Letter: Fabric of history on display

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The Independent Online
I found your paragraph on British Museum plans for textiles most interesting (12 November). The Tahitian mourner's dress was exhibited in the Ethnographical Gallery in 1932 when I joined the Museum and remained on display until we had to evacuate a large part of the Museum's collections for safety just before the war in 1939. For a number of reasons the mourner's dress was not re-exhibited after the war. I remember showing it to Tahitian lady who told me that it was tapu (forbidden) for women to see such things and she felt almost faint.

The worldwide coverage of ethnographical textiles in the British Museum is probably unique. Not only were there such as those from Captain Cook, but also from other explorers and missionary societies. From some of these early sources the Department acquired several magnificent and extremely rare Hawaiian feather cloaks. More recently people in the Colonial Service made a large collection and gave it to the Museum. This was partly due to the enlightened policy of the Colonial Office of sending their recruits to study anthropology and partly to the then Keeper, Mr H J Braunholz, who encouraged them to collect for the museum.

We received one magnificent collection from an enterprising Lancashire textile manufacturer, who sent a man round the world to collect samples of native textiles so that they would be able to design textiles which would find favour in native markets.

ADRIAN DIGBY

Stroud, Gloucestershire

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