OCEANIA

Captivity, Cannibalism And Colonialism In The Pacific

In a corner of the Student's Reading Room of the Department of Ethnography (formerly the Museum of Mankind) in the British Museum hangs a painting of three people from the Pacific. Represented loosely within the convention of the Three Graces, the trio is striking and unique. The central figure is sexually ambiguous. Unlike the accompanying figures, she/he is naked. A suggestion of hermaphroditism is achieved through an ambiguity of signifiers - a feminine face, phallic spear, penis, small breasts. The painting disturbs because it seems to undermine the classical image of the Three Graces as one of consolidated femininity and racial and sexual otherness. As in the classical tradition of the Three Graces, the identity of the black three grades is unknown. The British Museum has very little information about the picture, which is thought to have been painted by the Chinese painter known as Spoilum. This artist painted in Macau in the late eighteenth century; he was one of the first Chinese artists to paint in a western style. The subject of the painting is thought to be three people from the Palau Islands who were taken captive by a Russian sea captain and landed in Macau. further research into the painting has revealed almost nothing.  
 
 
As with so many texts about captivity, this image is marked by anonymity, ambiguity and loss. Who were these people? Why is one painted as a hermaphrodite? Where were they going? What was their fate? Why did the trade in bodies produce such enigmatic texts? We have chosen this image for the cover of Body Trade because it raises all of these questions. Like the hermaphroditic body in the painting, the body of the black captive fascinated its white captors because it signified otherness as a mystery-something to be conquered and captured, in 'primitiveness' transformed into a more civilized, known, identifiable form. Captive peoples who resisted such changes were frequently put on display in circuses and fairs, living testimonials to what was thought to be their immutable difference and hence inferiority. Body Trade explores the image of the captive body in a variety of contexts in order to re-examine myths about captivity, cannibalism and colonialism in a range of texts and practices in Australia and the Pacific. The central site for this exploration is the body itself.
 
 
In theoretical debates of the past two decades, much has been written about the body-the gendered body, the decorated body, the desiring body, the abject body, and the politicised body. These discussions have proven central to debates in psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, post-colonial writings, the cinema, literature and the visual arts. In many of these discourses the notion of the subjugated, captive body has emerged as a central construct in relation to debatres about the body. For instance, the feminist theory, the captive female body is related to concepts of patriarchal power, female disenfranchisement and sexual slavery, in post-colonial theory, slavery assumes a central theoretical place in terms of the history of the colonised indigenous other; in psychoanalytic writings the master/slave relationship is aligned to notions of sadism and masochism; in writings on spectatorship, the look has been conceptualised as a 'controlling gaze'; and in theories of narrativity, the spectator/reader has been posited as 'captive' of the text. Notions of captivity and imprisonment are also fundamental to Foucault's writings about the nature of power and the ambiguous way in which it is exercised by and between individuals caught up in relation of power and powerlessness. 
 
 
Drawing on contemporary theories about the body, this book uses the concept of 'body trade' as a means of re-reading traditionally racist, sexist and Eurocentric vies about race relations in the Pacific from the time of early European contact to the present. A further aim is to demonstrate the relevance of feminine and psychoanalytic theory for post-colonial theory which, with the exception of the writings of scholars such as Homi Bhabba and Michael Taussig, often ignores the crucial areas of desire and the unconscious. Body Trade is also indebted to Henry Reynolds, whose pioneering working on the history of race relations in Australia has inspired a considerable body of work on the above topics. This book uses the concepts of body trade to bring together the many inter-related ways in which the indigenous body has been marked and exploited by colonial practices. The various chapters (as per the following relevant Web sites linked to this Introductory Web site), address issues of racism, sexism and post-coloniality in relation to a range of Pacific nations such as Australia, New guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, the Marquesas Islands, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Korea. Body Trade is the first book to theorise the body in relation to the colonial histories of Australia and the Pacific. Its themes include: cannibalism and the nineteenth-century trade in heads in the Pacific; the holding of indigenous women by white colonisers; mythic tales of the real/imaginary capture of white women by black others; the touring and display of native peoples in circuses throughout Europe and America; and the representation of the colonised/captive body in literature, photography; painting and film. The conventionally understood captivity narrative, namely stories about the holding of white women captive by indigenous people in a frontier context, is revisited and the definition of the term broadened to include a range of circumstances involving the captivity of indigenous people. The essays also explore, in more detail than  has been possible in the past, the politics of contact in the Pacific during the period 1770-2000, through such themes as friendship and betrayal, disavowal and ambivalence and the making of the exotic/erotic body.
 
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The essays are divided into four sections. The first, 'Circus, Trade & Spectacle', deals with the trade in human heads in the Pacific; the 'gift' of breastplates by white colonisers to Australian Aborigines; the exhibition of Polynesian 'cannibals' in France; and a series of paintings depicting members of the Australian Native Mounted Police. All of the chapters in this section examine different ways in which the bodies of indigenous subjects (through trade, display, the wearing of colonial artefacts) are used by colonial cultures to advance their discourse about the superiority of white civilisation while simultaneously attempting to supplant indigenous culture with its own.
 
The early circulation of heads, their arrival in centres of learning and the development of craniology and other pseudo-sciences in nineteenth-century England and Europe was an important tool in the circulation and consolidation of imperial power. From the first visit of Captain Cook to New Zealand the officers and crew were interested in the collection of artefacts and these included Maori heads. On his second visit (1772-1775) the effects of these demands were already being felt among the native population. Reinhold Foster reports that because 'artefacts' were scarce in the area, native people raided other tribes in order to 'possess themselves of those things which are so coveted by the Europeans'. Interest in the construction of the Pacific as a site of unspeakable horrors led to the emergence of cannibalism as a trope in travel writing and fiction. The pseudo-scientific and literary representation of so-called abject primitive practices, however, reveals more about the culture that produced written texts about the 'other' than it does about the cultures themselves.
 

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Paul Turnbull's opening chapter examines the scientific interest in the bones of Aboriginal peoples and demonstrates how this interest led to widespread desecration of traditional burial places and in some instances to the illegal procurement of remains. By the 1860s, many European museums and universities had become the site of scientific work focused on re-interpreting the nature of human origins in the light of evolutionary theories. A consequence of this interest in mapping the course of human prehistory was that the bodies of Australian Aboriginal people took on different meanings and value. The morphological peculiarities of Australian skulls and skeletons were viewed as a crucial source of information about the relation of modern Europeans to what were thought to be very ancient and primitive forms of humanity.
 
 
In the hands of European anatomists, the remains of Aboriginal people were, as Turnbull argues, made to perform acts of ventriloquism in so far as they were used by anthropologists to justify their belief in the primitive nature of Aboriginal ways and - as a consequence - the inevitability of the expropriation of their traditional lands by so-called superior peoples. Often the testimony generated through a study of Aboriginal remains made explicit the violent entanglement between science and colonialism in nineteenth-century Australia. Turnbull's chapters the surviving utterances of collectives, revealing how they were caught up in a system of exploration and were force4d to resolve as best they could the conflicting claims of morality, ambition and the needs of science. 'Chained to their signs: remembering breastplates' examines the political and cultural uses of photographs of Aboriginal people wearing breastplates conferred upon them by the colonial invaders. 'the first appearance of breastplates in Australia is officially recorded in 1815. These were granted by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to Aboriginal people 'willing to abide by a proclamation which had outlawed armed individuals or groups of six or more from coming within a mile of any town, village or farm occupied by British subjects'. Aboriginal men who contravened this law could be shot. Macquarie decreed that their bodies should be hung 'on the highest trees and in the clearest parts of the forest'. Aboriginal men who obeyed the ruling were granted a 'passport' that offered some protection. The practice of conferring breastplates persisted in all states in Australia except Tasmania and South Australia until the 1930s. The argument that the breastplates also acted as a signifier of a genocide-to-come brings a piece to a powerful conclusion.
 
The third chapter examines the arrival of the first Polynesian peoples into France. How can one be Oceanian? This question embodies the responses of Europeans who for the first time came face to face with 'the physical reality of exotic bodies' coming from the South Pacific. Le Fur argues that the case of the first Polynesians arriving in Europe is important because they were presented more or less as 'consenting guests'. Their tattooed bodies inspired engravings, drawings and paintings and exerted a profound influence on the evolution of contemporary thought, which ranged from wonderment to repulsion.
 
A journalist and author of several publication about New Caledonia described his visit to the village of Kanak in the Colonial Exhibition of 1931. Frightened to approach the 'eaters of men', his fear turned to surprise when he recognized some kanaks, whom he knew to be educated men working in such French trades as printing. The presence of fake cannibals in the form of shop mannequins in the Musee de L'Artillerie, and in the Trocadero in Paris, enhanced the general impression that it was possible to observe, in leisurely way, dangerous bodies supposedly capable of swallowing the spectator. Le Fur's chapter draws attention not only to the practice of exhibiting the so-called 'primitive' body but also to the voyeurism of the so-called civilised European spectator whose curiosity involved a different but equally central form of racism based on codes of looking. 
 
 
The final chapter of the first section examines a perverse aspect of the history of black and white relations in nineteenth-century Australia, that of the Native Mounted Police Corps and their representation in the paintings, postcards and drawings of the period. In embracing and operating under a power system that was remote in every sense from tribal values and rules, the native police upset the stereotype of 'primitive' or 'savage' constructed by the white settlers and entered a space where their cultural identity was rendered ambivalent. Frequent hostile confrontations with members of warring clans contributed to their difficult position as black troopers enforcing white rule. The result of these encounters often left members of the Corps in a political no-man's land where they were scorned by blacks as turncoats and criticised by the whites as taking on the trappings of a cultural code in conflict with their own. Their interaction with European-based society and their zeal in exerting authority in situations of wrongdoing was often misinterpreted by white offenders, and contributed further to the perversity of their situation. In taking on the trappings of whiteness, their new 'white' identity was expressed through a form of mimicry. Mackay, however, argues that despite the public stat4ments issued by the colonial culture about assimilation - the native Police offering an instance of this - a close study of the representations (paintings, photographs, drawing) of the period reveals that the police were more captive than captors and that the colonial intentions underlying their creation were racist.
 
The second section, 'Manufacturing the "Cannibal" Body', examines the different ways in which Europeans constructed - consciously or otherwise - the myth of the 'cannibal' through journals, literature and other forms of story-telling in order to represent indigenous people as primitive savages. The authors in this section also draw attention to the voyeuristic nature of European interest in cannibalism. The opening chapter is central to the project of this Web site. It is written by Gananath Obeyesekere, whose groundbreaking research, which has led to a reconceptualisation of the origins, meaning and - in some instances - the very existence of cannibalism, is fundamental to the theoretical approaches which inform Body Trade 
 
Oceania Captivity, Cannibalism And Colonialism In The Pacific - Part 2
 
Melanesia Origins
 
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