Category: Expeditions

Lew Toulmin MN’04 returns from Flag Expedition to Vanuatu

Lew Toulmin MN’04 returns from Flag Expedition to Vanuatu

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.

4-doreen-a-female-chief-of-pentecost-and-vanuatu

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.

Daniel Farber Huang.DFHuang@yahoo.
Daniel Farber Huang.DFHuang@yahoo.

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!”

 i-a-young-woman-of-vanuatu-looks-to-her-future

Lew Toulmin will lead Expedition “Female Chiefs of Maewo”

Lew Toulmin will lead Expedition “Female Chiefs of Maewo”

ECWG member Llewellyn “Lew” Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S., MN ’04 is leading a Flag Expedition of Explorers Club members and others to the remote island of Maewo in the Republic of Vanuatu, in the southwest Pacific, in August 2016.  He and his team of Club members from various Chapters are documenting the female chiefs of Maewo.  For over 100 years scholars and anthropologists have thought and written that there were no female chiefs in all of Melanesia, but Toulmin discovered them while working for three years in the Vanuatu Prime Minister’s Office.  This Expedition is the first scientific effort to study them.  (See “Female Chiefs of Maewo” on Facebook. GoFundMe and other social media.)  IMG_4893 - Copy

 

Lew is also investigating and documenting the disappearance of the legendary Jim Thompson, the “Silk King of Thailand,” who vanished in 1967 in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. He has written a massive report on the case and is giving lectures on the mystery to the Siam Society, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, the International School of Bangkok, the International Spy Museum, the DACOR-Bacon house, and chapters of The Explorers Club.  (See www.themosttraveled.com under “New Land Adventures” for more information.)

3. Jim Thompson during WW II - lo res

While working on this project Lew found previously unpublished Thompson letters, and these led him to also pursue a lost temple cave filled with large Buddhas in central Thailand which Thompson looked for but was unable to find, and which is still unknown to spelunkers in Thailand.

 

ECWG members organizing 2017 research trip to Nikumaroro.

ECWG members organizing 2017 research trip to Nikumaroro.

ECWG member Tom King FN’02 and colleagues including ECWG Vice-Chair Lonnie Schorer MN’98 and Andrew McKenna of the Rocky Mountain Chapter MN ’07 are organizing a research trip to Nikumaroro in the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati for the summer of 2017.

The research, to be carried out under the supervision of 10 to 15 experienced members of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and other experts will be combined and coordinated with a tour of the island sponsored by Betchart Expeditions of Cupertino, California. Although the tour is firmly scheduled, King and a committee are raising funds to help cover the costs of participating specialists.

Nikumaroro, now part of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), is where TIGHAR hypothesizes that aviation pioneers Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed and died after their famous disappearance in 1937. In research to date, TIGHAR has found substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis, but plenty of conflicting data as well. Building on the results of a successful 2015 visit – the first-ever tourist cruise to the island, with a modest research agenda – the Betchart party plans to spend eight days on the island, investigating several specific locations on land and on the submerged coral reef slope. At the same time, the visit will give passengers the opportunity to get to know the remote, uninhabited island, famous not only for its possible Earhart connections but also for its giant coconut crabs (Birgus latro), abundant bird life, and flourishing though endangered coral reef.

While the research may uncover definitive evidence of Earhart’s presence on Nikumaroro, King does not rely on doing so. “I don’t believe that seeking ‘smoking guns’ is usually a good way to do scientific or historical research,” he says. The 2017 work will be focused on close examination of the archaeological site that may be where Earhart died, excavation of a newly discovered rock cairn that might mark Fred Noonan’s grave, and exploration of the deep reef slope using remotely operated vehicles supplied by Open ROV of Berkeley, California (http://www.openrov.com/) for possible fragments of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra.

For further information on the research and fundraising, contact Dr. King at tomking106@gmail.com.

For further information on the tour, contact Betchart Expeditions at http://www.betchartexpeditions.com/

For background:

PIPA and Nikumaroro: www.phoenixislands.org/

TIGHAR: https://tighar.org

Readings on TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro Hypothesis: Tom King’s Amelia Earhart Archaeology blog at http://ameliaearhartarchaeology.blogspot.com/, Tuesday November 10 2015.

 

 

A. McKenna MN’07 and L. Schorer MN’98 carry EC Flag 46 on Earhart search

A. McKenna MN’07 and L. Schorer MN’98 carry EC Flag 46 on Earhart search

Two Explorers continue the search for Amelia EarHart: Andrew McKenna, MN ’07 and Lonnie Schorer, MN ’98 carried Explorers Club Flag 46.

On June 6, 2015, a 15-member International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Niku VIII team flew from LA to Nadi, Fiji, boarded a bus to Lautoka, loaded freight aboard the Nai’a, and sailed 1,000 miles NW to the equatorial island of Nikumaroro in the nation of Kiribati.

Flag 48 carried by Andrew McKenna MN'07 and Lonnie Schorer MN'98 Photo credit: Laurie Rubin
Flag 48 carried by Andrew McKenna MN’07 and Lonnie Schorer MN’98
Photo credit: Laurie Rubin

 

Land Team: search the area on the NW coast where Amelia might have bivouacked during the time her post-loss radio signals were received. Lockheed reported the plane’s right engine had to be turning over to operate the magneto for the radio. As time and tide studies confirm that her messages were sent at low tide, Amelia had to be going out to the plane on the reef at low tide and, therefore, must have camped nearby, bringing provisions ashore after each transmission. Using GPS, compasses, metal detectors, and drones, the Land Team conducted archaeological survey operations in places of interest as identified on old photography and on satellite imagery.

Dive Team: diving to a depth of 130’, set up, search, and metal detect lanes parallel to the shore NW of the Norwich City wreck to test the hypothesis that aircraft debris may have survived on reef slopes between 15’ and the first underwater cliff at 130’. Metal objects found were primarily bits of old fishing gear, encrusted in reef surfaces. Beyond 130’, reef cliffs drop off steeply.

ROV Team: investigate an anomaly at 600’, seen on 2012 side-scan sonar imagery NW of the Norwich City wreck. Unfortunately, the ROV, operable when shipped from the U.S., suffered multiple modes of failure in the field. The ROV team worked around the clock troubleshooting, replacing, and repairing many parts, but in the end without a redundant ROV, the deepwater search target could not be investigated. A makeshift ROV was lowered for a ‘Hail Mary’ pass over the area. The 170 high-definition images are currently being analyzed.

During the last onshore day of the expedition, TIGHARs coordinated with TIGHAR members and passengers aboard the Betchart Earhart expedition ship, Fiji Princess, who spent another four days on the island and carried out specific research activities (reference Dr. Tom King article).

The TIGHAR team arrived back in LA on 2 July. The investigation into the 1937 disappearance of aviators Earhart and Noonan during their around-the-world flight attempt is ongoing.

Text submitted by Lonnie Schorer, Vice Chair, ECWG