Thursday, 22 March 2012

Eating the Exotic

As featured in a recent blog post, the Pitt Rivers recently loaned some Cook-voyage objects to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, for their exhibition "Eating the Exotic'.  Dr Sophie Forgan, Chairman of the Trustees of the museum in Whitby, writes:

John Walker's House, Whitby, home to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum

'As a small independent volunteer-run museum, we are delighted to be able to borrow twelve important artefacts from the Pitt Rivers for our exhibition ‘Eating the Exotic’, which examines the Cook voyages through food, eating and the cultures surrounding food in Polynesia. 

We thought hard about the best way to display the objects.  The fish hooks were comparatively easy, well spaced in the case alongside contemporary illustrations of the sorts of fish that they were designed to catch.  Likewise the food preparation implements were simply placed in a case with models of fruits and tubers (breadfruit and kumara) cultivated.  The case containing the kava bowls and Tongan ‘mat’ (featured in an earlier blog), now reinterpreted as a skirt, was trickier.  We decided to leave the skirt as a ‘mat’, with a note on its recent redesignation.  We then created three perspex stands, triangular in shape, of different heights.  These hold the kava bowls and surround the ‘skirt’, displayed flat on the floor of the case.  A large piece of kava root from the Economic Botany Museum at Kew was placed within one of the perspex stands, rather appropriately under a kava bowl, allowing it to be seen, but still kept separate from the organic materials of the other exhibits.

1886.1.1177.  Skirt/mat, Tonga

One of the most interesting points raised by working on the exhibition was how the Forsters managed to get all their collections back from the Pacific. Their cabin space was very limited.  On the floor below the exhibition, the Museum shows Johann Reinhold Forster’s desk.  This is extremely compact, and could take no more than writing materials, papers and a few books.

Johann Reinhold Forster's desk

The cabins were small, and Forster complained that the scuttle leaked and he often found his bedding wet.  Apart from the occasional very small object tucked into one of the desk pockets, the cabin could only hold some materials in bags or bundles slung from the ceiling.  Otherwise, all objects would have been placed in one of the store rooms available for officers’ supplies.  Given the amount of tapa cloth the Forsters brought back, and large objects such as baskets, bowls, weapons, costumes and so on, the Forsters must have taken every inch of available space.  Perhaps more space became available as trade goods brought from Britain were used up during stops at the islands.'