50 shades of brown

Over the last year we have seen a number of team mates help to develop the Discovering Worlds project.  This includes a wide variety of essential tasks including the processing of object information of the collection database, taking measurements of objects and photography.

50 shades brown katrina dring marquesas islandsThe example on the left hand side shows former team mate Katrina Dring in the World Cultures gallery holding a long spatulate spear-club from the Marquesas Islands.  It’s called a parahua and measures 3.26m in length!  Katrina is sadly no longer with us as she is now busy with her Masters degree in the arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas at the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia.

This item was acquired on the 1825-8 voyage of the HMS Blossom by Lieutenant George Peard.  The Blossom didn’t visit the Marquesas Islands but may have picked it up from another island group.  The ship was laden with items ready for trade with the Kings of Tahiti and the sandwich Islands.  This special cargo included two double-barrelled guns embossed with silver, kaleidoscopes, bundles of vermilion, hatchets and yards of blue and red broadcloth.  Although undecorated this club would have been the sort of curiosity mariners were interested in acquiring.

Oceanic peoples depended upon the sea and land for the natural resources they could access.  With these limited resources they were able to create a diverse range of tools and weapons using the wood and stone that was available to them.  Looking at the current gallery display there are plenty of objects that were either carved from wood or crafted from plants.  Although there is much variety in function visitors do notice the many shades of brown from the dark brown patina of the clubs and bowls to the very light cloth made from bark or fans and baskets made from woven palm fronds.  The case back boards and plinths were covered in a plain calico cloth which itself was a very light brown in colour.  This case cloth was designed to create a safe in-case environment but did little to lift the natural colours of the objects and it was decided to go instead with a striking blue colour which works wonders.