The Melanesians of British New Guinea


Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873–1940) was a British ethnographer who conducted field research in New Guinea, Sarawak, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), and Sudan. Trained as a medical doctor, in 1898 he joined an expedition organized by Cambridge University to the Torres Strait, the body of water that separates the island of New Guinea from Australia. The purpose of the expedition was to document the cultures of the Torres Strait islanders, which were rapidly disappearing under the influence of colonization. In 1904, Seligman was one of three members of the Cooke Daniels Ethnographic Expedition to British New Guinea, funded by Denver, Colorado department store owner William Cooke Daniels. The Melanesians of British New Guinea contains a detailed record of much of Seligman’s anthropological research conducted during the expedition. Seligman’s findings demonstrated the striking physical and cultural differences between the western Papuans and his main preoccupation, their eastern neighbors, who had been more influenced by Melanesian immigration. The book established Seligman’s reputation as an anthropologist, and remains an important source for the study of the traditional culture of the peoples of present-day Papua New Guinea. The book includes photographs, drawings, maps, and a glossary of indigenous terms.

Last updated: September 18, 2015