- Registration number
- Item name
- Body armour
- Indigenous name
- Associated cultural group
- Pacific > Papua New Guinea > Western Province > North Fly District
- Mr Thomas F. Parkes
- Acquisition date
- January 01, 1961
- Acquisition method
- Donated by Mr Thomas F. Parkes
- Raw material
- Rattan [Calamus sp.]
- H: 413 mm W: 360 mm L: D: 303 mm Circum:
Coiled vegetable-fibre elements.
This woven cuirass, or piece of body armour as it is otherwise known, is an intriguing item within the Museum collection that has long been shrouded in ambiguity. My assigned challenge in ANTH2208, Anthropology of Museums, was to unravel this mystery, my only clue being that the cuirass was linked to an unspecified region in Papua New Guinea.
A photograph, also within the university’s collection (registration number 34187), taken by Australian Thomas F. Parkes in 1935, depicts similar looking cuirasses in association with the ‘Ok Tedi natives’ of the Western Province, within the Fly River region (Parkes 1981a). The local communities of the Western Province first encountered Europeans in the late 19th century. The region became known for its rich export of birds of paradise plumes which supplied the European demand for fashionable ladies’ hats (Kirsch 1991). By the time Parkes took his photo (34187), Europeans were largely on the hunt for gold and Parkes had been contracted by an American company, Oroville Dredging, in search of mining opportunities (Parkes 1981b; Parkes 1991).
Parkes was most likely referring to the Yonggom people in his photographic description. An ethnography by Kirsch (1991), which focused on Yonggom ritual practises, mentions their residence along the Ok Tedi River and draws on the colonial accounts of Murray and Ray (1918), Haddon (1920) and Austen (1923), all of which concur the unique presence of cuirasses. These primary writings divulge that the armour was made from rattan, the cane from climbing palms, which is present within the tropical forests of around the globe, including the hills surrounding the Western Province (Austen 1923; Siebert 2012).
Further confirmation of the armour’s provenance is its original registration number, 8303, which can still be seen on the interior of the cuirass. In the 1980s, the armour was reclassified within the UQ Anthropology Museum, and catalogued under a new number, 28554, without the transfer of any documentation or information concomitant to the armour. In a letter, director of the time, Dr Peter Lauer (1981) verified that the catalogue number 8303, ‘Body Armour’, was attributed under Parkes’ name, confirming that he was responsible for donating the cuirass to the museum. Therefore, the photograph that initially sparked my search in to the armour’s invisible past may have included the very cuirass Parkes eventually donated to the Anthropology Museum.
This Collection Closeup was written by UQ student Georgia Williams, March 2019.
Austen, L 1923, ‘The Tedi River district of Papua’, The Royal Geographical Society, vol. 62, no. 5, pp. 335-349.
Haddon, AC 1920, ‘Migrations of cultures in British New Guinea’, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 237-280.
Kirsch, S 1991, ‘The Yonggom of New Guinea: An ethnography of sorcery, magic, and ritual’, PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Lauer, P 1981, Lauer to TF Parkes, May 19, [Letter] Held at: University of Queensland: Anthropology Museum.
Murray, JWP & Ray, SH 1918, ‘The people and language between the Fly and Strickland Rivers, Papua’, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 40-45.
Parkes, L 1991, Parkes to P Lauer, July 27, [Letter] Held at: University of Queensland: Anthropology Museum.
Parkes, TF 1981a, Parkes to P Lauer, June 2, [Letter] Held at: University of Queensland: Anthropology Museum.
Parkes, TF 1981b, Parkes to P Lauer, May 3, [Letter] Held at: University of Queensland: Anthropology Museum.
Siebert, SF 2012, The Nature and Culture of Rattan: Reflections on vanishing life in the forests of Southeast Asia, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.