Where is the other side of the story? Who speaks for the past?

The majority of labour trade workers to Queensland were young men from Malaita and Guadalcanal and the British or Australian buyers, or possibly looters, of the things in collections from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth were mainly youngish men (Richards 2012). It is no surprise then that this exhibition has turned out to be mainly about Solomon Islands men, their deeds and accoutrements, their dazzling ritual things, not about the everyday and the mundane.

This bias is slightly redressed by the snap shots taken of Islanders going about daily business in the early part of the twentieth century. There is a paucity of photographs from the early colonial period that turn the camera the other way - no photographs of Europeans by Solomon Islanders.

Many of the things on display have highly patterned glinting surfaces of inlaid shell, woven glass beads and teeth (of bats, dolphins, dogs and humans) that allude to violent conflict and its resolution. The use of images of the mighty frigate bird, which bullies other birds, and of bonito fish across diverse objects in the show point to the importance of both within various Solomons cosmologies that connect people, ancestors and spirits in networks of allies and enemies, predators and protectors (Waite 1989).

The appeal to Europeans of this combination of delicacy, vitality and brutality in the precise pattern work of surfaces – incised, inlaid, drawn, woven, painted - is another reason why museums in countries which were colonisers of Solomon Islands, especially Germany, the UK and Australia contain so many items from Solomon Islands.

This points to the quintessential anthropological subject of trade and exchange and their importance within and among the Solomons as well as with Europeans. So labile were these Solomons produced objects that it is hard to call where they were used and collected even if certain cultural groups were (and are) known for producing particular kinds of items. Europeans and Islanders exchanged things that were luxuries, things that they could do without (Bennett 1987). What is kept aside and not circulated is arguably more important culturally and socially than the things in motion.

Diana Young


Image: Maker unrecorded, fou`atoleeleo (Kwaio language) baton, late 19th century, Malaita Island, donated by R.H Hughes 1950


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