By Graeme Were, Adam Kaminiel | 15 October 2021
This project will document plant-based garden fence structures amongst the Nalik of northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea erected to protect crops from marauding pigs. These structures are fabricated using locally sourced timbers, cordylines, leaves and palms, and employ a range of cordage and lashings techniques in their design. Garden fences are becoming increasingly rare in Nalik communities due to lifestyle changes and the practices used in their construction have never been recorded in detail. Fences are erected in the forested interior by households in anticipation of mortuary feasts and so they are linked to key elements of the ritual lifecycle (Kuechler 2002; Lemonnier 2012).
This project will document the different types of materials, tools, and techniques used in assembling fencing. It will pay particular attention to their stylistic variation and the wider cosmological significance of their design, especially in relation to how certain types of materials are selected for their relation to land, genealogy and identity and so might be considered informational (Damon 2017; Were 2019). Visual documentation will create an enduring record of material knowledge that has been handed down through generations, but today is under threat from imported materials and cash labour. This project seeks to use participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and recording (audio-visual and photography) to identify, map and document the garden fencing design. The results – distributed widely in association with the local chiefly organisation – will provide a lasting digital record of plant-based enclosures of use to community and scholars.
The project has six goals:
1) To identify, observe, and document the construction of garden fencing in Nalik society (New Ireland), and learn about the types of plant materials and associated techniques used in their construction through participant observation, interviews and meetings; this knowledge will be documented through the PI and Co-I’s existing knowledge and network of contacts in the community. Documentation will take the form of photography and short films of makers at work, gathering, producing and using materials in various contexts; video recordings of activities and interviews with makers; and step-by-step documentation of production and use of materials;
2) To understand and place the knowledge and skills involved in making enclosures into wider knowledge systems in which garden fencing is embedded. This goal will be reached through the PI and Co-I’s long term knowledge and involvement with the Nalik community and earlier anthropological research on material knowledge systems;
3) To use multimedia formats such as photography and audio-video to capture visually making in process from sourcing of materials to their use in construction; as well as interviewing makers and participants about their experiences of fence making;
4) To produce a digital archive of plant materials and their uses in fencing construction and so create a lasting legacy for future generations of makers in New Ireland. This knowledge will be important to the Nalik community and will safeguard material knowledge for future generations;
5) To work closely with the Nalik Chiefs Association and community to deliver the digital recordings of garden fencing to communities in the Nalik community in USB format on completion of the project, undertaken in a meaningful and culturally appropriate manner;
6) To disseminate outcomes and findings at conferences, talks, and in scholarly publications relevant to this project.
Location of Research:
Northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
University of Bristol