In early 2008, Royal Buscombe of Evanston, Illinois—formerly a volunteer at The Field Museum—generously donated her personal collection of 73 woven baskets, jewelry, tapa cloth, and other items from Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji as well as a dilly bag from Australia (shown on the right). Here, in her own words, is the background to this collection:
The Pan Pacific and South East Asian Women’s Association (PPSEAWA), founded in Hawaii in 1928 and in hiatus because of World War II, was being revived in many countries, including the United States, around the Pacific Rim in 1952.
In Australia, where I was living, the leaders were Senator (Australia) Agnes Robertson and her daughter, Jessie, of the Business and Professional Women’s Association. The Canberra group of PPSEAWA was strong enough to host an international conference in 1961.
I fell in love with the women of the Pacific islands and attended the conference in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Queen Salote of Tonga arranged for us to stay in homes because there were no hotels. She also told her subjects that we were to be charged “family” prices; not the prices to be paid by tourists from the occasional ship which spent a day in Tongatapu.
The Tongans had always been famous as basket makers and their tapa-making was being studied by a representative from the Bishop museum in Honolulu with the aim of reviving the art in Hawaii. In 1964, shells of all sizes and varieties were easily available on the reefs and were used for everything from decorating the roadsides to making elaborate necklaces.
The generosity of our hosts and the temptations of the market resulted in the delegates leaving with tapas, necklaces, woven purses or suitcases, and other souvenirs that threatened to overload the planes on which we travelled.
At subsequent International conferences in Hawaii, Samoa, and New Zealand, women from the Pacific islands brought the handicrafts to sell in order to help pay for their attendance. And at each conference I bought pieces to supplement and enrich those that I had already collected.
Whenever possible, I studied and took pictures of the making of tapa, necklaces and basketry. In 1994, we celebrated by again meeting in Tonga and learned how our lovely island had changed because of western capital-propelled “development.”
June 25, 2008