Monday, 4 April 2016

The Fisherman's God (M.31) from the UCL Ethnography Collections

Accession number: M.31
Height: 50 cm
Width at widest area: 16 cm
Associated materials: label and accession number tag

The Fisherman’s God is located in the Materials Culture Room in the UCL Anthropology Department. It is a nude anthropomorphic figure which resembles a male because it has a phallus. It is made from wood, paint and shell. The Fisherman’s God can be seen in the Figures below.

Figures 1 and 2 show the frontal view and the rear view of the Fisherman's God. (Images by author)

Biography and Statement of Significance

 Although it is believed that the Fisherman’s God is from Melanesia/ Solomon Islands, provenance cannot be firmly established. This is because the Melanesian region contains thousands of islands with a multitude of cultures and languages. There are, however, some aspects of the Fisherman’s God’s biography that are known such as who donated him and when. 

He was donated by Captain E.G Rason, sometime between 1908-1910. Captain Rason had a career in the Royal Navy before becoming the first British Commissioner to the New Hebrides which is modern day Vanuatu (DNW 2006 and New Hebrides 1908). It is likely that Captain Rason collected the Fisherman’s God during his time in the Royal Navy or as Commissioner of Vanuatu, therefore the Fisherman’s God can be from anywhere in the Melanesian region.

The original function of the Fisherman’s God is unknown but it can be significant in several contexts. For example, it has cultural significance because of the material that it is made from and the ideas and aspects of the culture that it can represent. It can also have educational significance because of its role in the UCL Ethnography Collection. Because some aspects of its biography are known it may assist in teaching and learning about the history of the Melanesian region and the relationship between the natives and the European colonialists. The Fisherman’s God also has technological and aesthetic significance because there is not another exact figure of it that can be found, it is unique.

The Fisherman’s God is currently in poor condition because of damaged areas that can further deteriorate if they are not conserved. The damages are listed below:
-       - Both the right and left arms are coming away from the shoulder
-       - Fourth digit on right hand is split
-       - Label damaged
-       - Left leg has crack starting at the bottom
-       - Insect boring holes
-       - Scuffs
-       - Surface dirt and dust
The Figures below highlight the Fisherman’s God’s damage.

This image illustrates the damages the Fisherman’s God has incurred. The right and left arm and bottom of the left leg have been photographed using the Dinoxcope so that the damages can be seen in detail. (Image by author)


            DNW. (2006). Lot 939. [Online] Available from: [Accessed on 21 March 2016]

New Hebrides. Marlborough Express, Volume XLII, Issue 5, 7 January 1908, page 6. [Online] Available from:

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2015-16), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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