Joining the club
A Tongan ‘akau in New England
in Curatopia
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This chapter examines the place of Oceanic clubs in New England collections. During the nineteenth century, they occupied an equivocal position in the New England mental repertory as indices of savage sophistication, and as souvenirs of colonial childhood or travel. Focusing on a Tongan ‘akau tau in the collection of the Chatham Historical Society on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this chapter traces what can be known of its history as a highly regarded prestige gift item among New Englanders from the middle of the nineteenth century until its entry into the museum. As a thing that an early owner could alienate legitimately, its presence in Chatham is not unethical, yet it none the less imposes stewardship responsibilities – consultation with the originating community – that such a small institution is poorly placed to meet. This requires understanding and patience rather than disapprobation.

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