Brighton Museum & Art Gallery holds significant collections of objects and images from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, two island groups in the Bay of Bengal, South Asia. Most were collected by three British individuals – Richard Carnac Temple, Edward Horace Man, Katherine S Tuson – who formed part of colonial communities which existed on the islands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The kinds of objects collected and photographs taken reflect the preoccuptions of the time; preoccupations influenced by British colonial rule and the emerging science of anthropology. The islands’ diverse indigenous communities were viewed as ‘primitive’ people whose bodies, language, objects and cultural traditions could be studied in order to illuminate an assumed evolutionary process that led to the ‘pinnacle’ of contemporary European culture.
Despite the Eurocentric attitude which informed their collection, the objects and images today offer a unique insight into a historical encounter between Britain and the inhabitants of the Andamanese and Nicobarese islands and a glimpse of ways of life already undergoing great changes.
In 1858, the British government chose a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal as the location for a new British settlement. The Andaman Islands, and later the neighbouring Nicobar Islands, were selected to host an isolated colony where prisoners charged with mutiny on mainland India could be held captive. During this period, three British individuals, Richard Carnac Temple, Edward Horace Man and Katherine S Tuson lived there. They formed part of the small British community based on the islands. Man and Temple worked as administrators who ensured the smooth running of the settlement. Tuson was the wife of one of their colleagues.
Long before the British arrived, both the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were home to self-sufficient indigenous communities. The British presence on the islands in the late 19th century had a dramatic effect on the traditional culture of many of these groups. The British colonisers set up homes where Andamanese individuals were encouraged to live and adopt the British way of life. Groups of colonial officers made trips to various points around the islands, leaving presents of cigarettes and other western goods which the local population came to rely on.
Temple, Man and Tuson saw these changes. However, it is clear that they purposely chose objects (and in Man’s case took photographs) which did not show the impact that colonialism had on the islands. Instead, all three individuals tried to capture, through their collections, their own personal ideas of what traditional indigenous island life was like away from the colony.
In their retirement, Man settled in Hove with his sister, and Tuson lived with her family in Eastbourne. Although Temple moved to Switzerland when he returned from India, it is thought that he donated part of his collection to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery through Man, who remained his good friend.
As well as donating objects and images to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery all three individuals gave material to other museums and institutions. Objects collected by Man, in particular, can be found today in the collections of the British Museum (London), the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), the Royal Anthropological Institute (London), Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew, London), the National Museum of Ethnology (Leiden) and the Indian Museum (Calcutta), amongst others.
Richard Carnac Temple (1850 – 1931)
Richard Temple began his career in South Asia in 1877 with the Royal Scots Fusiliers regiment. He spent time in India and in Burma before becoming Chief Commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1894. He was particularly interested in languages, a passion he shared with Man. Temple spent much time pursuing his scholarly interests, researching historical manuscripts and editing the Indian Antiquary. Like other officers he considered recording and sharing knowledge of Britain’s colonial subjects to be an important part of his role and he collected objects on his travels. During his working life and in his retirement, Temple donated many of these to museums throughout the UK.
Temple was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1897, before his retirement in 1904. He established a small museum in his home in Kempsey, Worcestershire, but sold much of his collection in 1921 before moving to Switzerland. The collection that Temple donated to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in 1923 included objects from Australia, South Asia and Africa. In contrast to the collections that he assembled for institutions such as the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), his collection at Brighton is smaller and more varied, and may have been formed for his personal reference.
Edward Horace Man (1846 – 1929)
‘…the sort of man who might send four or five entire Nicobar villages with all the inhabitants beside.’ [Correspondence between H. Moseley (Professor in Human Anatomy, University of Oxford) and E. B. Tylor (Reader in Anthropology, University of Oxford), c. 1890.]
Edward Man arrived at Port Blair in 1869 and went on to spend most of his working life on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He held various positions, including Chief Commissioner. He took many photographs of the people he met and, a keen collector, gathered hundreds of objects from the area.
During the period in which Man collected, the Andamanese were considered to inhabit the bottom rung of an imagined evolutionary ladder. Man was a keen amateur anthropologist and realised he was well placed to gather raw data about the indigenous inhabitants of the islands in the form of notes, observations, photographs and objects. He sent back this information to western institutions and individuals, who then applied interpretations informed by the emerging science of anthropology.
Katherine S Tuson (1864 – 1955)
Katherine Tuson was married to Edward Francis Tuson, a colonial official and colleague of Temple and Man. The Tusons were stationed on the Andaman and Nicobar islands between 1867 and 1905. During their time there, they collected souvenirs of their encounters with people that they came across.
While Man and Temple appear to have been motivated by their professional interests and courted an international, academic audience, the Tusons seem to have collected objects for more personal reasons, possibly for display at home.
The Andaman Islands
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery holds more than 150 objects and 50 photographs relating to life on the Andaman Islands. The objects include a large number of bows, arrows and spears, also clothing, accessories, domestic and ceremonial items. Most were collected by Edward Horace Man and Richard Carnac Temple, both of whom worked on the Islands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The photographs were taken by Man who, in addition to his colonial duties, was a passionate amateur anthropologist.
The Andaman Islands are made up of 204 islands. Two of the main island groups are Great Andaman and Little Andaman. The capital of the area, including the Nicobar Islands, is Port Blair.
Before British presence took its toll, many indigenous communities thrived on the islands. Each community was distinctive but shared a nomadic lifestyle. Many traditional objects used by the Andaman people can be linked to hunting, including bows, arrows and harpoons. Pigs and turtles were valuable catches and the dugong, a marine animal, was also highly prized. The skulls of these animals were often kept as trophies because they were so difficult to catch.
The dress and accessories in Brighton Museum’s collection were worn by different Andamanese communities. Because the islands have a warm climate, clothes such as these were worn to decorate rather than to protect the body.
Today, there are large Bangladeshi and Indian populations on the Islands, and only two indigenous communities remain, the Jarawa and the Onge. Although these people live in isolation, away from immigrant communities, life has changed significantly since the colonial period. Most of the objects in the collection are no longer used.
The Nicobar Islands
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery holds approximately 75 objects and 75 photographs relating to life on the Nicobar Islands. The objects include spears for hunting and fishing, paddles, domestic items and ceremonial carvings. Most were collected by Edward Horace Man, Richard Carnac Temple and Katherine S Tuson, all of whom, at different times, formed part of the Islands’ colonial population. The photographs were taken by Man who, in addition to his colonial duties, was a passionate amateur anthropologist.
The Nicobar Islands are separated from the Andaman Islands by the Ten Degree Channel. The four main islands are called Great Nicobar, Car Nicobar, Kamorta and Nancowry. Today, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands form a Union Territory and are both governed by India. Historically and culturally, however, the two groups of islands are very different.
The two largest indigenous groups living on the Nicobar Islands are the Nicobari and the Shompen. They are thought to have originally come from different areas of Southeast Asia and now live on different areas of the islands. Hinduism and Christianity are now the dominant religions on the Islands, but the indigenous belief systems reflected in some of these objects continue to be practised.
On both the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, agriculture is now the main industry. Common crops include cereals, coconuts, chillies and turmeric. The Islands were hard hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami, and relief and reconstruction work form part of island life today.
Photographing the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
E H Man’s photographs at Brighton Museum, 1869-1901
After a working life spent on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Edward Horace Man retired to Brighton in 1901. In 1929 he died and was buried at All Saints Church in Patcham where a headstone bears his name.
During his career Man corresponded with curators at museums across Europe and South Asia, many of whom received donations of objects and images from him, accompanied by maps, notes and references to his various articles and publications. In retirement it seems Man held a particularly close relationship with the curator of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery as he made ten donations to the Museum between September 1904 and July 1924. Unfortunately no written records of this relationship appear to have survived.
Man’s donations included 123 photographic prints of life on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Most of the photographs are of the Islands’ inhabitants carefully posed to illustrate different aspects of island life, from scarification practices to hunting and fishing techniques. Often the choice of subject appears to have been influenced by the guidelines provided for amateur anthropologists working ‘in the field’ by the publication Notes and Queries on Anthropology, a copy of which was sent to Man. Frequently the photographs appear to be intended to form an illustration to Man’s ethnographic writings.
Despite the fact that British influence was well established on the Islands by the time Man arrived in 1869, he chose not to include the evidence of this influence in his images, preferring to record pre-colonial indigenous customs. However, his very presence, and the measuring stick and photographic screen which appear in some of the images, belie the colonial encounter which would have such devastating impact on island life.