Anna-Karina Hermkens, Were, Graeme: How Materials Matter. Design, Innovation, and Materiality in the Pacific. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019, 211 pp. ISBN 978-​1-​78920-​201-​4. Price: $ 120.00 in:

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Anthropos, Volume 115 (2020), Issue 1, ISSN: 0257-9774, ISSN online: 0257-9774,

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cept of what a sacred book is. Hitchcock has cut letters from an English translation of the Qur’an, and put them together to form the English words of “The Book of Revelation.” From a Christian Bible she used letters to produce the “The Throne Verse” of the Qur’an. She ar‐ ranged these two texts so that the Qur’anic verse forms a mandala surrounded by “The Book of Revelation.” Apart from the theme of sensing of sacred texts, there is nothing in particular that unifies this anthology. How‐ ever, the book is heterogenic in a positive sense, and it would probably not be a good idea to restrict the cover‐ ing of different religions into very specific concepts of sensing. In the end, most of the contributions deal with ideas and practices reflecting a sort of magic status of sacred scriptures. Some of the authors are also compar‐ ing religious traditions. This is the case with Cathy Cantwell. In “Seeing, Touching, Holding, and Swallow‐ ing Tibetan Buddhist Texts,” she notices that kissing the scripture, which is a way of demonstrating respect and love in Orthodox Christian traditions, would be inappro‐ priate in Buddhism. Katharina Wilkens points to simi‐ larities since “ingesting words” is not a particular Islam‐ ic tradition but is a practice used in other religions as well. In fact, her “Infusions and Fumigations. Literacy Ideologies and Therapeutic Aspects of the Qur’an,” is only one of three chapters covering rituals where sacred texts are swallowed. The swallowing can be both direct and indirect. In the Islamic tradition that Wilkens exam‐ ines, the ingesting is rather indirect. Verses of the Qur’an are written on paper that is put into water that is subsequently drunk. The drinking ritual described by Christian Frevel in the article with the heading “On In‐ stant Scripture and Proximal Texts,” is also indirect. Water that has been in contact with paper containing verses from the Book of Numbers in the Torah is being drunk. The swallowing of scripture Cathy Cantwell points to in Buddhism is direct in the sense that the pa‐ per containing verses from mantras or scriptures is eaten in a ritual called “Lettering to Eat.” Most of the articles in this anthology deal with sever‐ al aspects of sensing sacred texts. In what is the longest chapter (33 pages), “Touching Books, Touching Art: Tactile Dimensions of Sacred Books in the Medieval West,” David Ganz points to “tactility,” “touching the divine,” “sleeping,” “kissing,” “swearing,” “networks of hands [healing],” and “the book as a seal.” Some of the contributions lack an explicit treatment of theory or methodology. The reason for this might be the diversity of topics included. It may also be difficult to analyze all the aspects based on a single theory, let alone a single method. In addition, there is a limit as to how long the chapters should be. Since this anthology covers little known aspects of religious texts, the emphasis should be to present the different habits and rituals related to the sensing of sacred scriptures. This being said, around half of the chapters do explicitly discuss theory. Dorina Miller Parmenter gives a hint already in the title: “How the Bible Feels. The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object.” In order to analyze the attitude to‐ wards the physical side of scripture, Parmenter employs “affect theory” which defines why an object is consid‐ ered as “good.” She claims that an affective attitude among (Protestant) Christians towards the Bible, comes from the fact that through this book “salvation [is] available” (34). For those interested in theory, Schleich‐ er, Wilkens, and Watts contain the most extensive theo‐ retical discussions. The second paragraph in Schleicher’s article is quite long and entirely devoted to theory. She borrows the concept of “transitivity” from Brian Malley, but em‐ ploys the semantics level while dealing with the materi‐ al side of holy scriptures. Schleicher combines the “hermeneutic and artefactual uses.” She argues that the sensory experiences of smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing in the production of a Torah scroll create a “transitivity” to the semantic side of the scripture and the rituals. Like Schleicher, Wilkens discusses the chal‐ lenge of relating the semantic content of the text with the sensory function. Wilkens uses literary theory and Kathryn Woolard’s “codeswitching” to connect sensing and semantics. The editor, Watts, in his chapter “Scrip‐ tures’ Indexical Touch,” employs both the sign theory of C. S. Pierce and the ritual theory of Roy Rappaport. Watts claims that people’s engagement with the material element of a sacred text, “indexes a person as faithful to the beliefs and practices that are commonly associated with that scripture” (175). Watts does not refer to a par‐ ticular religious tradition, but uses examples from sever‐ al traditions. His chapter seems like an appropriate way to conclude the anthology. To sum up: I enjoyed reading this book. “Sensing Sacred Texts” is an important con‐ tribution to the study of sacred texts, both on a descrip‐ tive, analytical and theoretical level. This collections of essays will likely appeal to scholars entrusted in reli‐ gious practices relating to the sensing sacred texts and how the sensory element relates to the semantic dimen‐ sion. Jon Skarpeid ( Were, Graeme: How Materials Matter. Design, Inno‐ vation, and Materiality in the Pacific. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019, 211 pp. ISBN 978-1-78920- 201-4. Price: $ 120.00 “How Materials Matter” is a wonderful contribution to the expanding and exciting field of material culture studies. With its particular regional focus, it is also a novel addition to the anthropology of the Pacific. The beautifully printed book is structured around three parts. These parts encompass seven chapters that each present a case study based on Graeme Were’s ethnographic re‐ search in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and New Zealand, and his in-depth analyses of Melanesian objects in mu‐ seum storage facilities in the United Kingdom and Aus‐ tralia. Through these case studies, which are embedded in engaging theoretical debates, Were argues and shows how materials can transform people’s lives through de‐ sign and innovation. 286 Book Reviews Anthropos 115.2020 In the “Introduction,” Were sets out his argument that while materials dominate our lives, we still know little about how various materials, and especially plant mate‐ rials, are used and developed. By concentrating on the way materials innovation helps Pacific societies to “manage their lives better”, Were aims to demonstrate that this is “an objective of human-material interaction everywhere” (2). Using an ethnographic framework sit‐ uated in diverse contexts, such as the laboratory, the vil‐ lage hamlet, and the museum facility storage, he ex‐ plores plant materials, such as pandanus, bark, and flax or hemp, and their design and innovation. Made into mats, baskets, cloth, and other products, the complex re‐ lationships of these materials to dynamics of “culture and tradition; their relation to personifications of power and human agency; and the ideas, perceptions and asso‐ ciations embedded in the materials themselves …” are explored (2). In the context of rapidly changing Pacific societies, Were’s exploration of how communities sus‐ tain material knowledge, and how materials such as synthetics, metals, and plastic, as well as new digital technologies have impacted on local forms of knowl‐ edge and skills (5), is highly important. Although the significance of plant materials and innovation has been explored in recent works, such as “Sinuous Objects” (A.-K. Hermkens and K. Lepani [eds.], Canberra 2017) and works on Tongan barkcloth (P.-A. Addo, Creating a Nation with Cloth. Women, Wealth, and Tradition in the Tongan Diaspora. New York 2013; F. W. Veys, Unwrap‐ ping Tongan Barkcloth. Encounters, Creativity, and Fe‐ male Agency. London 2017), Were maintains that little or no attention has been paid to the full potency of Pa‐ cific materials and their agency to “exert particular forms of intellectual responses” and how they “help people create, order, manage and make sense of their social world” (18). Drawing upon Christopher Tilley’s “materiality” and Tim Ingold’s “material-maker” interaction or correspon‐ dence, Were aims “to develop an approach to materiali‐ ty that … situates materials within a relational field of connected and competing materials, objects and envi‐ ronments” (10). This means taking account of the cre‐ ative process of design, which involves many forms of knowledge, including material knowledge, economics, markets, and branding (9). Focusing on the ways mate‐ rials enact transformations in society, Were aims to show that materials are designed to perform particular tasks in society and are “made to measure” (11 f.). Part I of the book, titled: “Materials under the Micro‐ scope,” explores the significance of plant materials and their design into various objects or products. Chapter 1 focuses on the materials of mats in the Nalik communi‐ ty of northern New Ireland, PNG. Detailing the discard‐ ed stitched mat and its counterpart, the introduced wo‐ ven mat, Were highlights how specific materials are se‐ lected, emphasizing that this selection is an informed decision-making process situated in the human activity of design (27). In doing so, he uses the concepts of “af‐ fordances” and “mapping” to accentuate that in the se‐ lection, uptake, and transformation of materials, the properties of materials (in terms of performance, their relation to other materials, and their context of produc‐ tion and use), are significant (28 f.). Were argues that with regards to the Nalik mats, “the process of design is an ongoing activity orientated towards problem-solving in the social world” (45). Chapter 2 “Materials on the Move,” explores the shifting material identities of barkcloth in Nalik baskets. In New Ireland, the making of barkcloth was largely thought to have died out, but in recent Nalik basket de‐ signs it has resurged as a fashionable visual effect. Were argues that “[i]n once again taking control of the means of production of barkcloth and then positioning the ma‐ terial and basket within a realm that is less about dress‐ ing the body than about creating a visual effect, women are sourcing a material that evokes particular sets of connections and relationships” (55). This shows that Nalik women are enacting transformations and thereby translating their control over production of cloth into political authority through new ways (55). The third chapter “What’s in a Plant Leaf?” focuses on the plant harakeke, the Maori term for New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) (68). The chapter explores what drives materials innovation by looking at the failed at‐ tempts to transform or design harakeke into a commer‐ cially viable product. The overview shows how the identity of harakeke continuously shifts as the world changes around it. The recent viability of renewable, green and natural products finally seems to have provid‐ ed a niche in which harakeke can thrive as part of the 100% Pure New Zealand branding. This shows “how materials are intimately tied to cultural and political en‐ vironments into which they emerge, and how in turn these influence users’ and consumers’ perception and performance of materials” (85). In Part II, “Materials, Design, Transformation,” Were focuses on materials computation through the case study of Solomon Island canoes and food bowls (troughs) in museum collections, elucidating how the concept of scale comes to the fore in the selection and handling of materi‐ als (chap. 4). The following chapter (chap. 5) addresses how kastom and power intersect with decisions about types of plant materials and performances in the context of cemetery enclosures and men’s houses among the Nalik people. This chapter shows how the cash economy has impacted on material and ritual knowledge by unset‐ tling links to the ancestral domain (126), while at the same time, elucidating the transformative potential of plant materials in Nalik society. Part III, “Material Futures,” highlights how digital technologies mediate acts of remembering and help re‐ construct material knowledge by activating museum collections as part of the Nalik Mobile Museum project (chap. 6), and how museum collections play a role in the digital return of traditional knowledge through the digital war canoe project, which connected the British Museum with Vella Lavella in the Western Solomon Is‐ lands (chap. 7). Book Reviews 287 Anthropos 115.2020 Throughout all these case studies, Were “prioritize[s] the role of materials as constituent elements in the for‐ mation of people’s lifeworlds in the Pacific” (176). Ad‐ vocating an “informational approach” in which materi‐ als condense social relations, Were stresses the impor‐ tance of relations between technical and social domains. Following Ingold, Were argues that material identities are continually in flux in the same way the world is con‐ tinually coming into being (52). However, while stress‐ ing this process of becoming, of things being in flux, in particular the gendered power dynamics and values that constrain, limit, and shape that process are to a large ex‐ tend ignored. For example, although Were touches upon the gender dynamics involved with materials innovation (chapters 2 and 4), he largely ignores how male authori‐ ty constrains women’s ability to design materials that cross particular gender orders and ideologies. People in the Pacific have embraced change, incorporating new institutions, technologies, designs, materials, and val‐ ues. However, as Martha Macintyre in a recent volume on resilience and resistance in the Pacific states “it is clear that one of the most enduring patterns of Melane‐ sian sociality is that of masculine authority over women and the exclusion of women from political life” (M. Macintyre, Values in Flux. Reflections on Resilience and Change in Melanesia. In: L. Dousset and M. Nayral [eds.], Pacific Realities. Changing Perspectives on Re‐ silience and Resistance; pp.151–165. New York 2019: 157). “Gender ideologies that differentiate social and economic roles, that exploit female productivity … and that permit men to physically punish women whose be‐ haviours affront them have proven remarkably resilient” (Macintyre 2019: 157). In chapter 2, Were concludes that the new baskets with their barkcloth additions can be understood as technologies that remake the local and thereby allow Nalik women “to enact new forms of in‐ dividualized agency in the world” (65). However, Were also acknowledges that these innovations could only oc‐ cur because they did not cross certain gender orders. This shows how material innovations are subject to hegemonic norms of proper masculinity and femininity. As my own research on barkcloth among the Maisin in PNG shows, innovations in barkcloth significantly in‐ creased the workload for women – who are traditionally responsible for the planting, harvesting, and transforma‐ tion of bark into eloquent pieces of painted cloth –, while relocating financial ownership of its revenues to the domain of male authority. These “negative” social consequences of material innovation, – in terms of local gender roles and relations, inequality, politics, and eco‐ nomics –, remain largely unexplored. Instead, “How Materials Matter” provides an optimistic exploration of the significance of plant materials in Pacific people’s lives, which is an exciting journey and valuable read for both students and scholars interested in design, material culture, and Pacific Studies. Anna-Karina Hermkens ( Erratum. – In L. Trein’s review of the book “Islam in der Moderne, Moderne im Islam. Eine Festschrift für Reinhard Schulze zum 65. Geburtstag” (ed. by F. Zem‐ min, J. Stephan und M. Corrado) in the third paragraph it should read as follows: “Frank Peter greift in seinem Beitrag (Genealogien des Religionsbegriffes und die Grenzen der Religions‐ freiheit in Europa) im Rückgriff auf Schulzes Arbeiten zur wissenschafts- und ideengeschichtlichen Verqui‐ ckung von Islam- und Religionsbegriff in Europa das Problem auf, inwieweit sich in der Rechtsprechung am Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg ein spezifisch europäischer Religionsbegriff spiegelt, ob also mit Blick auf genealogische Konstruk‐ tionen eines solchen Religionsbegriffes die durch die Religionswissenschaft vorausgesetzte Annahme ge‐ rechtfertigt erscheint, dass normative Vorgaben inner‐ halb von Rechtsprechung immer mit klassifizierenden und normierenden – etwa spezifisch christlichen – Zu‐ schreibungen von Religion einhergehen.” 288 Book Reviews Anthropos 115.2020

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Anthropos is the international journal of anthropology and linguistics, founded in 1906 by Wilhelm Schmidt, missonary and member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). Its main purpose is the study of human societies in their cultural dimension. In honor of Wilhelm Schmidt‘s legacy, the cultivation of anthropology, ethnology, linguistics, and religious studies remain an essential component oft he Anthropos Institute – the organizational carrier of the journal.


Anthropos - internationale Zeitschrift für Völkerkunde wird vom Anthropos Institut St. Augustin seit 1906 zweimal jährlich herausgegeben. Ursprünglich als Sprachrohr für katholische Missionarsarbeit geplant, gilt sie heute als wichtige Fachzeitschrift der allgemeinen Ethnologie. Sie behandelt sowohl kulturelle als auch sprachliche Themen in mehreren Sprachen, mit Schwerpunkt auf den Völkern des gesamtamerikanischen und afrikanischen Kontinents.