Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S., MN ’04 just returned from a successful Flag Expedition to the Republic of Vanuatu in the SW Pacific, where he and a team of Explorers Club members interviewed, studied and documented the previously unknown “Female Chiefs of Vanuatu.” For 102 years anthropologists and writers had contended that there were no female chiefs in Vanuatu or the entire region of Melanesia, but the Expedition found a number of female chiefs who had never before been described in the anthropological literature.
According to Lew, “The female chiefs are concentrated on north Pentecost island in Vanuatu, and also exist on Ambae (the “real Bali Hai” – the subject of a previous Flag Expedition), Efate (the capital island), Pele island, and the Shepherd Group of islands, where an ‘Association of Female Chiefs’ actually exists.” He explained that, “The female chiefs usually have a graded system like the male chiefs, wear chiefly insignia, go through a sacred-pig killing ceremony like the male chiefs, and earn chiefly titles. On most islands their powers are less than the male chiefs, but on Pele and Efate there are some female chiefs who take on all the powers of the male chiefs, for a period of two to seven years.”
Lew stated that, “The highlight of the Expedition was interviewing Chief Hilda Lini, who had served in Parliament for eleven years, twice held a Ministerial portfolio, won two international peace awards, and holds eleven chiefly titles! She is likely the highest ranking female chief in Vanuatu.”
Other members of the Flag Expedition included Michael Wyrick of the ECWG Chapter; Daniel Huang, Theresa Menders and Sophie Hollingsworth of the New York Chapter; Dalsie Baniala, the Telecom Regulator of Vanuatu; and Corey Huber, a development consultant and ex-Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu.
After the Vanuatu Expedition, Lew went on to Thailand to try to find a missing temple cave once searched for by Jim Thompson, the legendary “Silk King of Thailand,” who himself went missing back in 1967. Lew said that, “In 1962 Jim Thompson found and documented a temple cave in north central Thailand, with beautiful Buddha statuary dating back over 1100 years, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has described as ‘one of the most important in SE Asia.’ But Jim always thought that there was another temple cave nearby – this has never been found. I haven’t found it yet, but I did get enough clues to now know that there is a second cave, that might, perhaps, be another important temple cave. Wish me luck!”