Gerald Camden Wheeler (Biographical details)

Gerald Camden Wheeler (anthropologist; academic/intellectual; British; Male; 1872 - 1943)

Also known as

Wheeler, Gerald C


( From Denis Monnerie, Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg, 2007)
Gerald Camden Wheeler was born in London, July 14, 1872 and studied at St Charles College and London University. He had a passion and gift for languages and spoke fluently French, Portugese, German and Swedish, he knew Latin and ancient Greek and was competent in Russian, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Serb and modern Greek. He translated French, Swedish, Danish and German books into English.
    Wheeler was a student of E. Westermarck. Before his fieldwork in the Solomon Islands he wrote The Tribe and Intertribal Relations in Australia (published 1910). Under the direction of W. H. R. Rivers and with the great A. M. Hocart, Wheeler participated in an anthropological expedition to the Solomon Islands in 1908-1909. This was funded by the Percy Sladen Memorial Fund. Wheeler himself had received funds from London University, the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society. The three anthropologists first stayed two and a half months in Simbo (or Eddystone) Island, working together and, especially, writing a dictionary of the Simbo language. One may surmise that Wheeler's share in this linguistic work was crucial.
    Then Wheeler settled in Alu (or Shortland) Island (Western Solomon Islands), probably from October 1908 until July 1909. In Alu, Wheeler met the German anthropologist Richard Thurnwald, a specialist in Buin society in the Southern part of the nearby island of Bougainville. Wheeler and Thurnwald became friends and later Wheeler was to publish several articles in German journals. After his stay in Alu, Wheeler kept in touch with a French Catholic priest, Father Maurice Boch of the Poporang Marist mission.
    In order to refer to Alu's inhabitants, Wheeler introduced the expression Mono-Alu because at some time in the 19th century, the Mono people had invaded Alu, killing or expelling the "Old Alu" inhabitants. Thus Alu in 1908-1909 was inhabited by the descendants of Mono people who spoke the Mono dialect. After a comparatively brief stay of 8 or 9 months on Alu, Wheeler's knowledge of the austronesian Mono-Alu language was exceptional, probably at least equal to that of Father Boch, a long time resident in the area who wrote a grammar and several translations.
    In 1926, Wheeler published Mono-Alu Folklore, a book dealing with Mono-Alu and Southern Bougainville myths, stories and songs. In his introduction to this classic work, Wheeler laid the foundations of analyses concerning the distribution, the combinations and the transformations of mythical and folk literature themes in Oceania. On this last point, i.e. the transformations of mythical themes, he defined a very modern approach which foreshadowed that of Claude Lévi-Strauss in Les Mythologiques. However, although in the rest of the book Wheeler revisited these suggestions in many comparative insights, he did not develop his theoretical ideas in any systematic way. Each of the 79 "myths" (lagalaga), "stories" (areai) or "songs" (ela) he collected is presented in four different sections. (i) A summary and a comparison with oral traditions from other parts of Oceania; (ii) a transcription in the Mono-Alu language; (iii) an English translation; (iv) notes on the text, the language and the society.
    Wheeler's death, in London on November 28 1943, left another important work of his unfinished: his monograph of Mono-Alu, to which he often refers to as Sociology [of Mono-Alu]. The text, numbering about 1200 pages is kept in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies library. There are two versions: one manuscript the other typed. I compared them and found very few differences. The typed version was begun by Wheeler's wife and completed at the initiative of G.B. Milner and the SOAS library; a microfilm of it is available. However the manuscript version has a few pictures and postcards from Father Boch which do not appear in the microfilm. (For more details on the chapters of this manuscript see Monnerie 1996: 393). It should be noted that Wheeler completed a very useful "Glossary" and also that several sections or chapters of the Sociology are missing, the titles of which are referred to in various other parts of the text: "Genealogies", "Crafts", "Cooking", "Technology", "Flora and Fauna", "Philology", "Grammar", "Topology". While a student, Wheeler's son mentioned his father's monograph to Professor A.T. Hatto who contacted G.B. Milner who in turn played a decisive part in the preservation and diffusion of this manuscript.
Wheeler gave several collections of Solomon Islands artefacts to the British Museum in 1927, registered as Oc1927.0310 and Oc1927.1003 and documented in Eth Doc 1096.

The Museum has 196 objects donated by Wheeler all from Melanesian, almost all from Solomon Islands. Around two-thirds come from Mono and Alu, the rest are largely from Simbo


Wheeler, G. C. 1910 The tribe and intertribal relations in Australia. London, John Murray. (Reprint 1968 : Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York).
Wheeler, G. C. 1912 "Sketch of the Totemism and Religion of the People of the Islands in the Bougainville Straits (Western Solomon Islands)". Archiv für Religionwissenschaft,15 : 24-58, 321-358. Leipzig - Berlin.
Wheeler, G. C. 1913 "A text in Mono Speech". Anthropos Bd. VIII.
Wheeler, G. C. 1914 "An account of the Death Rites and Eschatology of the People of the Bougainville Strait (Western Solomon Islands)", Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, 17 : 64-112. Leipzig - Berlin.
Wheeler, G. C. 1926 Mono Alu Folklore. (Bougainville Straits, W. Solomon Islands.) London, Routledge, G. and Sons.
Wheeler, G. C. 1928 "On some pottery from Alu, Bougainville Straits, Solomon Islands" in Man 28, 38-40.
Wheeler, G. C. n.d. Untitled MS 1200 p. (announced in Wheeler 1926 under the title Sociology) School of Oriental and African Studies Library. London. Microfilm.
Wheeler, G. C. n.d. Ethnographica from Alu and Mono, and Ethnogrpahica Collected in Simbo. mss. Department of Africa, Oceania and Americas, British Museum, London.
Boch, Maurice n.d. A Short Alu Grammar. (Typed)
Bril, Isabelle 1989 Recherches sur la langue de Mono-Alu, Iles Salomon : Etude des fonction de la particule -ga dans la langue de Mono-Alu. Mémoire de DEA. Paris VII. Sous la direction de A. Culioli.
Bril, Isabelle 1996 "Notes linguistiques" in Monnerie 1996 Nitu, les vivants, les morts et le cosmos selon la société de Mono-Alu (Iles Salomon). Leiden, Center for Non Western Studies
Fagan, Joel 1986 A Grammatical Analysis of Mono-Alu (Bougainville Straits, Solomon Islands). Pacific Linguistics, Series B - N° 96. Canberra.
Hobhouse, L. T., Ginsberg, M., Wheeler, G. C 1915 The Material Culture and Social Institutions of the Simpler Peoples: an Essay in Correlation. London, Chapman and Hall.
Monnerie, Denis 1988 Nitu, les vivants, les morts et l'univers selon la société de Mono-Alu (Iles Salomon). Thèse de doctorat de troisième cycle (PhD dissetation). École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. 511 p. (Published in a modified form: 1996)
Monnerie, Denis 1995 "On 'Grand-Mothers', 'Grand-Fathers' and 'Ancestors': Conceptualizing the Universe in Mono-Alu (Solomon Islands)." pp 105-133 in Society and Cosmos in Oceania, Coppet D. de, et Iteanu A. (eds.) Oxford, Berg.
Monnerie, Denis 1996 Nitu, les vivants, les morts et le cosmos selon la société de Mono-Alu (Iles Salomon). Leiden, Center for Non Western Studies (The Netherlands). 446 p.
Monnerie, Denis 1997 "Identités sociales et relations régionales en Océanie (Iles Salomon du Nord-Ouest)." in Le territoire, lien ou frontière, Bonnemaison J., Cambrézy L., Quinty-Bourgeois L. (éds.) Paris, ORSTOM Éditions. CD ROM. 15p.
Monnerie, Denis 1998 "Oceanian Comparison Reconsidered. The Mono-Alu problem." in Social Anthropology 6, 1 pp. 91-107.
Monnerie, Denis 2000 Relations régionales et sociétés locales en Océanie. Document de synthèse pour l'Habilitation à diriger des recherches. École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. 98 p. (Unpublished).
Monnerie, Denis 2002 "Monnaies de Mono-Alu (Iles Salomon). Valorisations, discontinuités et continuités dans les objets et les relations sociales en Mélanésie." in l'Homme n° 162, pp. 59-85.