Moveable Heritage,
Likiep Village Historic Site,
Republic of the Marshall Islands.

A Photo Essay
by Jon G. O'Neill


   As new nations emerged from the American Trust Territories of the Pacific, the Likiep Village Historic Site on Likiep Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands became the first Micronesian site to be listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Sites. The photographs included in this essay were taken by the author in 1999 during research for a Post-graduate Honours degree in Heritage Preservation from Charles Sturt University, Australia.

   Parts of Micronesia had been controlled by colonial authorities from the late 1500s. In the northern Pacific Spain was first, followed by Germany, Japan and the United States of America. Although claimed by Spain, the Marshall Islands remained self-governing until the brief and rapid expansion of German trading and colonial interests in the Pacific. In the mid 1800s, José de Brum (born in the Açores and therefore Portuguese) and Adolph Capelle (a German born in the Hanseatic city of Hanover) became business partners in the historically significant Marshallese company, A. Capelle and Co. Both men married Marshallese women and produced large and influential families. Their social, political and commercial legacies remain highly significant in the Marshall Islands of today.

   During the time of German hegemony, the Capelle and de Brum partnership continued, although not without its difficulties. However, Germany's colonial expansion was followed by an even more rapid contraction when Japan entered the First World War as an ally of Great Britain. All of Germany's Pacific colonies were lost within a few months, most being annexed by Japan, but some also being taken by Australia and New Zealand. When Japan took control of the Marshall Islands, the Capelle/de Brum partnership was able to continue trading because it was owned and operated by their Marshallese descendents and was thus a legitimate Marshallese operation. By this time Likiep Atoll had become central to this commercial empire and much tangible historic property directly associated with it remains today.

   Joachim de Brum was José's eldest son and has been aptly described as a "renaissance man", a description that acknowledges his breadth of knowledge, scientific interests, business acumen and artistry. He ran a major business, managed plantations, designed, built and repaired ships, designed and built houses, built his own gas lighting system, studied so he could provide emergency medical and dental services, and became a superb photographer. Even today, nearly seventy years after his death in 1937, Marshallese people still say of him... "that man Joachim, he know everything." The timber frame house he built in 1905 is an outstanding example of his skills and Pacific trader architecture. It consists of three large rooms surrounded by an extensive verandah some 3 metres wide that provided excellent facilities for entertaining visitors. Many items of exquisite, hand-carved, teak furniture are displayed in the house, including a heavy revolving table, heavy arm chairs, small tables, screens, smaller chairs, shelves and stands were imported by Joachim de Brum. Some of these are presently stored in the house but are suffering natural decay from the tropical conditions. Glues used in the manufacture of this furniture are failing and joints are loosening and separating.

   A clockwork gramophone with approximately 500 music cylinders (both wax and bakelite), many items of cutlery and crockery, lanterns and many tools also remain. Joachim de Brum loved to entertain and the officers and crews of visiting ships were always welcome guests. According to Leonard de Brum, Joachim's youngest son and chairman of a not-for-profit organisation established to preserve these examples of historic property, he would often hold parties to which all the inhabitants of Likiep Island were invited. They would sing and dance to the music from the hand-wound gramophone under gas lights fueled by an acetylene gas generator built and installed by Joachim. When the wax cylinders became too worn, Leonard reported that they would be dipped in kerosene and recordings of local singers made.

   In some ways the most significant of all the moveable heritage that remains from this remarkable man is his enormous collection of superb photographs detailing many aspects of Pacific life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His subjects include tradional Marshallese customs, clothing and crafts, social events, people, places, medical conditions, etc. He became fascinated by the emerging art and science of photography. He purchased several texts on photography (some of which are still stored in his library) and taught himself the then requisite science. He imported the necessary chemicals and equipment (including several cameras which were very advanced for the time), built his own photographic darkrooms on Likiep, and proceeded to shoot, develop and print all of his own photographs. Using his inate artistic skills, Joachim de Brum emerged as one of the most significant photographers of his age. His unique collection of Oceanic photographs have immense historic, cultural, medical, scientific and artistic significance.



This hand-carved revolving table with matching armchairs forms the centre of the large Parlour, but various other items can be seen within the room.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

This smaller chair and side table are also superb examples of the craft of those workers, so skilled in their craft, who made this furniture.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

This hand-carved teak and silk divider consists of four sections hinged together. At the time of this survey it was placed against the wall in the north eastern corner of the Parlour.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

A rolltop desk stood in the south western corner. Some insect damage was evident and the desk was in need of minor repair to return it to top condition. A chonometer, a microscope, and a clockwork recording (one week) barometer were displayed on its top.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

This hand-carved teak stand was placed against the eastern wall in the south eastern corner of the Parlour.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

At one stage this large cabinet held many of Joachim's extensive array of books as may be noted from the labels placed on its several sections. It was standing against the northern wall in the northern room.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

This highly intricate hand-carved teak formed the central part of each of the large armchairs displayed in the parlour. It is typical of the superb craft and skills displayed in these magnificent items of furniture.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

The arms of the three heavy teak arm chairs depict dragons and the detailed carving accomplished with this furniture is remarkable.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

A hand carved teak elephant with inset ivory toenails was displayed on top of a smaller round teak table against the southern wall in the parlour. As can be seen, the table is damaged as joints have separated due to the glue failing.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

A close up view of the elephant illustrates again the value and cultural significance of these items.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

An ornate enamelled cast iron lantern (which may be raised or lowered to suit the circumstances) hangs in the centre of the parlour, replacing an earlier four-jet gas lantern installed by Joachim de Brum.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Gas lamps in the parlour and around the verandah were fueled from an acetylene gas generator built and installed by Joachim under the southern verandah. This is one of the outlets and is on the southern verandah.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Examples of some of the extensive library of books purchased by Joachim de Brum. Those books remaining were surveyed but many were in a very poor condition through mould and insect depradation. Termites and silverfish were active and clearly evident.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Further examples of some of the extensive library of books purchased by Joachim de Brum. In 1977 there had been approximately 1,500 books stored on shelves in the house. In 1999 there were less than 800 remaining.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Joachim de Brum's medicine chest. He arranged to receive basic medical training and with his reference library at hand, established several clinics on nearby islands. He provided the only medical and dental services available that did not involve a long ocean voyage.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Joachim de Brum established very successful shipyards on Likiep Island that provided repair services and also design and construction of new craft. These tools are among those used.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

More tools associated with Joachim de Brum's shipyards and other historic items that were kept in the storeshed.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)

Two ships casks for storing water.
(Photograph 1999 Jon G. O'Neill)




[Atolls of the Marshall Islands]


Bibliographic citation for this document

O'Neill, Jon G. (2002). Moveable Heritage, Likiep Village Historic Site, Republic of the Marshall Islands-- A Photo Essay. URL: http:/marshall.csu.edu.au/Marshalls/html/ONeill_Essays\JDB_Furn.htm


CONTACT:
Jon G. O'Neill Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: jooneill@csu.edu.au

OR:
Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au

Acknowledgement
Permission was sought and obtained from Leonard de Brum to research his father, Joachim de Brum, and to survey the family home in Likiep Village, Likiep Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Authorisation to conduct research in the RMI was obtained from the Honorable Mr. Hiroshi Yamamura, Minister of Internal Affairs and Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Yokwe and komol tata.



Jon G. O'Neill 2002
select from the following...