Friday, May 10, 2019

Forgetting Melanesia

In a piece for EyeContact I've asked whether Auckland museum's white supremacist past still haunts its Ancient Worlds gallery. The gallery is supposed to represent ancient agricultural civilisations, and it includes exquisite artefacts from Egypt, Sumer, Greece. But there is no mention of Melanesia, the place where humans first created agriculture, & where for tens of thousands of years they have maintained complex & successful societies.


Blogger Richard said...

Hi Scott. Did you see my comment re Banaba? The thing was that the English people were in a strange position. My mother had a nurse who was Banaban and my grandparents treated her well. (Although there is no way I can no the exact relationship, I suppose it was like a fact my Grandmother was born in India and a relative ran the Indian Times I think it was). But at the same time the process of phosphate mining led to the destruction (effectively) of the Island. When I used to see images of Ocean Island I was quite young and had no idea of any of this: only recently have I focused my mind back on it. My uncle was born there, fought in the RAF (as they went back to England then later my mother returned to Ocean Island). It was a strange situation of working class people on an Island acting like (almost the aristocracy or the Bourgeoisie) in England. I looked at some interesting YouTubes on Banaba and have a few books etc so there is a lot to process but I am also looking into my other relatives via letters etc.

Re Banaba the photographs were in black and white but a lot can be seen. I also have a letter written in that language which I have copied out, as well as some songs.

But watching one YouTube of some American ham radio buffs who also (as well as their radio work) showed the Island as it was now and I saw the machine shop and carpentry (where my grandfather would have worked) and a power plant, a hospital (where my mother was taken once as a child by Banabans) and the desolation is devastating to see. That YouTube by the American hams is very good. I am almost familiar with Banaba as I also have a map and a book by Ellis. My parents knew Ellis.

As I say, the significance of this is really only now that I am quite old getting through to me. My Uncle Frank also, in later life, took an interest in the place, donating information and letters etc to a Banaban group (in fact some of my grandparents images are to be used in the book which they are doing now). But I sent a share on FB showing the docu by a young Banaban woman who is wrote a book on the place.

I saw your Tweets re this general subject. Colonialization occurred throughout the Pacific. The results were not good, and indeed NZ was certainly involved. My grandfather came to NZ first then went to Ocean Island (Banaba). More anon.

9:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

And indeed, I also wondered about the history before the Europeans of Banaba, Kiribati etc. By the way don't they have some artifacts in the museum from Kiribati? Possibly not. I thought they had some from the Solomons. I think though that there is certainly an ongoing ignore of the Pacific (not entirely). Ancient Greece and Egypt etc are of interest. They are more dramatic for people. But if you read 'Against the Grain' by James C. Scott a new picture of civilisation emerges. In fact nomadic and or hunter gatherer groups were probably healthier and even more ingenious than the recorded history we see. As he points out, people always tried to move away from so-called civilised areas. One reason was to avoid tax or enslavement and the other was that with agricultural development etc diseases increased dramatically. The development of civilisation was sheer luck. (Or bad luck as it has led to the devastating world situation we are in now). No greatness. It just so happened that the reproductive rate in settled agricultural places (where grain could be taxed hence the title - and people enslaved): the reproductive rate was slightly higher overall. Nomadic groups or hunter gatherers kept their population down deliberately. This book gives an alternative view of things:

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