A Node in a Network of Strings? Investigating the Central Role of Honor Maude Amongst Women Pioneers in Pacific Anthropology

Quitterie Puel1, Emilie Dotte-Sarout1, Guillaume Molle2

1University of Western Australia, Australia

2Australian National University, Australia

Honor Maude’s contribution to the field of anthropology is nowadays undeniable. The “world’s foremost authority” on string figures (also known as cat’s cradles) published seven monographs and eight articles detailing more than a thousand designs of string figures in several regions of the Pacific. She developed a system of comparison between the string figures, recorded the songs that accompanied their making and demonstrated how this practice was strongly rooted in oral traditions. Honor Maude gained her legitimacy by collaborating with noted male anthropologists such as Raymond Firth and Kenneth Emory and by having her research published in respected journals. Although it has never been documented, Honor Maude was also strongly connected to other string figures experts, especially women. She carried on the landmark study of Caroline Jayne Furness on string figures from Nauru, edited and published Camilla Wedgwood’s and Pearl Beaglehole’s studies on string figures from New Guinea and Pukapuka, collaborated with Kathleen Haddon, and indirectly participated in the publication of Willowdean Handy’s historical novel about her experience in the Marquesas. This paper investigates Honor Maude’s role in the scientific recognition of these five early women anthropologists who studied string figures in the Pacific at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. By retracing Honor’s connections with these scientists, this paper documents the federating role she played within the network of women specialists of string figures and her critical influence on the recognition and revaluation of their contributions to the field of Pacific archaeology. On a larger scale, this paper demonstrates the major role these women played in the advancement of the discipline.