chapter  4
21 Pages

Breastplates

Re-Enacting Possession in North America and Australia
WithKate Darian-Smith

This chapter explains the historical understanding of Aboriginal breastplates from both national and transnational perspectives and the ways to insert breastplates into wider transcolonial histories of objects, trade and diplomacy within the British Empire. In Australia, settlers drew upon existing knowledge and sometimes first-hand experience of cross-cultural interactions with indigenous peoples in other colonial locations, particularly in North America. The exploration of the Pacific in the late eighteenth century occurred long after the first wave of European expansion across the globe, including in North America. The British were experienced colonisers, well practiced in the conquest of other societies. Over time they had developed traditional processes of negotiation with indigenous peoples in order to secure friendship and gain access to resources and land. So it is not surprising that the act of presenting medals, as adopted in cross-cultural interactions in North America, was within the repertoire of diplomatic performance that was easily transposed to the Pacific.