Beyond bridge and barrier: Reconceptualising Torres Strait as a co-constructed border zone in ethnographic object distributions between Queensland and New Guinea
For over 200 years, Western scholarship has presented Torres Strait variously as a bridge and barrier to cultural influences between mainland New Guinea and Australia. An alternative approach is to see Torres Strait as neither a bridge (permeable boundary) nor a barrier (impervious boundary) but as a socially and culturally co-constructed border zone. Central to this new approach is conceptualisation of the Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere (CSCIS) that centres on a series of ethnographically-known, canoe-based, long-distance maritime exchange networks that linked communities and information on objects over a distance of 2000 km along the south coast of Papua New Guinea and the northeast coast of Australia. The CSCIS emphasises Indigenous agency and the shared/selective uptake of objects and ideas by potential recipient communities across Torres Strait and their New Guinea neighbours to the north and mainland Australian neighbours to the south. Object distribution maps created using data derived from anthropological texts and museum online catalogues reveal continuities and discontinuities in the distribution of selected objects across the study area. These maps illustrate three forms of object uptake: (1) shared uptake of double-outrigger canoes and bamboo smoking pipes between New Guinea, Torres Strait and Australia; (2) selective uptake of dog-tooth necklaces and cone shell armbands between New Guinea and Torres Strait and not Australia; and (3) selective uptake of nautilus bead headbands and shell-handled spearthrowers between Australia and Torres Strait and not New Guinea. Archaeological evidence for temporal changes in the geographical spread of pottery indicates that the CSCIS was historically dynamic, with numerous reconfigurations over the past 3000 years. Enhanced understanding of the CSCIS requires the addition of contemporary Indigenous perspectives.
Copyright (c) 2022 Ian J. McNiven
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
1. Authors are responsible for ensuring that any material that has influenced the research or writing has been properly cited and credited both in the text and in the list of references. Contributors are responsible for gaining copyright clearance on figures, photographs or lengthy quotes used in their manuscript that have been published elsewhere.
2. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
3. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g. post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
4. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g. in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (see The Effect of Open Access).
5. An article will not be published until the signed Author Agreement has been completed and returned to the Editors by the contributor.