The Denise O’Brien Collection

Denise O'Brien in New Guinea

Dr. Denise O’Brien, former longtime Temple Anthropology faculty member, began her research among the Dani people of the Konda Valley in the Western New Guinea Highlands in the 1960s while a graduate student at Yale University.  She came to Temple in the late 1960s.  Following her death in 2008, O’Brien’s personal collection of material, gathered during her extensive research and travel, was donated to the Temple Anthropology Lab.

The collection consists of more than 80 artifacts, many from the West New Guinea Highlands, and is currently being accessioned.  O’Brien’s research interests included women’s roles in Pacific island social systems, and she also taught in the Women’s Studies program at Temple.  Some of the artifacts in her collection reflect these interests.  Her papers are MSS 717 in the Melanesian Collection at the Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California at San Diego.

Here are two recently photographed artifacts from the Denise O’Brien Collection.

Daggers, likely sharpened cassowary bone, West New Guinea Highlands, Konda Dani

Daggers like those shown above are made from the thigh bone of the cassowary, a flightless bird native to New Guinea.  Daggers from the Highlands are not elaborate and were used in daily life.

Below are small musical instruments, also from the collection.  The mouth harp, a form common to many cultures, consists of a frame and a vibrating lamella that is manipulated by a string.  Changing the position of the mouth while playing, changes the sounds.

Reed mouth harps, connected with string, West New Guinea Highlands, Konda Dani

Photo from: Heider, Karl G. The Dugum Dani: A Papuan Culture in the Highlands of West New Guinea. (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1970)

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