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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Ethnological Work

Ethnological Work

The Museum's work in ethnology covers two periods: the first extending from 1889 to 1919, the second from 1920 onward. During the first period of 31 years, the Director was William J. Brigham, M.A., D.Sc. (Harvard). The construction of buildings and furnishings, the arrangement for exhibition, and the storing of material, all took time and thought. Local koa wood was used in the construction of tall exhibition cases, which, though they must have given great satisfaction at the time, are now outmoded. However, the Museum has inherited the furniture of a past age, and thorough modernization is a financial problem difficult to solve.

The wealth of Hawaiian material in the collection and the very terms of the foundation determined the policy of the Museum in devoting first attention to the study of Hawaiian ethnology. The Director concentrated his efforts in this direction and produced a number of monographs on the Hawaiian arts and crafts which will be found listed under his name in the list of literature on Hawaii. The Museum established its own printing press and the memoirs were published in quarto size with copious illustrations. These publications also listed the material in the Museum and thus served the additional purpose of providing illustrated catalogs. The Director was ably assisted by J. F. G. Stokes, Curator of Polynesian Collections, and Stokes went farther in his studies by working out techniques, as exemplified in his work on netted carriers (koko) of the Hawaiians. A number of local authorities, such as Fornander, contributed in the fields of mythology, history, and traditions, though their manuscripts were not published until after the regime of Dr. Brigham had ended. The first period may thus be characterized as the Hawaiian period.

The second period has been influenced, not only by natural growth and expansion but by events which changed the status of the Museum from a purely local institution to one with an international reputation.

In 1919, Herbert E. Gregory, Ph.D. (Yale), Silliman Professor in Geology at Yale, was granted a temporary release, and he assumed administrative charge of the Museum with the title of Acting Director in May of that year. It was during the early part of Dr. Gregory's term of office that various events took place which are so important in the history of ethnological research that they will be referred to individually in the following pages.

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The First Pacific Science Conference

The first Pacific Science Conference was held in Honolulu in 1920 and Dr. Gregory was made chairman. Though the conference was arranged under the auspices of the Pan-Pacific Union with the aid of funds appropriated by the Territory of Hawaii, Bishop Museum did much to add to its success. It, in turn, did much toward outlining the research policy of the Museum. Though the various branches of science were covered by the conference, emphasis was placed on anthropology, because of the rapidly disappearing native cultures. A report was prepared under the direction of the Section of Anthropology, to which eminent anthropologists in the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan contributed. The vast Pacific area was divided into the "insular areas" of Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and the "continental areas" of Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippine and Malay Islands. Though research in all these areas was held to be of great importance, the report selected Polynesia as the area for immediate undertaking since it comprised the heart of the Pacific and, particularly, since it was about to become the field of operations of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. An outline of the scope and methods to be applied to Polynesia was formulated and the problems emphasized. Ethnological research was dealt with under the headings of material culture and art, mythology and religion, social organization, language, music, and historical research. Anthropometrical and archaeological research were also dealt with. The various problems were set out in a series of statements and questions, much after the pattern of "Notes and Queries on Anthropology" published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The outline was printed in pamphlet form to serve as a guide to field workers in Polynesia.

The Bayard Dominick Expeditions

The extension of Bishop Museum's field of active operations to Polynesia was rendered possible by the financial cooperation of Bayard Dominick, a Yale graduate and a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The original plans for the conduct of field work were made in consultation with Clark Wissler (Curator of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History), Roland B. Dixon (Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University), Alfred L. Kroeber (Professor of Anthropology, University of California), and William Churchill (Carnegie Institute). Correspondence was conducted with S. Percy Smith, Elsdon Best, and J. MacMillan Brown of New Zealand. Four Polynesian areas were selected for the first year's work, and graduate students in anthropology were selected to do the field work. The field workers were to be sent out in pairs, one to attend to archaeology and material culture and the other to take up social organization and religion. In addition, all page 45were provided with anthropometrical cards on which to record the physical characteristics of as large a number as possible of the native inhabitants of the islands under study. Louis R. Sullivan, Ph.D., was appointed Research Associate in Anthropology in January 1920 to make a survey of the Hawaiians and work up the cards filled in by field workers. Botanists were attached to two of the field parties which left Honolulu in 1920. The members were as follows:

  • Tonga: Edward W. Gifford (University of California), William C. McKern (University of California), Arthur J. Eames (Harvard University, Botanist).
  • Marquesas: Edward S. C. Handy (Harvard University), Ralph Linton (University of Pennsylvania), Forest B. H. Brown (Yale University, Botanist), Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Handy (volunteer assistants).
  • Austral Islands: John F. G. Stokes (Bishop Museum Staff), Robert T. Aitken (Columbia University), Mrs. J. F. G. Stokes (volunteer assistant).
  • Hawaii: Louis R. Sullivan (Brown University), Kenneth P. Emory (Dartmouth, Harvard).

The Tongan party made anthropometrical measurements in Samoa on the way to Tonga. Unfortunately, A. J. Eames, botanist, developed dysentery in Apia and had to return to the United States. The Marquesas party had no difficulty in reaching their location, but the Austral Islands party was delayed owing to the irregular transport service with the islands. Finally, Aitken was located at Tubuai and Stokes was able to do archaeological work at Raivavae and ethnological work at Rapa. The reports of the members of the expeditions were published by the Museum and will be found listed in the literature of their respective groups under the heading of the publications of Bishop Museum.

The first year's work (1920) was financed by Bayard Dominick to the extent of $40,000, which was given as a donation to Yale University and placed by Yale at the disposition of Bishop Museum.