Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tiwi Islander Research Visit

In October last year Bede TungutalumDiana Wood Conroy, and Alison Clark visited the Museum to study the collections from Melville Island in Australia. Melville Island is located 100 kilometres north of Darwin and is the third largest island of Australia - after the mainland and Tasmania. Melville Island and the nearby Bathurst Island are known as the Tiwi Islands, which are home to nearly 2500 Tiwi-speaking people.

Bede is from Melville Island and is a senior Tiwi artist who is skilled in painting, carving and printmaking. Diana is an archaeologist and artist who has worked closely with indigenous communities on Melville Island since the 1970s. Alison is a researcher at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and studied the Tiwi collections at the British Museum as part of her PhD.

We were pleased to be able to show Bede, Diana, and Alison the objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum from Melville Island. This included three very heavy carved and decorated wooden burial poles and two large painted bark baskets. While we were all studying the collection they kindly told us more about these interesting objects.

The poles and baskets are still made and continue to be used in Pukumani ceremonies.

Nicholas and Alison from the Pitt Rivers looking at
one of the Pukumani poles with Alison, Diana and Bede
© Pitt Rivers Museum

This is a public ceremony performed to ensure the spirit of a dead person passes from the living to the spirit world. The painted bark baskets are placed on top of the poles at the end of the Pukumani ceremony as gifts for the spirits.

Looking closely at the bark baskets © Pitt Rivers Museum
I really enjoyed meeting Bede, Diana, and Ali and spending time with them talking about the objects and life on Melville Island.

From left to right:
PRM 1915.10.23, 1914.43.1,
 1915.10.25, 1915.10.24
© Pitt Rivers Museum

PRM 1915.10.20
© Pitt Rivers Museum

On the left you can see the carved poles we  looked at, the one in the middle has one of the  bark baskets placed over the top.

You can see the other bark basket on the right.

If you have an opportunity to visit, you will find all three of the Pukumani poles on permanent display in the Lower Gallery of the Museum.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

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