The story of the 1937 death of an eighteen-month-old girl named Wilhemina (Mina) Whitford in the care of her ni-Vanuatu nursemaid, Evelyn, frames this article. The Whitford's version of this story was heard in the course of fieldwork with descendants of settler families. They tie Mina's accidental death to an affair Evelyn was having with a male settler. What about Evelyn? How could she be located and her version of events recorded? More generally, how can the unwritten histories of women's experiences be recovered in a Pacific island context? How can indigenous women write their own histories of gender in the contexts of colonial experience? The article offers, first, a theoretically informed descriptive approach, which finds answers in the gendered and racialized content of contemporary descriptions of past experiences, such as the story of the child's death. A second way of finding Evelyn involves methodological detective work using the network of ni-Vanuatu women fieldworkers trained through the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. A 2001 workshop provided a forum for fieldworkers and women who had worked as housegirls in the colonial (pre-1980 ) period to discuss work, violence, gender, race, and history. During the workshop, a fieldworker brought Evelyn's story to light. Conclusions point to new ways of integrating indigenous and expatriate women's voices in historical and anthropological research in the contemporary Pacific.
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Aug 31, 2004