprise that he was assessed as ‘medically unfit’). His ‘next-of-kin’ at this attempt at enlistment was not a family member but ‘George Sutherland, M.T. [Mandated Territory]of New Guinea’. This suggests Arnold was estranged from his wife and his Melbourne family.
I haven’t uncovered yet the circumstances that led to the sale of his collection of 23 things to the South Australian Museum (registered May 1921). It is also not clear that he himself collected all of the items; only a pair of woven armbands from Buin on Bougainville, and a woman’s shell-belt and a loom from Taku’u, an atoll about 230 kilometres north-east of Kieta, relate to the postings noted in his record of service. Two items come from the Morobe district and 17 from the Sepik and Aitape areas. Either he obtained these things from other collectors or he spent time at Morobe and Aitape that was not noted on his record. Given the detailed provenance for many of the things in his collection, I’m inclined to believe he obtained most of the items himself.
The loom and shell-belt from Taku’u Atoll (Figs 1 & 2) are significant as they were the means by which two unprovenanced looms and a shell-belt in Melbourne Museum’s ‘War Museum Collection’ were identified.
It is believed that textile weaving with back-strap looms was introduced to Micronesia from south-east Asia, spread through the Caroline Islands and from there to the Polynesian outliers north of Melanesia (such as Nukumanu and Taku’u) as well as to St Matthias and Santa Cruz. Petersen (2009:189) writes: ‘The most commonly used thread is processed from the trunks of banana plants . . . fibres processed from hibiscus bark are sometimes used as well’.Men used the loom to make mats (fa) for clothing and other purposes. Parkinson reports that ‘The women’s mat . . . is about 175 centimetres long and 80 centimetres wide . . . The men’s mat is only about 22 centimetres wide, folded together and wrapped around the waist with one end passing between the legs and fastened behind’ (1999:238). At festivities, the shell girdle was worn by women around the waist with their loom-woven apron.
A fine lower Sepik mask of the kind called brag at Murik Lakes (Fig. 3) is said to be from ‘Mokem’, probably Magem located about twelve kilometres upstream from Angoram. It is so like brag masks from Murik Lakes and the lower Sepik-Watam Lakes area that it must have been traded upstream to ‘Mokem’.
Among the Murik, the brag is a male war spirit usually represented by a mask with a long, recurved nose whose voice is a pair of flutes. The presence of the brag is integral to male initiation. The spirit inhabiting the brag mask can go far afield to create havoc for enemy villages: Lipset writes: ‘Zoomorphic motifs on the foreheads of the spirit-men are the particular “canoe-bodies” [vehicles] in which they appear to travel about in nature’ (1997:137). The long-tailed animal on the brow of this mask, the brag’s ‘canoe’ or ‘vehicle’, could be a lizard, perhaps a gecko.
After a successful raid, the brag masks were brought out by the senior clansmen and rubbed on the severed heads of the enemy to ‘drink the blood’. The holder trembled as he was possessed by the brag spirit. Then the younger men ‘drank the blood’, making them strong and fearless in battle.
The brag spirit also could manifest in human form and had a prodigious sexual appetite; stories recount his serial seduction of groups of women. Among the Murik, there seemed to be a parallel universe of non-human spirits who existed and acted in ways not unlike human beings, albeit somewhat excessively.
A headrest from ‘Franzeska River (Salamaua)’ (Fig.4) was unlikely to have been carved by Tami Islanders as the carving is of insufficient crispness (Eric Coote, pers. comm. 19-8-2014). It was probably carved at a Bukaua village along the Huon Gulf coast and found its way to Salamaua on a trading canoe doing the rounds of the Huon Gulf. As pointed out by Bodrogi (1961:92), the figures ‘suggest the load on the slab supporting the neck . . .’.
On the evidence of Biro and others, Bodrogi is undecided about whether carved anthropomorphic figures represent ordinary human beings, ancestors or some kind of spirit-being. For the Yabim of the Finschhafen area, however, he states ‘the portrayal of a human figure, head, or face never shows an ordinary human being, but the balum spirit which plays an outstanding role in religious and social life’ (1961:159).A small but well-carved betel nut mortar from Kair (Kairiru) Island near Wewak (Fig. 5) is one of eight items from the north coast Sepik region obtained from Davies. The Areca palm nut is placed in the hollow of the mortar and crushed with a wood pestle to benefit the elderly whose teeth are fragile or missing. The two supporting figures of this mortar represent spirit figures with long curved noses resembling bird beaks. Beier and Aris (1975:21) identify this kind of nose on various figures as the beak of the kauren bird, or sakenemp (prawn’s tail). For decades now, this kind of figure has been carved for the tourist trade.
A pot with incised designs (Fig. 6) was listed by Davies as collected in the upper Markham River. However, it is clearly from the vicinity of Kurungunam, a pottery-producing Urim-speaking village west of Dreikirkir in the Torricelli Mountains, East Sepik Province. Either the documentation is incorrect or the pot had been traded a very long way to the east up the Ramu Valley to the head of the Markham River, which is unlikely.
May & Tuckson inform us that this kind of pot, called kadruk by Urim speakers, is used for serving and eating food, and is made and decorated by men using the spiral coiling technique. Women make the cooking pots (wil), which are more simply decorated around the rim. The motifs of the designs on the men’s food bowls are named. The scroll design on this pot is called sombanggal and represents the unfurled, newly-formed fern frond and is also to be found carved on their war shields (2000:292, 295 and Figure 9.169).
Beier, U. and P. Aris. 1975. Sigia: Artistic Design in Murik Lakes. Gigibori 2, 2:17-36.
Bodrogi, T. 1961. Art in North-East New Guinea. Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Lipset, D. 1997. Mangrove Man. Dialogics of Culture in the Sepik Estuary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
May, P. and M. Tuckson. 2000. The Traditional Pottery of Papua New Guinea. Adelaide: Crawford House Publishing.
Parkinson, R. 1999. Thirty years in the South Seas. (English translation by J. Dennison) Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing in association with Oceania Publications, University of Sydney. Petersen, G. 2009. Traditional Micronesian Societies: Adaptation, Integration and Political Organization. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Sinclair, J. 1998. Golden Gateway. Lae & the Province of Morobe. Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing. This birth date is confirmed at http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Matthew_Henry_Davies  Punch (Melb.) 21 February 1907, p.25  C.H. Nelson (The Argus, Melb., 16 November 1943, p.9) states he and Davies, ‘nearly thirty years ago’, named the ‘Francisco River’, which flows into the sea near Salamaua, Morobe Province.  George ‘Scotty’ Sutherland was a prospector and miner at Edie Creek for some forty years from around 1925 (Sinclair 1998:339).