PhD Dissertations: Douglas Ross, 2008

"Headhunters", "Headless Men", and the Material Lives of Asian Transmigrants

This study is a comparison of the material lives of first generation Chinese labourers and Japanese fishermen at a salmon cannery along the Fraser River in British Columbia, ca. 1900-1930.  The objective is to explore the nature of cultural persistence and change among migrant groups using a contextual approach that incorporates multiple data sources, considerations of structure and agency, and local and international scales of analysis.  Analysis and interpretation are framed within a perspective rooted in the study of material consumption and the twin concepts of transnationalism and diaspora.

Data used in this study are derived from archaeological excavation of ethnically segregated work camps at the Ewen Cannery, in combination with archival sources, historical research, and excavation results from similar sites in Western North America.  Particular emphasis is on subsets of the archaeological data relating to dining and beverage consumption, with additional consideration of dress and other domestic and work habits.  Results indicate Japanese fishermen combined traditional meals with meals comprised wholly or in part of Western-style foods, whereas Chinese cannery workers favoured traditional meals almost exclusively.  The Chinese site is also characterized by a lack of diversity in the ceramic assemblage.  Both groups, however, consumed a variety of locally produced alcoholic beverages and those imported from Europe and Asia.  These behaviours are linked to contrasting patterns of labour contracting at each camp in conjunction with processes of Westernization in the homeland.

Evidence suggests unique patterns of continuity and change for Chinese and Japanese workers at the Ewen Cannery that include significant parallels and contracts.  These patterns are rooted in local circumstances and ongoing relations with a homeland that was itself a source of both static memory and dynamic transformations.  The significance of this research is both empirical and theoretical.  It represents the first systematic attempt to compare archaeological assemblages associated with Chinese and Japanese migrants, and it is to date the most in-depth archaeological study of first generation Japanese in North America outside of a relocation centre context.  Finally, it presents an interpretive framework applicable to comparative studies of other migrant groups.