For many objects at the San Diego Museum of Man, life as a part of our Ethnographic Collections is only the latest step in an already fascinating journey. One such object is one of our most recent acquisitions, a New Caledonian Ceremonial Axe. This item was donated to SDMoM by Libby Hurlich in memory of her brother, Harold N. Ellison.
Harold acquired the axe during his stay on the island of New Caledonia during World War II. An expert in water management, Harold was often sent ahead of the US military to prepare new locations for military facilities. It was during one such trip to New Caledonia in 1942 when Harold received quite the surprise: Japanese forces had arrived on the island and begun an occupation! Harold, with the help of local New Caledonians, retreated safely into the mountains and went into hiding. He spent months evading capture by the Japanese, all the while receiving food and aid from local villagers. Eventually, the United States military forces were able to free New Caledonia from the occupying Japanese and establish their own presence on the island, thus allowing a very relieved Harold to come out from hiding and fulfill his original purpose.
Harold was immensely grateful to the local New Caledonians who had kept him alive and safe, so much so that he stayed on the island well after he had finished establishing the new US base. He taught the local villagers about water use, conservation, and reclamation in order to thank them for all they had done. Finally, in 1945, it was time for Harold to return home. The New Caledonians were so thankful for all that he taught them that they presented him with an item of great esteem, a Ceremonial Axe. The Axe came home with him and stayed in the family until 2012 when it came to us at SDMoM, a reminder of the many, and often surprising, ways that different cultures connect.
-Megan Clancy, Registrar