Objects From Vanuatu Illuminate Traditional Life in the Western Pacific

Exhibit Opens October 7

SAN FRANCISCO (September 28, 2000)– As a photographer, David Becker records continuing cultural traditions among native people. These traditions are most readily seen in the way people dress, the foods they eat, and the many items they make and use in their daily lives. Because the skills for making these items are handed down from generation to generation, objects themselves sometimes change very little. Others might be replaced by something introduced through trade from outside the culture.

The exhibit displaying Becker’s photographs, At Home in Vanuatu: Tradition in the Western Pacific, will be complimented by a selection of historic objects that have been selected from the Academy’s own Anthropology Collection and from that of the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. War clubs, baskets, food serving utensils, hunting arrows, baskets, and items of adornment will be on display. The largest and perhaps most unusual item on exhibit will be a life-sized burial effigy from southwestern Malekula. Until the early 20th Century, and only in that region of Vanuatu, such effigies were made of men of the highest ranks, so their spirits could continue to participate in the society. The effigy that will be shown in the exhibit was acquired by the Academy in 1882 and miraculously survived even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

In addition to the historic objects, the Academy of Sciences has collected a number of contemporary objects from Vanuatu in recent years in preparation for the exhibit. These include ceremonial dance skirts and mats, masks, baskets, and a carved food tray, as well as imported steel knives and an aluminum cooking pot. A number of these items are nearly identical to examples collected in the 1920s, and some of them appear in Becker’s photographs.

At Home in Vanuatu: Tradition in the Western Pacific ends March 18, 2001.