Vanuatu Collection

ET.86.33.2 - Curved Pig Tusk

Curved pig tusk, early 20th century. Aoba, Penama Province, Vanuatu. Collected by Rev C Godden (ET86.33.2). Photo: Tracy Yim Shan Lee © Sydney University Museums

The Macleay Museum holds approximately 180 cultural objects from Vanuatu. The collection includes weaponry, axes, baskets, masks, sculptures, and body adornments such as belts, skirts and ornaments. Penama is the province from which we hold most material (54 items). There are smaller representations from Malampa and Tafea (over 20 items each) and fewer again from Sanma, Shefa and Torba (under 10 each). The remainder of the collection is identified only as being from Vanuatu and has not yet been identified to a specific place or region.

Over half of the Vanuatu material was collected in the late 19th–early 20th century. The objects were acquired by W J Macleay through his relationship with various visitors to the region, including John Brazier on HMS Curacao (1865), J A Boyd (1876 – 89) and A A Onslow (1857 – 61). Apart from this the major collectors are two members of the Godden family. Reverend Charles Godden, an Anglican Missionary in the region acquired around 25 objects there in the early 1900s, and his daughter Ruth who visited in his footsteps in the mid-1960s collected a similar number.

We hold only a few photographs from the region but there are some interesting historical artefacts. These include, a fragment of a cross related to the John Frum religious movement, a 1915 copy of a conveyance document between The Burns Philp Pacific Trading Co and the New Hebrides Presbyterian Mission and a metal plaque dated 1885 pronouncing 22,000 acres of Malo land had been bought from the Chiefs by Englishman C De Lautour.

Issues surrounding the protection and maintenance of cultural heritage continue to be of great import and interest to ni-Vanuatu (Vanuatu peoples) today. One aspect of these belief systems is that many things are believed to have spiritual, not only physical, presence. Through Honorary Associate of the Macleay Museum, Kirk Huffman, we have strong ties to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and via these relationships we are able to better understand these aspects and manage the collections with respect to the thinking and requirements of the contemporary community.