Thursday, 20 November 2014

An Otahietan Fisherman's Petticoat - a new discovery

Forster 36, 1886.1.1179 - before conservation treatment

Forster number 36 in the Catalogue of Curiosities is described as 'An Otaheitian fisherman's petticoat of coloured threads/filaments of bark.'

There was an entry for it in the 'List of Anthropological objects transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers Museum' in 1886, where it is listed as 'A New Zealand Woaman's Apron, or Petticoat; made of narrow long strips, or rather shreds, of the inner bark of some tree ... each piece being doubled and looped over a twisted cord made of the same material, the ends of which are left long for tying. The whole has the appearance of a very deep rough fringe. Width 30 inches; Depth 2 feet. Probably Captain Cook's Collection. 1772-1774. Number lost. Given by Reinhold Forster, Esq.'

This entry was the last time it was recorded as being seen by museum staff, until last week when I found it in a box of grass clothing from Papua New Guinea.  It had been folded in half and tied tightly, hiding the Ashmolean label inside the bundle. 

Cataloguing and re-storage of the grass fibre clothing collections is part of our ongoing work to upgrade the store.  Finding 'missing' objects like this apron is just one of the benefits of carrying out this kind of work, which can be time consuming and not very glamorous! 

Comparison with similar objects in other Cook-voyage collections suggests that this skirt is indeed from Tahiti - it will be displayed with the rest of the Pitt Rivers Cook-voyage collections in mid 2015.