Friday, 1 February 2013

'Two fanns from the Marquesas'

1886.1.1412 (left) and 1886.1.1411 - Two fans from the Marquesas

There are two fans from the Marquesas Islands in the Forster Collection.  Listed in the appendix of the 'Catalogue of Curiosities', they are Nos. 169 and 170 'Two fanns from the Marquesas'.  They were collected on the island of Tahuata (Sta. Christina) between the 8th and the 11th April 1774.

Detail of 1886.1.1412 showing the woven fan blade, central top section

The fans (tah'i) are woven around a wooden handle, or ke'e.  Usually, grass, pandanus leaf or the leaves and midribs of the coconut palm were used to made the blades, and they were whitened with crushed coral or lime, as reported by George Forster in 'A Voyage Round the World'.

'The weather was exceedingly hot his day, for which reason many of the inhabitants made use of large fans to cool themselves.  These fans, of which they sold us a great number, were formed of a kind of tough bark or grass, very firmly and curiously plaited, and frequently whitened with shell-lime,'

Microscopic examination of the larger fan, 1886.1.1412, showed that there were white deposits in the crevices of the basketwork.   

White deposits x20

A small sample of the deposit was taken, and tested with a drop of a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid.  Bubbles were evolved, which were probably carbon dioxide.  Whilst not conclusive proof, this strongly suggests that the deposit is a carbonate, for example calcium carbonate, from which shells are made.  

A sample of the deposit reacting with hydrochloric acid (x200)

Fans were symbols of status on the Marquesas, carried by high ranking men and women, as well as warriors (toa) and ritual specialists (tau'a).  Carol s. Ivory, in 'Adorning the World - Art of the Marquesas Islands (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005) writes about fans, saying that that 'displayed on important occasions, especially feasts, their visual impact was enhanced by the elegant manner with which they were carried, particularly by women.'

Patini, a high-ranking female chief, drawn on Nuku Hiva by artists from the expedition of 1838 led by Dumont d'Urville.  She holds a fan in her left hand.