Plumes from Paradise

Trade Cycles in Outer Southeast Asia and their Impact on New Guinea and Nearby Islands Until 1920

Pamela Swadling

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Format: paperback
352 pages
ISBN: 9781743325445

Publication: 01 Dec 2019

Publisher: Sydney University Press

Read online: Open access
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The natural resources of New Guinea and nearby islands have attracted outsiders for at least 5000 years: spices, aromatic woods and barks, resins, plumes, sea slugs, shells and pearls all brought traders from distant markets. Among the most sought-after was the bird of paradise. Their magnificent plumes bedecked the hats of fashion-conscious women in Europe and America, provided regalia for the Kings of Nepal, and decorated the headdresses of Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.

Plumes from Paradise tells the story of this interaction, and of the economic, political, social and cultural consequence for the island’s inhabitants. It traces 400 years of economic and political history, culminating in the ‘plume boom’ of the early part of the 20th century, when an unprecedented number of outsiders flocked to the island’s coasts and hinterlands.

The story teems with the variety of people involved: New Guineans, Indonesians, Chinese, Europeans, hunters, traders, natural historians and their collectors, officials, missionaries, planters, miners, adventurers of every kind. In the wings were the conservationists, whose efforts brought the slaughter of the plume boom to an end and ushered in an era of comparative isolation for the island that lasted until World War II.

Pamela Swadling is visiting research fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. She carried out archaeological fieldwork in the Solomon Islands before coming to Papua New Guinea in late 1972. Her study of the former plume trade on the Sepik coast and subsequently along the Ok Tedi led to the writing of this book.

Conventions followed
Figures, Plates, Tables

  1. Introduction
  2. The rise and decline of the Spice Islands
  3. The plume trade: Asian traders and the first birds of paradise to reach Europe
  4. The plume trade: the demands of natural historians
  5. The plume trade: the demands of fashion-conscious European women and the growth of the conservation movement
  6. Sultans, suzerains and the colonial division of New Guinea
  7. Collecting and trading in the Raja Empat Islands, the Bird’s Head and Cendrawasih Bay
  8. The massoy, trepang and plume trade of Onin, Kowiai and Mimika (southwest New Guinea)
  9. Trade with the Aru Islands and Trans Fly Coast of New Guinea
  10. Copra, birds and profits in the Merauke region
  11. Bronzes and plume hunting in the Jayapura (Hollandia) region
  12. Plumes fund economic development in Kaiser Wilhelmsland
  13. Conservationists protect Papua’s birds
  14. Trade cycles in outer Southeast Asia and their impact on New Guinea and nearby islands until 1920

Contribution 1: Mysteries of origin – early traders and heroes in the Trans-Fly
Roy Wagner
Contribution 2: Oral traditions about early trade by Indonesians in southwest Papua New Guinea
Billai Laba


Format: paperback
Size: 254 × 203 × 20⅜ mm
352 pages
129 b&w illustrations, 21 b&w tables, and 9 colour illustrations
Copyright: © 2019
ISBN: 9781743325445
Publication: 01 Dec 2019