History of the cylinders

We do not know how Malinowski’s cylinders ended up in the British Museum’s Museum of Mankind, but they may have been included with the shipment of 672 artefacts from the Trobriand Islands purchased by the British Museum from Malinowski in 1922.1https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_2012-2037-64 The luggage tag included with the cylinders (below) indicates Malinowski sent them to H J Braunholtz, the Keeper of Ethnography at the British Museum.2Braunholtz worked at the British Museum from 1913 to 1953, first as a curator and then as Keeper of the Department of Ethnography from 1938 britishmuseum.org. Some of the artefacts at the British Museum were returned to Malinowski in 1936, while other artefacts collected by Malinowski were donated to the British Museum by the London School of Economics more recently.3https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG125915 It is also possible that the cylinders came into the Museum of Mankind when the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Library was given to the British Museum in 1976.4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Anthropological_Institute_of_Great_Britain_and_Ireland

On 27 October 1978, Yvonne Neverson, Research Assistant at the Museum of Mankind, wrote to Patrick Saul, Director of the British Institute of Recorded Sound (BIRS). The BIRS was an independent institution, founded in 1955. The Museum of Mankind housed the British Museum’s Department of Ethnography of the British Museum.5The Museum of Mankind was housed in 6 Burlington Gardens until 1997, and the Department of Ethnography was brought back onto the main British Museum site in 2003.

Her letter noted that there were “five vox6We have assumed that “vox” refers to the fact that they are recordings of vocal performances, rather than instrumental ones. cylinders of Malinowski’s recordings from the Trobriand Islands” in the Museum’s departmental library, and asked whether the Institute could “re-record” them on to tapes or records.727 Nov 1978. Letter from Yvonne Neverson (Museum of Mankind) to Patrick Saul [Held at British Library] A note on the letter indicates that the cylinders were brought into the BIRS on 27 January 1979. It seems that the cylinders were dubbed and returned, but there is no further documentation in the British Library’s Archives. In April 1983, the BIRS became part of the British Library, and was renamed the National Sound Archive (NSA).8 The British Library had been created in 1973, when it was decided to separate the British Museum Library off from the main British Museum to form an independent institution. https://www.bl.uk/about-us/our-story/history-of-the-british-library In November 1984, the NSA borrowed the cylinders from the Museum of Mankind again, to copy them with their new cylinder machine.9SAMI entry for C46 collection notes http://sami.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/?ps=RHJKWdfq4x/WORKS-FILE/256710053/5/0

On 15 March 1985, Harry Persaud, Curator of the Museum of Mankind, wrote to Alan Ward at the NSA to tell him that the Keeper had agreed that the cylinders should be transferred to the NSA collection.1015 March 1985. Letter from Harry Persaud (Museum of Mankind) to Alan Ward with reply [Held at British Library] On 5 June 1985, Persaud completed the National Sound Archive Deposit Form to transfer the cylinders to the NSA.115 June 1985. National Sound Archive deposit form for Malinowski cylinders completed by Museum of Mankind [Held at British Library]

Subsequently, there was some confusion over the whereabouts of the cylinders. Don Niles at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies contacted the NSA through the British High Commission in Port Moresby and the British Council in London about the recordings in 1988–1989. He was told that the cylinders were in the Museum of Mankind, with tape copies at the NSA; one letter from the British Council noted that there were 6 Malinowski cylinders.1211 January 1989. Letter from Anna Pincus (Music Department, British Council) to Sidney H Palmer (Deputy High Commission, Port Moresby) [Held at IPNGS] This may have been due to the 1984 dubbing sheet listing 6 recordings: the 5 cylinder recordings, and the 1979 dubbing of all of them. According to anthropologist Michael Young, Malinowski’s main biographer, travel writer Michael Moran was told that there were originally seven cylinders (Don Niles, pers. comm). 

Cylinder transfer history

Other research

In 1985, a documentary series on early anthropologists, produced and directed by Andre Singer, featured an episode on Malinowski’s work, Strangers Abroad 4: Off The Verandah – Bronislaw Malinowski (Dakowski 1985).15Strangers Abroad, 4 Off the Verandah – Bronislaw Malinowski (London, England: Royal Anthropological Institute, 1986), 54 mins.

The Royal Anthropological Institute was involved in the production of the documentary series, and the film is available through the RAI website.16https://raifilm.org.uk/films/off-the-verandah-bronislaw-malinowski-1884-1942/ The Central TV production team included the researcher Steven Seidenberg;17Seidenberg 1985:228 undated correspondence between Seidenberg and Lucy Durán of the NSA indicates that the production team took “a cassette” of the Malinowski recordings back to Kiriwina. We do not know whether this cassette was made from the 1979 dubbing, or the November 1984 dubbing. The timing of the existing correspondence indicates that it may have been the 1979 dubbing, and it is possible that they obtained the tape copy directly from the Museum of Mankind.

Sometime before 3 April 1985, Seidenberg sent Durán a typed, undated, document titled “Slate 747: Wax Cylinder Translation”,18Note from Steven Seidenberg to Lucy Durán regarding Malinowski song translations (no date) [Held at British Library] with his handwritten annotations. On 3 April 1985, Durán added a note to this document, explaining that it contained the translations of “some of the Malinowski cyls. as obtained by Stephen Siedelberg [sic] for Central TV production on Early Anthropologists”. It seems unlikely, although not impossible, that the production team received a copy of the November 1984 dubbing, travelled to the Trobriand Islands to research and make the documentary, and returned to London to send on the document and comments before 3 April 1985.

Seidenberg’s document “Slate 747: Wax Cylinder Translation” contained the transcription and translation of one of the recordings by an old man, Bwabwa’u, who remembered Malinowski. Bwabwa’u is featured in the documentary. Seidenberg noted that the song had been difficult to translate accurately as it was composed several generations ago in an archaic dialect. In his handwritten annotations to the document, Seidenberg guessed that the recording was the third on the cassette they had. Analysis of the film and the description of the song and its contents indicate that this recording was probably C46/1398 or C46/1401, as they both appear to be recordings of the same song, Gumagabu, but further research is needed. The song laments the death of Gumabu, a man from Kiriwina whose canoe was wrecked on the nearby island Dobu and whose body was eaten by Dobuan men, probably as a ritual sacrifice. Dobu and Kiriwina were competitors within the kula ring exchange system.

The song texts from Bwabwa’u are as follows.

Text A

Gumagabwe Kinane
Gumagabu [person who has been cooked] Kinane [people from Dobu]
siga odabana wakoya
stone/altar for cooking people, on top of the mountain
gumagabwe Kinana
[as above]

Free translation: 
Gumagabu, you have been cooked by the Doubans
on their stone altar atop of the mountain
Gumagabu’s

Text B

Oluvabuse Tokinana
arrival Tokinana [name of kesiga chief]
oinapali guyau
during the time of giving kula gifts, chief

Free translation:
You arrived at Tokinana
during the time of giving the chief kula gifts

Text C

Guyawe omunaga
silali walai
guyawe omuwaga

Free translation:
Chief your canoe
got stuck on the reef
chief your canoe

According to Seidenberg’s notes (Seidenberg 1985), texts A–B are directly from the cylinder recording, and are summarised as follows: “The song is about a man from Kiriwina who has been ship-wrecked … on Dobu and who has been eaten by cannibals (possibly for ritual sacrifice?). Gumagabu is the name of the man who has been cooked.” Text C is presumably the third verse of the same song. Our initial research suggests that these texts are from C46/1398.

Almost thirty years ago, Don Niles asked linguist Gunter Senft to try to obtain further information on the songs recorded. Senft did this during his 1992 research trip to the Trobriands. For many years, Senft had been researching the Kilivila language spoken in the Trobriands and has published widely on it. He replied with the following information from Tokunupei, Nusai, Sakau, Bwetadou, and Topia, all men in their forties to sixties from Tauwema village, Kaile’una Island, Trobriands, the village in which Senft had done most of his research. Senft noted that the men identified two of the recordings as featuring songs from Goodenough Island, and another referring to Goodenough (Gunter Senft to Don Niles, pers. comm.).

  • 1. Song from Goodenough Island.
  • 2. Song from Goodenough Island.19It is unclear why these recordings were identified as being from Goodenough, as the style of the songs very much resembles the other recordings: it might be because of the slow speed of the dubbing.
  • 3. Usi Tuma [=Song of Tuma] sung by the people of Kuiawa village on Kuia Island. His consultants did not know the verses of the song.
  • 4. Spoken story about a boi [brown heron]
  • 5. Trobriand harvest festival song (wosi milamala) called wosi Gumagabu, with text:

Gumagabu Kinana (Gumagabu (song of) Kinana (village))
odabala va koya (on top of (at) the mountain)

Kinana is the name of a village on Goodenough. The Trobriand Islanders refer to the islands of the D’Entrecasteaux Group as va koya [at the mountain].20Note the resemblance between this transcription and that provided by Seidenberg (above). As far as we know, Malinowski did not visit Goodenough Island; if these songs are indeed from Goodenough, perhaps he recorded them on Kiriwina or Samarai when men from Goodenough were visiting.

In 2020, Niles again asked Senft for any information about the Malinowski recordings. Senft noted of Usi Tuma (C46/1399):21Gunter Senft, email to Don Niles, 4 September 2020.

“See my 2011 monograph on these songs that my consultants call “Wosi milamala.” It is probably the last documentation of these songs and song cycles that constitute the “biga baloma” (language of the spirits of the dead) or “biga tommwaya” (language of the ancestors) variety of Kilivila. This variety is moribund. It has nothing to do with Kilivila as it is spoken at the moment. Most of my consultants who still knew how to translate these songs into modern Kilivila have already died.”

In relation to C46/1400, Senft noted that a Trobriand Islander man named Mokeilobu told him the story “The Tale of Ilakavayega” in September 1992; it is identical or very similar to the story recorded by Malinowski. Mokeilobu described it as a really funny story. It is transcribed and translated in Senft’s 2015 book Tales from the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea.

Related Collections

Malinowski made substantial artefact collections and was a keen photographer. The British Museum holds around 584 artefacts collected by Malinowski,22https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG125915 mostly from the Trobriand Islands; the Hearst Museum at Berkeley has 1519 objects from Malinowski, including some negatives;23https://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu/collection/australia-oceania/ and the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne holds 282 objects and 33 photographs.24https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/collections/14143 His papers are in the British Library of Political and Economic Science at the LSE.

Related to the gumagabu dance, there are 29 dance paddles from the Trobriand Islands collected by Malinowski in the British Museum.25https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG125915 A later one, purchased in 1950 from an artist called Ellis Silas who spent three years in the Trobriand Islands in the early 1920s has associated notes in the register that it was called “‘Kaidebu’, used in dances of that name. Modern and of inferior workmanship and design. Malinowski took all the good old ones.”26https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Oc1950-02-112 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG128178

  • Baldwin, Bernard. 1945 “Usituma! Song of Heaven.” Oceania, 15:201–238. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.1834-4461.1945.tb00425.x
  • Dakowski, Bruce. 1985. Strangers Abroad: Off the Verandah. Andre Singer, producer and director. Central Independent Television PLC. 60 min. TV programme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjCMOpnx6r8/
  • Lawton, R. S. 1977. “Missionary Lingue Franche: Dobu.” In S. A. Wurm, editor, New Guinea Area Languages and Language Study, Vol. 3: Language, Culture, Society, and the Modern World, 907–946. Pacific Linguistics C-40. Canberra: Australian National University.
  • Lewis, Elaine. 1991. “A Review of the Music of the Trobriand Islands from Recordings Collected Between 1904 and 1979.” MMus thesis, University of New South Wales.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1916. “Baloma: The Spirits of the Dead in the Trobriand Islands.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 46:353–430.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge. https://wolnelektury.pl/media/book/pdf/argonauts-of-the-western-pacific.pdf
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia. New York: Liveright. http://www.berose.fr/IMG/pdf/malinowski_1929-the_sexual_life_of_savages.pdf
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1932. Crime and Custom in Savage Society, London: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1935. Coral Gardens and their Magic: A Study of the Method of Tilling of the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands. 2 vols. London: Allen & Unwin.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  • Myers, Charles S. 1941. Charles Gabriel Seligman 1873–1940. Bibliographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 3(10): 626–646. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbm.1941.0026.
  • Seidenberg, Steven. 1985. “Slate 747: Wax Cylinder Translation.” 2 pp. From National Sound Archive.
  • Seidenberg, Steven. 1985. In our fathers’ footsteps: the making of the television documentary ‘`Strangers Abroad’. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 16(3):225-232.

  • Senft, G. 2011. The Tuma Underworld of Love – Erotic and Other Narrative Songs of the Trobriand Islanders and Their Spirits of the Dead. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. http://www.jbe-platform.com/content/books/9789027284693
  • Senft, G. 2015. Tales from the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea: Psycholinguistic and Anthropological Linguistic Analyses of Tales Told by Children and Adults. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. http://www.jbe-platform.com/content/books/9789027268266
  • Wayne, Helena. ed. 1995. The Story of a Marriage: The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson. Vol. 1, 1916–1920. London: Routledge.
  • Young, Michael. 1984. “The Intensive Study of a Restricted Area, or, Why Did Malinowski Go to the Trobriand Islands?” Oceania 55(1): 1–26.
  • Young, Michael. 1988. “Editor’s Introduction.” In Malinowski among the Magi: ‘The Natives of Mailu’, ed. Michael W. Young, 1–76. London: Routledge.
  • Young, Michael. 1998. Malinowski’s Kiriwina: Fieldwork Photography 1915–1918. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Young, Michael. 2000. “The Careless Collector: Malinowski and the Antiquarians” in Michael O’Hanlon and Robert Welsch, ed., Hunting the Gatherers: Ethnographic Collectors, Agents, and Agency in Melanesia, 1870s–1930s. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  • Young, Michael. 2004. Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 1884–1920. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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