Banner image showing PRM Gallery

E.H. Man's collections of Andaman and Nicobar objects in the Oxford University Museum (of Natural History)

A letter in the Tylor papers at the Pitt Rivers Museum from Edward Horace Man to Charles Robertson of the Anataomical Department makes it clear that his links with Oxford predate the acquisition of a large collection of Andamanese and Nicobarese objects acquired by him with the founding collection in 1884 to the Pitt Rivers Museum. It is clear that George Rolleston had been acquiring objects from Man before this. The letter reads:

6th June / 81
2 Palace Road,

Dear Sir

By this post I am writing to the Director of the S. Kensington Museum requesting him to be so good as to forward to your Museum the Nicobarese image which I have brought to England at Prof. Rolleston's request.
I was obliged to saw the image into 3 or 4 pieces in order to pack it, but no difficulty will be found in re-connecting the parts.
I append a note which I would suggest for the label for this object.
I am sorry to learn from your note that Prof. Rolleston is still on the Continent on account of his health.

I am
Yours very truly
E.H. Man

Wooden image (called KarĂȘau) used by the natives of the central & southern islands of the Nicobar group & placed inside the entrance of their huts for the purpose of frightening away evil spirits. These charms are of various sizes & descriptions, sometimes paintings or carvings on thin planks  or Areca spathes, representing men & women, animals, fish, birds, the sun & moon &c and are kept suspended in their huts (specimens are to be seen at the S. Kensington Museum Anthropological Dept.)

To Chas. Robertson Esq.
Anatomical Dept.
Museum, Oxford. [E.H. Man papers Man 1, Tylor papers PRM ms collections Box 13]

Charles Robertson was the Department Demonstrator in the department (essentially an assistant for Rolleston). Rolleston was actually very ill, he died whilst still abroad on 16 June 1881, only 10 days after this letter was sent.

This object is 1887.11.93. Its current accession register entry reads:

Added Accession Book Entry - E.H. Man Esq. Nancowry, Nicobar Ids Feb 10 1887 Received 1886 Labelled 1886 - Collection of objects from the Nicobar Ids described in Mr Mans MS cat [PR VII] dated October 1886 and numbered in the catalogue in black ink ... [NB that is what the entries are referring to with 'old number'] The collection consists of: .93 Kareau carved human figure [insert] old number 135 [end insert]

Accession Book III entry - 105. Kareau [vide vol XI pl XXV] Small specimens of charms used by the natives of the central and southern islands for frightening away evil spirits. Life size human figures represented in the act of striking with a spear are often placed near the entrance of their huts for this purpose. Paintings or carvings representing fish animals ships under full sail etc are also frequently suspended in their huts with a like object [EH Man 1881]

PR VII book - Catalogue of Nicobarese objects for the University Museum Oxford October 1886 - List of objects made and used at the Nicobar Islands (Nancowry October (86) ... 135. Kareau Carved human figure (generally about life size) kept in hut to frighten away the iwi or spirits of the departed. When newly made and on the occasion of any sickness in the hut it is regarded as a henta-koi (see next item [henta]) Those representing a woman are supposed to be equally feared by the iwi as they are credited with giving notice to the other Kareau's [sic] when ever the spirits intend mischief. At certain villages on Teressa and in one of the huts on Bomppoka the Kareau is hollowed out in the trunk and contains the bones of some famous mentuana (medicine man and exorcist) many years deceased while his skull and jawbone are fixed on a socket provided for the purpose above the shoulders of the figure which is represented in each case as seated crosslegged. On the skull is placed an old silk hat or other foreign head-gear. There are but few Kareau in the Southern group and at Chowra at the later island they are moreover small. [EH Man 1886]

A total of 336 objects may have been sent by Edward Horace Man from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Oxford University Museum. They were transferred in 1886 to the Pitt Rivers Collection along with other objects from the Oxford University Museum that were considered 'ethnographic'. 

A full list of the Man Oxford University Museum of Natural History Man collections is given in the following pdf:

EH Man OUMNH collections from the Andaman & Nicobars pdf

In the founding collection there were 753 objects from Edward Horace Man. 

Henry Nottidge Moseley, Linacre Professor of Human Anatomy at the University of Oxford, later remarked:

We have already far too much Andaman and Nicobar things ... there was in Pitt Rivers one whole gallery full of scarcely anything else. They quite swamped the rest. Now, I hope to reduce their effect by distributing them but even then there are too many ... I don't know whether Mr Man is prepared for the distribution of his present things ... he would probably insist on the others being left together. He is the sort of man who might send us four or five entire Nicobar villages with all the inhabitants [illegible]. 

The remark is made in a letter to E.B. Tylor, Keeper of the Oxford University Museum [Tylor Papers/E. H. Man Manuscript Collection no. 3]

AP April 2013

virtual collections logo

Supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund


(c) 2012 Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford