Cultures of collecting: Māori curio collecting in Murihiku, 1865-1975
Samson, J.O. (James Oliver)
The ambivalence of many prehistorians toward curio collections has meant that, although they recognise some of their shortcomings, they nevertheless use collections as if they had qualities of archaeological assemblages. In this dissertation it is posited and then demonstrated that curio collections are very different entities to archaeological assemblages. In order to use collections in valid constructions of New Zealand's pre-European past, the processes that led to their formation need to be understood. It is only then that issues of representation can be addressed. In order to better understand the collecting process, a study of the activity of 24 curio collectors who operated in the Murihiku region of southern New Zealand during the period between 1865 and 1975 was undertaken. The study was structured about two key notions: the idea of the 'filter' and the idea that tools and ornaments have a 'life history' that extends from the time that raw material was selected for the manufacture to the present. The notion of the filter made possible a determination of the effects of particular behaviours on patterns of collector selectivity and the extent and nature of provenance recording; and the extended concept of life history recognised that material culture functions in multiple cultural and chronological contexts-within both indigenous and post-contact spheres. Examination of the collecting process led to the identification of five curio collecting paradigms: curio collecting for the acquisition of social status, curio collecting for financial return, curio collecting as an adjunct to natural history collecting, curio collecting as an adjunct to historical recording, and ethnological or culture-area curio collecting. Filtering processes associated with each paradigm resulted in particular, but not always distinctive, patterns of curio selectivity and styles of provenance recording. A switch in the focus of attention from examination of curio collectng processes generally to the study of the filtering processes that shaped collections from a specific archaeological site-the pre-European Otago Peninsula site of Little Papanui (J44/1)- enabled some evaluation of individuual collection representation. A database recording up to 19 attributes for each of 6282 curios localised to 'Little Papanui' in Otago Museum enabled 31 dedicated or 'ardent' collectors who operated at the site to be identified. These 31 dedicated collectors were grouped according to the paradigm that best described their collecting behaviour. It was found that the greater proportion of these dedicated collectors (n=12, 39%) had been influenced by the ethnological or culture-area collecting paradigm. These 12 collectors were responsible for recovering a remarkable 5645 curios or nearly ninety-percent (89.86%) of the meta-collection. Because curio collections lack meaningfully recorded stratigraphic provenance, it is the technological and social context in which tools and ornaments functioned that must become the focus of curio collection studies. Appropriate studies of technological and social and context focus upon evaluations of raw material sourcing, evaluations of manufacture technique and assessments of tool and ornament use and reuse (and integrative combinations of these modes of study). These sorts of evaluation require large collections compiled in the least selective manner possible and the collections need to be reliably localised to specific sites. Collections compiled by the ethnological or culture-area collectors have these qualities. Collections compiled within other paradigms lack locality information and were assembled in highly selective manners.
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Maori; Kai Tahu; South Island; Te Waipounamu; antiquities; collectors and collecting; historic sites
Research Type: Thesis