Obituary: Sir Colin Allan

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The Independent Online
WITH REFERENCE to the obituary of Sir Colin Allan (by Kenneth Bain, 13 April), it may be of interest that the striking monumental slit-gong from Vanuatu in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology owes its presence there to him, writes Sir John Rennie.

On tour one day in 1967 on the island of Ambrym, as British Resident Commissioner, he paid a visit to Taimal, a hereditary carver of slit-gongs, the message drums of the region, made from hollowed-out trunks, with a slit in the middle, and at the top, on those from West Ambrym, a striking crescent-shaped head dominated by huge eyes. As Allan was leaving, Taimal slapped the belly of a splendid new slit-gong standing with the others outside his house and announced that he intended it for the Queen. Allan duly reported the intention through the FCO, recommending acceptance of the offer and suggesting that Her Majesty might be pleased to present it for safe-keeping to the new Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge, where Prince Charles was studying anthropology (and where Allan himself had earned a diploma in the subject).

The gift and the suggestion were accepted and local and Commonwealth co-operation got it to Cambridge. It was slid down the steep slopes of Ambrym (a volcanic island) from Taimal's house on vines and leaves and tipped over a cliff-edge into the sea, then hoisted aboard the British Service vessel Euphrosyne II and transported to the capital, Vila. From there the RNZAF flew it to Auckland and the Blue Funnel line took it on to England, where it was treated with preservative by the Cambridge Botany School against the climate. Its tiny hands, resting on its chest, are the distinctive mark of its provenance, Taimal's clan.