We at HAR were very excited to learn about the recent publication of Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals from the Torres Strait and New Guinea, 1888 and 1898. The book features the previously unpublished journals of Cambridge zoologist and anthropologist Alfred Haddon, who worked in the Torres Strait and New Guinea in 1888 and 1898. “Kastom” is a dynamic concept which refers to contemporary knowledge and practices that derive authenticity from a perceived origin in the pre-colonial past. It’s defined further in the Torres Strait Islander Commission Act (2005 (2019)): “Ailan [Island] Kastom means the body of customs, traditions, observances and beliefs of some or all of the Torres Strait Islanders living in the Torres Strait area.” Haddon’s extensive documentation, originally seen as salvage ethnography, is currently used by Islanders as a means of connecting with the past and as a crucial resource for maintaining and revitalizing aspects of kastom in the present.
Recording Kastom analyzes and contextualizes the journals and intimate documents Haddon sent to his wife Fanny for information and safe-keeping. These documents reveal many details of day-to-day life in the field, including the central role played by the Islanders in his collecting practices. The book’s authors, Anita Herle (AH) and Jude Philp (JP), agreed to virtually sit down with HAR editors Cameron Brinitzer (CB), Freddy Foks (FF), and Laurel Waycott (LW) for a chat. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.Continue reading