Sepik Histories: Reflecting on Collecting
Where: Cairns Campus Library and The Cairns Institute
This exhibition features part of a collection of materials that Laurie Bragge put together during his long career as a kiap (government officer) for the Australian administration in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the Sepik region. The exhibition seeks to foster reflection on different values associated with the things he collected. Bragge’s life work – his history of the Sepik, partly based on tribal histories bequeathed to him by Sepik Elders - invites deep reflection on Sepik ways of knowledge, as embodied in the objects he collected.
The Sepik people have a rich history of ancestral spirit-beings animated in the form of carvings, such as the two finials presented in this exhibition. As an old finial is replaced, the spirit is ritually transferred to the new one. According to Bragge, what impelled him to preserve these carvings and other objects was his belief they were associated with narrative knowledge that would disappear if not recorded.
The Bragge Collection features two intimately connected components - more than 600 material culture artefacts collected and documented by Laurie Bragge, and his personal library containing various resources, which he has used extensively to write his multi-volume history of the Sepik.
“I researched tribal migrations and historic settlement patterns in order to understand and resolve volatile land disputes. Over the years, a remarkable rapport developed between myself and the hundreds of Sepik elders I interviewed. They said each time an elder died, so too part of their history was lost. If I would record their stories, future generations would know everything they knew. In my retirement, with the artefacts and their ancestral spirits displayed around me, I was drawn by a sense of obligation to
the elders…Duty required that I fulfil my implied bargain; to document the elders’ Sepik history.”
Laurie Bragge 2019