Fans (2), coconut palm frond / feathers / vegetable dyes, maker unknown, Fanning Island, Kiribati, 1963
These fans form part of a collection of objects from Fanning Island, Kiribati donated to the Museum by Mr and Mrs Lou and Elgin Brown, who lived and worked on the island from 1960-1963. In 1960, Lou Brown, who was then employed with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia), was seconded to Cable and Wireless London (C&W) to serve on the submarine cable station on Fanning Island, one of three islands making up the group of Line Islands in Kiribati. Although the cable station was owned by C&W Ltd, staff were recruited from both London and Sydney for an average length of 2.5 years.
The intricate weaving and patterns on the fans demonstrate the superb craft making skills of the Kiribati people. This pair of fans also complements the Museum's broader fan collection, especially those originating from other Pacific island nations. Kiribati is an island nation in the central Pacific comprising Banaba Island (also known as Ocean Island), the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands. It was part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony until 1979, at which time it became independent.
The objects acquired in this collection reflect Australia's role in assisting its island neighbours while Kiribati was still under British occupation. Mr Brown, accompanied by his wife, left Sydney on board the Union Steam Ship's vessel 'Waitamo', an ex Park Class Liberty ship for the month long journey to Fanning Island via Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, and settled in a fully furnished house provided by the company. Mr Brown's role at the cable station was as a watch keeper. Along with him, there were three other watch keepers, a manager, branch engineer (cable), deputy engineer, mechanical engineer, doctor and technician (communications).
Personal communication with Mr Lou and Mrs Elgin Brown (2009)
Assistant Curator, Design History & Society
These fans were made in Fanning Island, Kiribati in 1963. The fans are made from coconut palm frond, feathers and vegetable dyes. The circular fan, which features a wavy pattern, was made with a central core of wooden spokes joined together, forming the structure, with the individual coconut palm fronds woven over and under each spoke from the middle out. The desired palm fronds were coloured with vegetable dye before they were woven and the handle was slotted in and woven into place at the end. The squat, rounded fan was made using the handle as the central structure which extends half way up the face of the fan. The thickened fronds in the middle (reinforced with finer fronds wrapped around them) were splayed out and used as the frame for the woven pieces which similarly went over and under in a circular motion, from the middle out. On both fans, the feathers were joined as a decorative effect after all the weaving of the fan head and handle had taken place.
These fans were given as gifts to Mr and Mrs Lou and Elgin Brown. One of the fans was a gift from their housemaid, Naringnau on Fanning Island, while the other was part of a presentation when they left the Island to return to Australia. Mrs Brown says '[the fans] were very useful on a hot day in Sydney, but seldom required on the Island due to the tropical climate and cooling easterly breeze'.