The Hawaiian Islands and the whaling industry

I would like to put your attention on the following article of Amy Jenness about the connection and importance of the Hawaiian Islands for Nantucket’s whaling industry. She wrote the article in 2016 in the “Yesterday’s Island, Today’s Nantucket”1 and I will briefly summarize the text.

The history of the Hawaiian Islands is deeply intertwined with the rise of the whaling industry in the 1820s.

The arrival of whalers Edmund Gardner and Elisha Folger in 1819 heralded a new chapter in Hawaii’s maritime heritage. Soon ports such as Honolulu, Lahaina and Hilo were buzzing with activity as whaling ships from Nantucket and beyond made their presence felt. Initially venturing into the Pacific Ocean in search of sperm whales, these ships found a welcome haven in the Hawaiian Islands, thanks to treaties with local monarchs such as King Kamehameha.

The following years saw a surge in maritime activity, with traders establishing routes to Canton, China, and thriving on the lucrative trade in Hawaiian sandalwood. However, it was the emergence of the whaling industry that would shape Hawaii’s history and become its economic backbone for the next two decades. Local communities thrived on the influx of sailors, supplying ships and providing essential services to the burgeoning maritime trade. Honolulu, in particular, underwent a rapid transformation with the installation of water mains and the establishment of businesses to cater for the needs of the whalers.

But this period of prosperity was not without its challenges. The clash of cultures led to conflict and tension as Western influences clashed with traditional Hawaiian ways. Disease ravaged the native population, while missionaries tried to impose their beliefs, leading to social upheaval and unrest.

Among the prominent figures of this era was Nantucket captain Valentine Starbuck, whose exploits aboard the English whaleship L’Aigle would become the stuff of legend. Starbuck’s encounters with King Kamehameha not only forged a bond between two distant worlds, but also hinted at the tantalising prospect of Hawaii’s allegiance to the British crown.

  1. Jenness, Amy (2016): An important stop for Nantucket whalers – Hawaii”, in: Yesterday’s Island, Today’s Nantucket, https://yesterdaysisland.com/important-stop-nantucket-whalers/, [Last Access: 30.3.2024]. []

Race against time to preserve records

In 2023, PARADISEC1, the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures, celebrates two decades as a vital online repository for the cultural heritage of endangered languages and musical traditions. Founded in 2003 and based at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Archive focuses on preserving recordings from endangered regions such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Australia, with a particular emphasis on Oceania. The archive’s vast collection has grown over time and now includes audio and video content in 1,350 languages. With a focus on Oceania, the archive contains recordings of performances, narratives, songs and oral traditions – a staggering total of more than 15,700 hours of audio and 2,600 hours of video. This collection of over 200 terabytes offers a profound insight into indigenous cultural practices.

A pressing challenge for the archive’s team is the digitisation of analogue material dating back to the 1950s and 60s. These analogue recordings, which are prone to degradation, risk becoming unplayable after 2025. In contrast, digitised versions offer longevity and accessibility. The PARADISEC team is racing against time to ensure these records are preserved and accessible, especially to communities with limited bandwidth. A unique tool using portable Wi-Fi networks makes it easy to access digitised materials. The importance of PARADISEC goes beyond preservation; it serves as a bridge between past and present cultural practices. The archive is central to preserving the identities of Indigenous communities, underpinned by language and music. Steven Gagau, a Tolai man from Papua New Guinea, emphasises how PARADISEC empowers speaker communities, enabling them to access and engage with their cultural heritage.

Dr Amanda Harris, Director of PARADISEC’s Sydney Unit, highlights the creative potential unlocked by the preservation of language and song recordings. The archive not only preserves traditions but also inspires innovative uses for the future. Over two decades, the collection has grown in both content and community engagement, fostering a deeper connection between Australia and its Pacific neighbours.

Jodie Kell, audio engineer and manager of the PARADISEC laboratory in Sydney, highlights the challenges faced during the preservation process, including the fragile condition of some analogue tapes. Despite these hurdles, digitisation breathes life into fragile recordings and brings invaluable cultural artefacts back to life. The archive’s online accessibility ensures that recordings of cultural heritage are available to speaker communities and researchers alike. As technology evolves, PARADISEC remains at the forefront, exploring innovative ways to engage remote regions. Recent collaborations have highlighted the symbiotic relationship between archives and communities, demonstrating that reviving ancient practices through singing can be a creative, transformative endeavour.

  1. Paradisec (2023): Race against time to preserve pacific recordings, in: The National Tribune, “https://www.nationaltribune.com.au/race-against-time-to-preserve-rare-pacific-recordings/?fbclid=IwAR1yohHggDrLzgF4LVK2inGtKbd2eDfOg33LvV5gscNeuF65_R3_cbriA5Aedin.com/analytics/search-appearances/, [Last Access: 15.08.2023] []

Linden-Museum in Stuttgart

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the LindenMuseum in Stuttgart – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde. Reason of my visit were two exhibitions:

The temporal LindenLab 3 exhibition:”Across Time, Place and People
Whakawhānaungatanga: Connecting taonga Māori
“:

Between December 2022 and June 2023, this collection explores the collection of almost 150 Māori treasures from Aotearoa New Zealand. These treasures, including clothing, jewelry, weapons, carvings, and a carved house, have diverse origins and were acquired through gifts, purchases, and exchanges. Even though they have limited knowledge about their genealogy and history, they have great significance for Māori today. LindenLAB 3, a project with Māori researchers and experts, wants to make new connections and meaning by finding out where these taonga came from and showing how important they are in culture through creative presentations. The exhibit emphasizes the dynamic nature of the collection and its connections to individuals, neighborhood groups, educational institutions, and nations.

The Museum explains that the objects have arrived Stuttgart by somehow “winding paths”: “they were gifts from European travellers, acquired by patrons for the museum or taken over from other collections through exchange or purchase. Little or nothing is known about their whakapapa (genealogy) – the names of their makers, their former owners and their history in Aotearoa New Zealand. Yet the taonga are important and full of meaning for Māori today.”1

By examining historical and contemporary taonga Māori, the project show connections that link the collection to individuals, local communities, institutions, and nations. The focus is on presenting these relationships in a way that respects the cultural meanings, aesthetics, and artistic expressions of the objects. Each contributor brings their own perspective to the selected assemblages, emphasizing the ever-evolving dynamics of the living collection.

The LindenLab partners from Atoearoa New Zealand include:

Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) is an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Auckland and author of A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 years of Ngāti Porou carving, 1830-1930 (2016). She has led and coordinated the LindenLAB 3 partners since the project’s start.

Dougal Austin (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, Waitaha) is curator of the Māori collections at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington and author of Te Hei Tiki: an enduring treasure in a cultural continuum (2019).

Awhina Tamarapa (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Ruanui) worked as a curator at Te Papa Museum and is a Teaching Fellow for the Museum and Heritage Studies program at Victoria University Wellington where she is also completing her PhD. She is the editor and author of Whatu Kākahu / Māori Cloaks (2011).

Justine Treadwell is a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Auckland. Her research focuses on 18th century Māori cloaks held in European collections. Previously she has worked at Auckland Museum on the storage of the Māori textile collection.

The permanent “Oceania” Collection:

The carefully curated collection features over 600 objects, ranging from ancient to contemporary, shedding light on the traditions, beliefs, and lifestyles of Oceania’s diverse communities. Spanning across the vast Pacific Ocean, Oceania encompasses an incredible diversity of cultures, each with its own unique heritage. The Linden Museum’s “Ozeanien” exhibition showcases this richness, offering visitors a glimpse into the customs, art, and spirituality of various Pacific Island groups, including Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.

From ceremonial masks adorned with intricate carvings to intricately woven textiles and navigational tools, every artifact in the exhibition carries deep cultural significance. Each piece tells a story, illustrating the Pacific Islanders’ connection to their environment, ancestors, and mythologies. Through these artifacts, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistic expression that characterizes Oceania’s cultural tradition.

  1. LindenLab 3 in: LindenMuseum Stuttgart, https://www.lindenmuseum.de/en/see/exhibitions/translate-to-englisch-lindenlab-3-across-time-place-and-people, [last Access: 14.6.2023] []

Digital Grand Panorama of a whaling voyage

Today, I would like to introduce a very illustrative and creative digital reconstruction of a whaling voyage.1

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, which is in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, is the longest painting in North America and a rare example of a business that used the panorama. In this period, panoramas were an immensely popular form of entertainment, providing audiences with a way to experience far-off lands or journey back in time. They usually consisted of big paintings of exotic places, famous battle scenes, and cityscapes that surrounded an audience and made them feel like they were part of the scene.

The popular panorama craze was driven by the public’s growing appetite for the exotic and spectacular, fuelled by literature, painting, architecture, and fashion. Moving panoramas, which were mounted on several spools and scrolled through the panorama, offered a journey through space and time, and could embody the linear narrative of an expedition or voyage. The Purrington-Russell panorama was based on the artist’s first-hand knowledge. The rolls allow the audience to be somehow part of a Yankee whale ship searching for whales and offer a glimpse of the world beyond through the eyes of a whaleman.

The different tabs show the various islands, oceans and stations, which the whaling ship crossed during the voyage, among them the Azores, Cape Verdes, Rio de Janiero, Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, Hawaii, or the Fiji Islands. The pictures are impressively painted and invite the reader to take a closer look.

  1. Digital Grand Panorama, in: Arcgis.com, https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=19513a5d13964a48aa9d00973c8a9674#, [Last Access: 24.04.2023] []

What does “transoceanic” mean?

With this blogpost, I would like to discuss and introduce the term “transoceanic”, which is also the name of this research blog. Four years ago, at 11th May 2018, the two scholars Juliane Braun and Benjamin Fagan gave an interview to the TRAFO research blog “Blog for Transregional Studies”. This interview was part of a larger TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’.

In this interview, they put the attention on the Conference “Transoceanic American Studies”, which would take place a week later at 18th May 2018 at the German Historical Institute Washington. They explained the concept of a transoceanic approach and highlight the differences between Atlantic and Pacific studies. While Atlantic studies are rather interested in discovering “connections between the lands and peoples that exist on that ocean’s rim”, Pacific studies tend to focus “upon the island communities scattered throughout that ocean”. In doing so, they observed, Pacific historians put more efforts into “recovering the experiences of the ocean’s indigenous communities”, instead of just emphasizing on “the people who traveled, willingly and in chains” between the continents, as Atlantic historians typically do.

The term transoceanic is insofar interesting as it understands the Oceans as a means of “creation of connections between different lands, peoples, and products”, and not a barrier. “Seafarers”, they remind, “thought of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans as ‘knit together’ because they had to traverse all of them to get to” their destination.

Putting these considerations into my research project comes along with several consequences. Firstly, this understanding of the Ocean can be surely observed in the whaling industry too. As soon as the whale populations in the Atlantic Ocean diminished in the 18th and 19th century, it was and became common and custom for whaling ships, which started in New England or London, to cross the Atlantic from Cape Hope through the Indian Ocean, or via Cape Horn in order to reach the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean, and to sail back. For them, the oceanic currents and patterns formed their regularly ‘way for work’.

At the same time, such connections led to the circulation of ideas, commodities, peoples and experiences. Including the experiences and understanding the perspectives of Indigenous communities means, to follow their path and patterns as well. There a plenty of examples, which clearly contradict the notion of only one-sided developments.

Tahitians went to Aotearoa/New Zealand, Māori individuals arrived in Atlantic ports such as London or Nantucket. Missionaries, on their way from London to the Bay of Islands, talk of (and pick up) stranded Māori persons on the Islands of Madeira. Whaling Captains, who pick up ruling families of the Hawaiian Islands and, on their way back to London, took a stopover in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Hawaiian rulers come to meet the local rulers of Rio. Whalers, with Native American background, arrive in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and were considered as Pakeha (white settlers). Brazilian seailors, who run away at Kororareka during a stopover of American whaling ships. These are just a few examples, which can be used as an example in the early 19th century.

Madeleine Miller from the GHI Washington had summarized the conference “Transoceanic American Studies“, which took place 2018 in Washington.1

  1. Miller, Madeleine: Transoceanic American Studies, in: GHI Washington, 2018, https://www.ghi-dc.org/events/event/date/transoceanic-american-studies-17-05-2018, [Last Access: 18.05.2022]. []
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