|All material on this site is (c) copyright to the respective authors. ISSN - 1481-3440|
The AnthroGlobe Journal
An initiative to broaden international electronic communication in Anthropology
In numerous interviews and autobiographical statements, Derek Freeman identified an encounter with Tom Harrisson, Government Ethnologist and Curator of the Sarawak Museum, as the turning point in his intellectual development (Freeman 1962, Freeman 1986, Appell and Madan 1988, Heimann 1997, Tuzin 2000, Heimans 2001, Caton 2002, Caton 2005). He abandoned the British structuralist anthropological model which won him the prestigious Curl Bequest Prize and launched his search for a science-based anthropology. The immediate consequences were drastic. He cancelled a study leave that included engagements at many institutions, one of which was the keynote address at a high profile event in Medan, Indonesia. More drastic was his abandonment, without consultation with his university, of his primary research asset, Borneo ethnography. It was replaced by an ambitious learning program whose first installment was psychoanalysis, a field in which he had no formal qualifications. His new orientation occasioned antagonisms with colleagues that stressed departmental relations for more than a year. The Samoa controversy was the long term outcome of his conversion.
The conversion occurred in Kuching, Sarawak on March 10, 1961, where Freeman was on a mission to rescue a student from depredations visited on him by Tom Harrisson. Agreement with the Sarawak government was quickly reached (on March 6), but suddenly, contrary to the agreement, he undertook to persuade the government to dismiss Harrisson from his post, and to expel him from the country, on the grounds that he was a dangerous psychopath suffering from “extreme paranoia.” The anti-Harrisson crusade set in train a series of events that must be among the most bizarre in post-war anthropology. The conversion experience is nested in this event series, and, as Freeman insisted, is inseparable from them.
All but one of the accounts available depend exclusively on Freeman’s selfreports. Thus G. N. Appell and T. N. Madan, former Freeman students and Borneo ethnographers who were on fieldwork at that time, based their brief remarks about the Sarawak events on an autobiographical statement that Freeman prepared for their use (Appell and Madan 1988:21, n. 1). The present writer interviewed Freeman in 1985 and again in 1988; Freeman discussed the sources of his reputation for “breakdowns” at length. Frank Heimans’ 2001 interview for the Australian Oral History Project—Freeman’s last interview— contains about 1000 words on the topic. Donald Tuzin’s interview, conducted in 2000, also runs to about 1000 words; the account is consistent with Heimans’ material.
The exception is Judith M. Heimann’s research for her biography of Harrisson, The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life. Heimann interviewed Freeman at length in 1992, but she also interviewed numerous persons who were observers or participants in events. Her published account is consistent with, but more detailed than the Caton, Heimans and Tuzin versions. Yet her published account covers but a fraction of the evidence she collected. An important novelty is that he modeled his action in Sarawak on St. George’s encounter with the dragon. Heimann believes that this symbolism warrants interpreting the conversion event as an “epiphany” rather than as an“abreaction” or other psychopathology. Regrettably, Heimann states that she has no plans to publish this interpretation in the immediate future.
Mention must be made of David Williamson’s play, Heretic: Based on the Life of Derek Freeman (1996). The dramatic core of the play is Freeman’s two breakdowns (the second occurred in Ta’ū, Samoa in 1967). The accuracy of this biographical drama could not be assessed until the archive records were examined. They confirm that Williamson’s depiction is very accurate where there is overlap.
The present study enriches knowledge of this defining moment in Freeman’s career by bringing to bear records held in the University Archives of the Australian National University. They consist of internal communications and of correspondence with Sarawak government officers and Australian External Affairs officers who had an involvement. The bulk is authored by Freeman, by his department head Professor John A. Barnes, and by the Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies, Sir John S. Crawford. It is a substantial mass of records. I selected about 250 pages from the period February 1961-May 1962 for the present study. The records are accessible under provisions of the Commonwealth Archives Act 1983.
My objective is to construct a critical narrative of the Sarawak episode and its aftermath, with a view to assessing the conversion event. The narrative is dominated by two cleavages. One is the antagonism between Freeman’s anti- Harrisson crusade and his university’s position respecting conditions of fieldwork in Sarawak. The university’s position was that its staff and students were to have no contact with Harrisson, whereas Freeman urged that the university use its influence to effect Harrisson’s dismissal. The second cleavage is between Freeman’s account of what happened in Sarawak and during his return to Canberra, and the information the university received about Freeman’s behavior. Freeman maintained that his conduct was at all times based on rational and humane considerations and hence was warranted. He urged this contention against the university’s (i.e., Crawford’s) view that his conduct was significantly irrational, that it compromised himself and the university, and that it was to be evaluated as temporary “emotional stress” or “panic” involving “delusional” states. The key university officer, Crawford, regarded Freeman highly and strove to avert a confrontation that would damage his career or place the university’s reputation at risk.
The Conversion Events
The mission to Kuching had been prepared by a letter from the ANU Vice- Chancellor to the Sarawak Chief Secretary declaring the university’s concern about the disruption of a student’s fieldwork and authorizing Freeman to negotiate a solution. His declared task was to repair the student’s loss of standing among the Kajang resulting from Harrisson’s intervention and to reinstate him at his research site. His second task was to renegotiate with the Chief Secretary the university’s agreement concerning the conduct of fieldwork. The agreement was to be revised to exclude any collaboration with Harrisson. This constituted a significant and delicate amendment, implying as it did no confidence in a senior government officer and contraction of the benefits that Sarawak could expect to obtain from ANU fieldwork.Freeman arrived in Kuching on March 3. He met with the student, Brian de Martinoir, to review and update the student’s synopsis of Harrisson’s misconduct, and then met with the Chief Secretary and his deputy over the next few days. On March 6, Freeman wrote his department head John Barnes a detailed account of what had transpired. He judged de Martinoir to be in good mental and physical condition and keen to return to fieldwork. His inquiries satisfied him that the student’s account of events was reliable, that Harrisson’s accusations of him were baseless, and that Harrisson’s conduct had been grossly delinquent. Freeman reported that he sought to impress on the Chief Secretary the depravity of Harrisson’s actions and his unsuitability to hold a senior government post. He urged that Harrisson was a psychopath suffering from “extreme paranoia.” He concluded his report by boasting that his objectives had been achieved: the Chief Secretary agreed to de Martinoir’s return to the field and to instruct Harrisson to have no further contact with ANU personnel. He told Barnes that Harrisson was no longer a concern: “things have turned out well for us…the nightmare that was Harrisson is now at an end…to my intense relief. Poor Tom Harrisson.”
Freeman remained in Kuching to restore the student’s standing among his group, the Kajang. There was also another motive. Contrary to the terms of his agreement with the Chief Secretary, Freeman used his extensive contacts with government officers and Kuching notables to collect further evidence of Harrisson’s misconduct. The progress of this activity he reported in a one line cable to Barnes on March 8: “Diagnosis [of extreme paranoia in] my letter sixth March certain.”
Why this turnabout? The cable registers indirectly an illumination that Freeman experienced. It is not mentioned in any of his self-reports. We know of it thanks to a letter from B. E. Smythies, Conservator of Forests and old friend who was in frequent contact with Freeman during his Kuching visit. Smythies was mystified by the turnabout. Writing to Barnes on March 27, he described the event as Freeman told it to him:
The critical novelty is not the conviction that Harrisson suffered a severe pathology, but the sudden conviction that he (Freeman) had a moral duty to ensure Harrisson’s removal from office. The agreement reached on March 6 specifically stated that the university had no interest in the government’s follow-up on Harrisson’s misconduct. After describing Freeman’s painstaking collection of evidence against Harrisson, Smythies continued:
Given the detail and weight of this testimony, it is important to underscore that Smythies wrote his unsolicited letter as a friend “for whom I have the highest regard as a scholar.” He was bewildered by Freeman’s sudden tilting at windmills, especially since on the evening of March 6 Freeman was his “normal self.” He declared at that time that his concern with Harrisson was at an end, and that he would not submit a report to the Chief Secretary that might form the basis for action against him. Smythies stated that
This event, as I noted, is unmentioned in Freeman’s numerous self-reports. It introduces two novelties that were prominent in the story that would unfold. The first is the startling pairing of himself in the precarious alternation, either he or Harrisson is mad. His entanglement with Harrisson had progressed to such a pitch that he perceived himself to be at risk, so much so that he needed confirmation of his sanity from an “alienist,” i. e., a psychiatrist. This suggests that Freeman had crossed, or was close to crossing, the threshold to panic. It also suggests that Freeman believed Harrisson to be meddling with his mind. Both of these notions prove to be warranted, as we see in the second event, which is also expunged from Freeman’s self-reports, although residues of it are preserved.
The second event occurred on March 11 when Freeman was inspecting the exhibits of the Museum with a view to augmenting his case against Harrisson (Heimann 1997:332). It was another titanic insight. The erotic artifacts on display were not merely artless and obscene, they were counterfeit objects manufactured on Harrisson’s instructions and endowed with a hypnotic power that gave him a degree of mind control over those who viewed them. Freeman“knew” this because in the moment of insight he recognized that he himself had been under Harrisson’s insidious influence. It came about in the following way. Several years previously, Harrisson had given him carvings that he placed over his marital bed, in the expectation—presumably encouraged by Harrisson—that their influence would improve deteriorating relations with his spouse. Instead, relations deteriorated further. Freeman believed that he now knew why. He also recognized the purpose of the museum exhibits. They were meant to exercise a degree of mind control that prepared the subversion of Sarawak by a local cult (the Bundung cult of Kenyah and Kayan). The cult was a front that Harrisson, in cahoots with the Soviets, intended to use to subvert the Sarawak government. (Freeman believed that Harrisson’s wife was a Soviet agent). These insights were simultaneously ineluctable proofs of Harrisson’s psychopathology and an unanswerable moral warrant to thwart Harrisson’s schemes. He chose as his means a calculated unlawful act to force the matter to the attention of the government: he broke an erotic statue and informed the Chief Secretary (Heimann 1997:332f). His intention was to be arrested and charged before a magistrate, where he would make his case public. Prima facie, the means Freeman chose hardly seem appropriate to the iniquity that he believed himself to be confronting. If “all of Kuching is mad,” must not the magistrate’s integrity be compromised? In the event, the plan failed because no notice was taken of his challenge. The disregard was no doubt deliberate, for, by provocatively informing the Chief Secretary of his action, Freeman signaled his renunciation of the March 6 agreement.
Such an emotional ambience does not auger well for the attainment of fundamental insights into the nature of anthropological inquiry, but that was exactly Freeman’s contention. His fullest statement to this effect occurs in a memorandum to Crawford in which he attempts to dissuade Crawford from his belief that his behavior in Kuching was due to “emotional stress.” The memo is dated February 15, 1962, that is, about eleven months after the event. The late date is notable because during that period Freeman subjected himself to selfanalysis and read avidly in psychoanalysis. Thus he needed nearly a year to arrive at a psychoanalytic description of the conversion event. He described it in these terms:
Freeman briefly explained the meaning of abreaction; I shall return to it. My immediate concern is with his gloss on the context of the event. While breakfasting in the Government Resthouse, he read a letter in the local paper, written by two Iban students abroad, defending the Iban against aspersions cast by another overseas Iban student. For Freeman the letter “poignantly expressed the predicament of the Dayak people…and as I read what they had written, my mind was filled with a feeling of boundless compassion that human affairs should be as I knew them to be in Sarawak.” The strength of this feeling caused him to seek the privacy of his room, where the conversion experience occurred. He styled the experience, to Crawford, “an experiential realization of humanism.”
What is the connection of this experienced serenity with the wrath that peaked in the insight into Harrisson’s insidious plot? Freeman does not say, but it seems straight-forward. The plight of the Dayaks he blamed on the corruption of Harrisson and his cronies. The drama of vice and corruption came together with the pathos of injured innocence in such a way that Freeman could identify unreservedly with innocence: he and they were both victims of the same iniquity. Indeed, as we learn from his interviews with Donald Tuzin and Judith Heimann, he was moved to tears by the pathos of this imagined scene and contemplated returning to the Iban to live with them and espouse their cause. Freeman styled it an “abreaction” because it was a cathartic, shattering release of repressed emotions—presumably his fury against Harrisson. His aggression was now legitimate and expressible as his transformed vision of human existence, which included, he told Crawford, “a quite new understanding of my own self” that resulted in “marked changes in my being.” Among these changes was reduced irritability toward his spouse and children. Another was the replacement of structuralist-functionalist theory by evolution-based psychology. Henceforth, the social anthropology of his teachers was for Freeman verbiage obfuscating the psychological processes lying beneath. This adjustment, he believed, brought his new approach to anthropology into line with the humanistic quest for self-understanding.
I have noted that the flash of insight experienced in the Sarawak Museum revealed to Freeman the mind control plot and in doing so released him from Harrisson’s control. The memo to Crawford provides the clue to unraveling this relationship. Freeman referred Crawford to William Sargant’s Battle for the Mind (1957) for a systematic account of abreaction. This clinical study brings together three classes of phenomena—battle fatigue, brainwashing, and religious conversion. In each case the subject undergoes a transformative experience owing to psychological shock. Battle fatigue (today called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is always dysfunctional; brainwashing and religious conversion need not impair normal functioning but do rigidly constrain the subject’s thoughts. Sargant’s therapy in all cases follows the same course: the subject must relive, or confront, the terrifying experience that induced the disabling condition or mind control. When therapy succeeds, the subject undergoes a cathartic emotional upheaval—abreaction. Applying this schema to the present case, Harrisson must at some point have shocked Freeman into mind control submission. Was there such an event? It seems there was. It occurred in 1957. Harrisson drove Freeman to the airport, in the company of a Museum assistant who was considering enrolling in Freeman’s department for doctoral study. Harrisson launched a violent tirade at Freeman and anthropology, dipping both in a torrent of obscenities. In interviews with Heimann and Tuzin, Freeman recalls that he was so shaken that he could make no reply and trembled for hours after (Heimann 1997:330; Tuzin 2000:2). Freeman and anthropology were humiliated before a potential student and he was powerless to resist. Yet he placed Harrisson’s artifacts over the marital bed and continued their professional relationship. This submission is perhaps what Freeman interpreted as mind control. Harrisson’s assault on de Martinoir must be integrated into this context. In addition to being an injury to the student, it set at nought the ANU’s supervisory prerogative. Since Freeman was the supervisor, it was a direct insult to him. This may be why, after March 7, de Martinoir is replaced in Freeman’s chivalric drama by himself, locked, like St George (or Quixote) in combat with the malign Harrisson. His identification with the Dayaks makes sense in terms of the drama. Harrisson interpreted his Chief Ethnologist’s duties to include responsibility for indigenous peoples. In blaming Harrisson for the plight of the Dayaks, Freeman endorsed Harrisson’s interpretation of his duties.
The memo to Crawford is concerned to persuade him that throughout the Sarawak episode “my rationality was never for a moment disturbed, that my actions in Sarawak were actions of conscience, and that the account that I have given you in this letter is entirely true.” Crawford sometimes annotated Freeman’s memos, but not this one. Thus there is no indication of his reaction to this startling claim. Several statements, in addition to the improbable claim to serene rationality (which Crawford did not accept), must have struck him as dubious. I draw attention to one in particular. In seeking to rebut reports about himself to which he had no access, he recalls that Crawford had mentioned a report that in Kuching he had consulted one Dr. Schmidt, a psychiatrist. Freeman condemns this report as “entirely false” and wonders what other false reports might have reached him.
The Sarawak Police Report
The source of this information is the report of R. W. Gambrill, Divisional Superintendent of the Sarawak Constabulary, dated March 13, which was copied to Crawford. Gambrill notes that in the course of his interview with Freeman at the Resthouse, his roommate, de Martinoir, said that Freeman “wanted the care of an alienist and I [Gambrill] went to the Police Station and rang Dr. Schmidt whom Freeman had apparently seen on the previous night. Dr. Schmidt said that in his opinion Freeman was mentally unsound, but that this state would pass when he left Sarawak.” There is no further indication of the circumstances, but Freeman probably sought Schmidt out. The logic is this. By March 7 he had paired himself with Harrisson in the precarious dichotomy, “either Harrisson is mad or I am.” His evidence against Harrisson, he believed, was such that it could only be appreciated by a psychiatrist, and for that reason he desired, with some urgency, to speak with one. Indeed, so urgent was his need for confirmation that Harrisson was the mad one that on reaching Singapore he reticketed to London so that he might consult with his old friend Morris Carstairs, a psychiatrist. (This plan was abandoned in Karachi). His need for expert confirmation that Harrisson was the mad one implies fear that he might be in the throes of mental instability. Freeman’s categorical denial of the Schmidt consultation is readable as Ego’s post-event refusal to accept that he was indeed in mental crisis—a classic case of denial. Other details of Gambrill’s report are at odds with Freeman’s “entirely true” declarations to Crawford. Gambrill states that he asked Freeman why he unlawfully entered Harrisson’s home. “He replied that he had no idea at all—something just came over him.” This response clashes with Freeman’s often repeated claim that all his words and deeds in Kuching flowed from thoughtful and deliberate consideration, none from impulse. There are also discrepancies between the deposition that Freeman gave Gambrill and his subsequent claims. He states that he was “in Sarawak not in any personal capacity but as the appointed representative of the ANU.” This is correct, but it contradicts his subsequent claim, in justifying his actions, that he acted in his private capacity as a moral individual. For Crawford this was a key element of Freeman’s behavior because he had to deal with the turmoil created by Freeman’s actions on the basis that they were the unauthorized deeds of an ANU officer on university business.
Freeman declared further in his deposition that “I have absolutely no desire to cause embarrassment or hurt of any kind to the Government of Sarawak or any of its officers, including Mr. T. Harrisson…” If this was true at the time the statement was made, it represents a brief interruption of punitive intentions immediately before and after. It also is inconsistent with his subsequent efforts to secure Harrisson’s expulsion. Finally, Freeman declares that he intends to depart Kuching that day for Singapore and Medan, Indonesia, where he had university business. He did indeed have business in Medan, but he re-ticketed to London on unapproved travel. In the memo under discussion, he is silent about this departure from approved leave, but he does explain the deviation: “my one concern was to safeguard the evidence in my possession”, i. e., the undeveloped film of subversive erotic artifacts. He styles this an “eminently rational concern.” The most direct way to safeguard it, he says, was to “return immediately to Australia.” But there being no flight available, he elected to “fly north,” to place his evidence in “the safe keeping of the Australian ambassador to Bangkok.” How Freeman could imagine that Crawford would swallow this tale is puzzling. Why travel to Bangkok when safe keeping might be found with the High Commissioner in Singapore? Why, for that matter, not wait for the next flight to Australia? According to one fragmentary report, Freeman did contact the High Commission in Singapore, but was given the brush-off by the Deputy High Commissioner, who, having served in Kuching, dismissed his tale of a plot. But he was alarmed because he believed that he was being pursued by police who boarded the aircraft in Kuching (in reality, their destination was a conference in Kuala Lumpur). This is evidence of the “panic” condition that Freeman’s memo is expressly intended to rebut. His statement that he decided to “fly north” avoids mention of the compromising fact that he decided fly to London to consult with Carstairs and to place his evidence before a parliamentary select committee (Crawford knew of these intentions). The BOAC flight stopped in Bangkok, where Freeman telephoned the Australian ambassador requesting an urgent meeting to inform him of the plot in Sarawak and to hand over the film. The ambassador declined to discuss it. In Calcutta he attempted to contact the High Commissioner in Delhi, but got no further than the Trade Commissioner, with whom he declined to discuss his urgent business. The next stop was Karachi, where the fabulous St. George/Quixote mission reached its culmination: at last Freeman found a senior diplomat who would listen.
The Karachi Interlude
This man was High Commissioner A. R. Cutler who, as it happened, was a long-standing friend of Crawford. They were among the distinguished public servants of their generation. Crawford, an economist, had chaired a landmark policy committee that opened Australia to trade with South East Asia and Japan. Cutler, a diplomat with outstanding service, had assisted that effort. They were respected for wisdom and judgment, and both would go on to climb higher on the ladder of success. By the time Freeman reached Karachi, the Australian diplomatic corps was on the alert. Freeman asked the BOAC captain of the Calcutta-Karachi flight to radio the Pakistan High Commissioner to seek a meeting. Cutler, recognizing that one of Crawford’s staff was in difficulty, responded by personally attending to Freeman during this three day stop. His gracious manner won Freeman’s confidence so that he told Cutler the whole story that I am unfolding here. I must confine myself to some of the highlights.
----Freeman’s evident distress on the Calcutta-Karachi flight prompted the captain to file a report. This resulted in an examination by a BOAC doctor in Karachi, Dr. Butterfield, who in turn referred him to a psychiatrist, Dr. Habib, who recommended to the BOAC that Freeman not be allowed to fly unaccompanied. By this time (March 14) the ANU was receiving messages from the Department of External Affairs in Canberra about Freeman’s erratic behavior. Karachi messaged the ANU directly that someone must journey to Karachi to accompany him on the inbound flight. Barnes invited Mrs. Freeman to make the journey but her passport had expired. Barnes flew to Karachi instead.
----On March 17, Crawford brought Mrs. Freeman up to date. He informed her that “Dr. Freeman apparently did break down in Sarawak” and “reached Karachi in a highly distraught state” but is “now comparatively calm and lucid except for an obsession with events in Sarawak.” He then outlined a proposed arrival scenario. She, accompanied by the university Registrar, would meet Freeman at the Sydney air terminal. He would be waived through Customs and together they would return to Canberra in a Commonwealth vehicle. Psychiatric treatment in Canberra had been arranged. All of this transpired as Crawford anticipated.
----Cutler knew about human stress from war and diplomatic service. Indeed he was recipient of the highest honor for valor, the Victoria Cross. He was also noted for his generosity and forbearance. His care of Freeman was probably meant to assist his return to normalcy by mobilizing his confidence and soothinghis nerves. Freeman had panicked on arrival in Karachi when porters took charge of the haversack containing the all-important films, which he rescued causing a commotion. It was another sign of his anxiety that he asked the BOAC captain for a pistol for his personal protection. Again, he decided that it was unsafe for him to continue his flight on BOAC, because, he believed, the airline was somehow in on the Sarawak plot. That Cutler personally changed Freeman’s ticket to Qantas shows how far he was willing to go to humor him. Cutler also relieved Freeman’s anxiety about theft of the films by sending them to Canberra in the diplomatic pouch.
In his last interview, forty years after these events, Freeman recalled his contentment in Karachi: “I couldn’t have been in a better state; it was wonderful. This is somehow the result of moral action [in Kuching]” (Tuzin 2000:3). No doubt it was also his response to Cutler’s care, for he believed that this seasoned diplomat credited his fantastic story about Harrisson’s plot. Such was his confidence and contentment that when Barnes appeared in Karachi, he assumed that his presence signaled the ANU’s recognition of the importance of his“scientific discoveries” about Harrisson. Accordingly he extended his trust to Barnes and on the return journey told him the same story that he told Cutler—in great detail, “for nine hours,” as Barnes noted in his memorandum to Crawford. Only on the last leg of the journey did he realize the oddity of Barnes’ presence and began to ask why he had come to Karachi. Barnes’ sobering response was the first step in a sequence that would take Freeman from the Karachi euphoria to disillusion in Canberra: waived through Customs, received by his wife and the university Registrar, a Commonwealth vehicle as private transport to Canberra, and learning from his wife that the VIP treatment was Crawford’s dutiful response to Cutler’s advice. In the documents to hand there is no record of Freeman’s immediate reaction to finding himself once again in a milieu where his story was not credited and where his emotional stability was questioned. There is also no record of the response of a key person in this story, Mrs. Freeman. The relationship between them was intimate and trusting. It may be safely assumed that they thoroughly discussed Freeman’s predicament, including their joint response to Crawford’s expectation that her ministrations would play a significant role in Freeman’s return to normalcy. However that may be, in his first meeting with Crawford and Barnes after his return, Freeman stated the position that he would inflexibly maintain. The position was this:
----He flatly rejected the patient role offered by Crawford. He needed no period of rest. On the contrary, he maintained that he had never been physically and mentally more fit. Dispatching Barnes to Karachi, VIP treatment—these things had been unnecessary and were based on drastically erroneous reports.
----He did not need the care of a psychiatrist. But Crawford insisted, so Freeman agreed to meet with the nominated physician, University of Sydney Professor W. H. Trethowan, on the condition that it not be a medical consultation. He would, instead, welcome talking to a psychiatrist about his important scientific discoveries concerning Harrisson’s extreme paranoia. Crawford accepted this condition.
----Freeman plunged full tilt into normal university duties. He also set about writing his report on the Sarawak events for Crawford’s use in dealing with the issues concerning de Martinoir’s research. (It will be recalled that when invited to submit such a report by the Chief Secretary, Freeman declined because Harrisson was no longer his concern). In department seminars and other forums, he made colleagues aware of his new-found orientation, and commenced an ambitious reading program in psychoanalysis, existentialism, phenomenology, and sundry biological sciences. To assure colleagues of the success of his new departure, he pointedly injected psychological themes into seminars. Within three months of his return he reported to Crawford that he was at work on “a unified theory of human behavior” that brought together psychology, biology, and sociology. He also began assembling his proposal for his 1962-1963 study leave at the London Institute of Psychoanalysis.
----He began to manufacture his version of the Kuching to Karachi events. It takes the form of lengthy memoranda and reports. The flagship is his report to Crawford on Harrisson’s interference with de Martinoir, his discussions with the government, and his investigations of Harrisson. It is an indictment of Harrisson and of the Sarawak government. Another major document is his response to Dr. Trethowan’s advice to Crawford concerning his mental condition. It is an extremely aggressive attack on Trethowan’s competence and integrity, combined with emphatic assertion of his superior knowledge of abnormal psychology. There are two like documents attacking Barnes, who greatly annoyed Freeman when he would not relinquish his belief that Freeman was unstable. He also attacked Cutler when he became aware that, far from believing his story, he was Crawford’s most trusted source on Freeman’s instability. Finally, Freeman turned his wrath on de Martinoir after he learned that this crucial eye-witness, whose defense against Harrisson’s accusations was central to his report on Harrisson, in fact also believed that Freeman had lost the plot in Kuching.
Let us now look critically at Freeman’s version of events, beginning with his crusade against Harrisson. He represented the crusade as a moral imperative of such moment that it warranted challenging the Sarawak government, abandoning his study leave, and changing his intellectual orientation. Nowhere in the approximately 50,000 words that he wrote on Sarawak events between 1961- 1962 is there any suggestion that he erred. On the contrary, the force of his argument is to vindicate the rationality and humanity of his conduct and deny categorically any suggestion of mental instability or delusional states. He mounted a counter-attack against those who dissented. The primary object of his anger was department head John Barnes, whom he vilified for holding that it was not the university’s business to demand Harrisson’s dismissal, since to do so was to invade the jurisdiction of the Sarawak government. He accused him of following a “supine course” of bureaucratic compliance with evil, which he compared with Adolph Eichmann’s compliance with the liquidation of innocents in Nazi death camps. He contrasted this depravity to his own courage in confronting evil, comparing himself with civil disobedients who break law to provoke prosecution. Yet Barnes’ position was exactly his own in concluding the agreement with the Chief Secretary on March 6. It was also the position taken by Crawford in reconciling the university’s estrangement from the Sarawak government that Freeman’s moral crusade provoked.
Secondly, Freeman’s contrast of his righteousness with Barnes’ “supine” compliance is in marked contrast with his own moments of compliance. In police custody he excused breaking the statue by saying that something just came over him. He also deposed for the police a sweeping mea culpa that disavowed any hostile intent toward Harrisson or the government. About a month later he wrote to the Chief Secretary an apology for his conduct and disavowed any hostile intention. Yet at the Kuching airport, shortly after making his deposition to the police, he told “all who would listen” about the government’s corruption. At the very time that he wrote his apology to the Chief Secretary, he was also soliciting from colleagues “all over the world” their experience of Harrisson’s depravity and malfeasance.
Thirdly, the exercise smacks of irrelevance. The handover of colonial government to the Republic of Malaysia was mandated for 1963. At that time indigenous staff would replace the expatriates, and Harrisson would be gone. Yet such was Freeman’s fervor that he contemplated seeking a parliamentary select committee to investigate the case against Harrisson. Of this there is no hint in Freeman’s voluminous memoranda. Four decades later, in the interview with Donald Tuzin, he at last acknowledged fault. He said of the select committee idea: “It was a straightforward political objective, but it was excessive. It was irrational. I shouldn’t have done that” (Tuzin 2000:3).
Freeman’s accounts of the Sarawak event prominently mention the erotic artifacts in the Sarawak Museum and in Harrisson’s home as primary evidence of Harrisson’s derangement. Given this high focus and Freeman’s immersion in psycho-analytic explanation, one would expect him to have produced an analysis of the artifacts supporting this spectacular thesis. This he did not do. The only follow-up was a soiree in Freeman’s home when he showed the slides to a small audience. The one report of this event, from Barnes, who was present, states that neither he nor others saw anything unusual about the artifacts. Whether Freeman undertook to enlighten them Barnes did not say. As we have seen, Freeman’s strong antipathy to the artifacts was not specifically their obscenity, but their mysterious brainwashing power. A “scientific” essay to this effect would have been an exploration of the suggestive power of these particular images. However, sometime after his return to Canberra Freeman probably realized that the attribution of such power to images would lack credibility, and might cast doubt on his soundness of mind. He thus omitted this element from his discussion, but this left him hard pressed to contrive a convincing explanation of what was special about the erotic artifacts. In his denunciation of Dr. Trethowan, Freeman rejected Trethowan’s surmise that the obscenity of the artifacts “impinged deeply on his inner personal life,” although this was exactly what Freeman had said. His rebuttal ignores Trethowan’s main point and lectures him on his (Freeman’s) familiarity with abnormal psychology and with everyday smut—a point that Trethowan didn’t raise. What made the artifacts special, Freeman now claimed, was the public sanction given them by museum display: it was as if Soho pornography were displayed in the National Gallery. In addition, they were not genuine native artifacts, but counterfeits, which offends the principles of museum curatorship. Once again we see that Freeman’s punitive impulse and assertiveness warped his judgment. He categorically asserts, on his authority as a Borneo ethnographer, that the artifacts are counterfeits, whereas the scholarly response would be an essay showing this to be the case. He seems never to have considered such an essay. As for the propriety of the display, this was, from the ANU’s perspective, strictly a matter for the Sarawak government. But for Freeman, it was an outrage upon the British sense of decency requiring immediate rectification. Perhaps the most telling element in this story is Freeman’s markedly paranoid fear that his films would be stolen by mysterious agents. His was unable to register the fact that there could be no motive to steal photos of objects that any visitor to the Museum or to Harrisson’s home could replicate.
Let us now examine Freeman’s account of the importance of the Harrisson encounter for his sudden recognition of the need for a new anthropology. In the unpublished autobiographical statement that he prepared for Appell and Madan, he put the matter thus:
Recognition that something was missing from his toolbox he dated to June 1960, when an essay by Victor Turner on the interpretation of symbolism made him realize that he shared Turner’s puzzlement about interpretation. This was not due to neglect of psychology. On the contrary, Freeman, during this period, flaunted his psychology credentials and felt no embarrassment in claiming to be the peer of the academic psychiatrist Trethowan. Yet it is difficult to place oneself in the “new light” that Freeman extols. It streams not only from the fields just mentioned, but also from phenomenology, existentialism, Kierkegaardian Daseinsanalysis, and Zen Buddhism. This latter class of study he valued as enabling the investigator to place in abeyance the viewing lens of theory in order to see things “as they are in themselves” (then the slogan of phenomenologists). All this, he confidently stated, would result in a unified anthropological science. If this were intellectually serious, we might expect that Freeman’s writings from this period would reflect the first glimmerings of his new orientation. His report on Harrisson, above all, should be an exercise in the new way of seeing “things in themselves.” We might expect it to present the analysis behind the wrathful labeling of Harrisson’s psychopathology. But there is no clinical discussion of the purported paranoia nor any defense of the abusive labeling without benefit of clinical examination, in which Freeman was not in any case qualified. As far as one can tell, “paranoia” equates to malicious behavior, and psychiatric labeling is a façade for old-fashion moral reprobation. The style of the report resembles a prosecutor’s indictment, replete with blaming that leaves no choice but to pronounce the guilty verdict. The Report was prepared for Crawford’s use in mending the ruptured relations with the Sarawak government. But Freeman failed to see that a document that accused the Sarawak government of corruption was unusable in negotiations with that government. Crawford was indeed so alarmed by its content that he forbade Freeman to circulate it. It may be relevant to note that Freeman’s colleague, Professor W. E. H. Stanner, deemed the Report to be a document of such “astonishing incompetence” that “a defense counsel would tear it to shreds.” His summary judgment: “The Report, with its mixture of moralism, love for Sarawak, desire to protect the Commonwealth, and unctuous psychologism, is grotesque.”
If it is difficult to identify just what new light Freeman’s insights shed on anthropological analysis, it is also difficult to grasp why he believed that the new orientation could not be patched into structuralist-functionalist theory, but rather mandated an uncompromising either—or choice. And assuming this to be so, why did it seem so urgent that he must cancel his study leave, with all that implied downstream for institutional and collegial relations. Freeman’s selfreports state that the urgency expressed his need to engage with his titanic insights, inclusive of his rediscovery of himself. There was, however, at least one practical consideration. The study leave itinerary placed him in Sarawak for three weeks of field work, but having offended the government, he would not be readmitted in the foreseeable future. Canceling the leave avoided confrontation with this embarrassment. This awkwardness might also have influenced his construction of a theoretical dichotomy. At that time Freeman enjoyed high standing as a Borneo ethnographer, but the Sarawak misadventure cut off his access to research sites. This was major self-inflicted career damage. By denigrating ethnography and announcing a grandiose project for a unified theory of man, he masked this wound while unfurling the flag of his revitalized narcissist self. The heroic project was a continuing presence in Freeman’s life until the end, but he never produced the forecast theoretical work on the anthropology of choice. Despite his denigration of ethnography and structuralist theory, he never abandoned them. His Samoa research 1966-1967 combined ethological and psychological approaches to behavior, especially of parent-child interactions, with standard ethnographic investigations. It is true, however, that Freeman lost his appetite for publishing his ethnographic findings.
Conclusion: The Elusiveness of Self-Knowledge
In this essay I have not examined Freeman’s polemical engagements with those who believed that he had experienced mental instability. This investigation, which I published elsewhere (Caton 2005), presents an intriguing alternative. Either Freeman was right, in which case we must take literally his claim of responsibility for all his thoughts and actions; or he deceived himself about his control of his emotions, in which case his preoccupation with the“delusory” thought of Margaret Mead and his critics during the last phase of the Samoa controversy rebounds on himself. There are marked parallels between the antipathy to Harrisson and the refutation of Mead. In both cases a conflict with an individual is broadened to a larger antagonism—against the Sarawak colonial government and Boasian anthropology, respectively. In both cases the adversary is depicted as an apologist for sexual license. In both cases St. George proclaims his moral and intellectual superiority. In both cases vanquishing the adversary enables a humanly invigorating dispensation—the new anthropology of choice.
This is an instructive study in the psychology of an important anthropologist. Its significance is broad because Freeman was in collegial or adversarial relation with many leading academics of his time. “Derek was some kind of genius,” George Appell remarked in correspondence with me. With this I do agree. I hope to have contributed to understanding what kind of genius and how it interacted with its milieu.
1 I wish to thank the staff of the Noel Butlin Archive Centre, Australian National University, George N. Appell, Judith M. Heimann, Donald Tuzin, James Fox, Paul Shankman, James E. Côté, and Matthew Ciolek for assistance in preparing this paper.
2 Tuzin, who is preparing a biography of Freeman, conducted lengthy interviews, but they will not be published (pers. comm., 22 February 2005). The text I cite was graciously extracted by Tuzin on my request.
3 Judith Heimann, pers. comm., 8 February 2005.
4 I have treated Williamson’s play extensively in Caton 2005.
5 For particulars concerning archive access, see the University Archive website www.archives.anu.edu.au.
6UA 220.127.116.11c Part I Vice Chancellor L. G. H. Huxley to His Excellency Sir Alexander Waddell, Governor of Sarawak 1 May 1961.
7 UA 18.104.22.168C Part I, Freeman to Barnes, 6 March 1961, p. 5. The terms of the agreement are confirmed in the correspondence between the ANU Vice- Chancellor and the Governor of Sarawak. UA 22.214.171.124c Part I, L. G. H. Huxley to His Excellence, the Governor of Sarawak 14 April 1961, p. 1.
8 UA 2002/12, Crawford 3[d], Freeman File No 1, B. E. Smythies to Barnes, 27 March 1961, p. 1. Heimann’s unpublished interview material abundantly confirms Smythies’ assessment that Freeman was captured by the vision of himself as a moral agent. Appell and Madan highlighted morality in the title they chose for the Freeman festschrift.
10 UA 2002/12, item  [d] Freeman File No 1, W. H. Trethowan to Crawford, 29 March 1961, p. 1. Trethowan writes: “At some juncture Freeman seems to have developed a delusion that a disturbance in his married life which had been going on for some time previously was due to his being influenced in some mysterious way by Harrisson. …his abnormal mental state impaired his judgment to the extent that he broke into Harrisson’s house…to escape his influence.” Also UA 126.96.36.199c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, pp. 1, 4, 6.
11 UA 188.8.131.52c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, pp. 3, 4; UA 184.108.40.206c Part I Inward cable from Australian High Commissioner (Roden Cutler), Karachi to Department of External Affairs, for Sir John Crawford, 16 March 1961.
12 Freeman explains and defends his solitary act of civil disobedience in UA 2002/12, item  [b] Freeman No 3, Freeman to W. H. Trethowan 5 July 61, pp 17f. and UA 220.127.116.11c Part I Freeman to Barnes 14 June 196, pp 1f. Barnes states his perception of Freeman’s position in UA 18.104.22.168c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 196, pp 20f.
13 UA 2002/12 Crawford 1[g] Freeman to Crawford 15 February 1962, p. 2. There is also a detailed statement on the conversion experience and its consequence for anthropological principles in his letter to Morris Carstairs, 14 June 1962. Carstairs, with whom Freeman was acquainted during his London School of Economics student days, was qualified in psychiatry and anthropology. He had a high opinion of Freeman, but was taken aback by the manic ambition of this letter. Ironically, he wrote Margaret Mead for her opinion about how best to deal with Freeman’s request for advice about where he should best pursue his interest in psychoanalysis and anthropology. Mead’s response shows that she was acquainted with the Sarawak episode through Freeman’s long letters seeking information about Harrisson’s misdeeds and from reports of research students who had been under Freeman’s supervision or in his department. Carstairs to Mead 22 June 1962, Mead to Carstairs 4 July 1962. These letters are held in the Margaret Mead Papers, General Correspondence, at the Library of Congress. I have James E. Côté to thank for providing me a copy of this correspondence.
14 Freeman told Heimann that at this moment he cancelled his plane ticket and resolved to remain with the Iban indefinitely. His obligations at home seem not to have been considered.
15 Sargant, Battle for the Mind, pp. 54-63.
16 If, as I have argued elsewhere (Caton 2005), Freeman’s abnormality was the Narcissist Personality Disorder, the professional conflict with Harrisson had the potential to cause a major disruption by challenging his narcissist self image. Since his self image at that time integrated his professional training and standing, defeat of Harrisson’s grave threat to that self required that he fashion a new self invulnerable to the threat. Since structuralism was integral to the threatened self, the new self had not only to break free of it, but to reject it as error fundamental to his personhood, and conversely, the new anthropology simultaneously affirmed his personhood. Its valorization as an anthropology of choice confirmed his narcissist-driven individualism, later self-styled “heretic.” According to Judith Heimann, Freeman gave her to understand that the abreaction was the centerpiece of the Sarawak experience (Pers. comm. 8 February 2005).
17 UA 2002/12 Crawford 1[g] Freeman to Crawford, 15 February 1962, p. 5.
18 UA 22.214.171.124c Part I Report of Trespass in Mr Harrisson’s House on 12th March 1961, p. 1.
19 UA 126.96.36.199c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, p. 2, 3.
20 Three decades after the event, Freeman volunteered the information to Judith Heimann that he had spoken with Dr. Schmidt. When she submitted the draft of her narrative to Freeman, he was mortified by its “defamatory” character and threatened to sue. Accordingly she withdrew it (Heimann, pers. comm., 26 March 2003).
21 UA 188.8.131.52c, Part I. Crawford, Draft Memo to VC, 26 June 196, pp 3f.
22 UA 2002/12 Crawford 1[g] Freeman to Crawford, 15 February 1962, p. 3.
23 UA 184.108.40.206c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, pp. 3f.
24 The details that follow are given in UA 220.127.116.11c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5
July 1961; UA 18.104.22.168C Part I Inward cable from Australian High Commissioner
(Roden Cutler), Karachi to Department of External Affairs, for Sir John Crawford,
16 March 1961; UA 2002/12 Crawford 3, Freeman No 2 Message from Crawford
25 UA 22.214.171.124c Part I, Freeman to Crawford, 30 June 1961, p. 4
26 Narcissists are typically hostile to therapists because they cannot acknowledge that their perfect selves are flawed.
27 Freeman alleged that Trethowan’s confidential report was defamatory and threatened to sue (UA 2002/12, Crawford 3[d] Freeman File No 1, W. H. Trethowan to Crawford, 8 May 1961). He also threatened to go public with his complaint (UA 126.96.36.199c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, p 21). He accused Barnes and Cutler of “criminal negligence” for a discretionary decision concerning himself made in Karachi. He threatened to “ruin” their careers (UA 188.8.131.52c. Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, pp. 13, 14, 15; UA 2002/12, Crawford 1 Copy of hand written letter from Crawford to Peter [Heydon] [Secretary Department of External Affairs] “about 17 April 1961”). He demanded that the university establish a committee of inquiry to hear his complaint that Barnes did his reputation injury by ruling him out of order in a seminar discussion (UA 184.108.40.206c Part I, Vice Chancellor L. G. H. Huxley to J. J. Watling 26 May 1961). (The university acted on this complaint but the procedure was terminated on Freeman’s request after Crawford advised Mrs. Freeman that the result might be unfavorable). All of this occurred within three months of his return from Sarawak. Each case reveals a toxic punitive intent combined with spectacular misrecognition of institutional and legal realities. In presenting his accusations, Freeman always contrasted the expediency and compromise of the accused with his own resplendent moral integrity, enhanced as it was by his new insight into things as they are. Readers unfamiliar with the clinical literature of abnormal psychology may find it difficult to credit the combination of such certainty about phantom facts with otherwise normal functioning. But that combination is typical of narcissists. For an introduction to the expression of NPD in everyday life, see Vaknin 2003.
28 Such statements are numerous, but two addressed to Barnes are of particular note because they expressed Freeman’s wish to establish common ground with the colleague with whom he was most at odds. UA 220.127.116.11c Part I, Freeman to Barnes, 27 June 1961 and UA 2002/12 Crawford [c] Freeman File No 2, Freeman to Barnes, 3 August 1961. Judith Heimann stated that “[Derek believed that] he was always right, in the end, and awful things happened to people who opposed him, and that was God's justice” (Pers. comm., 5 February 2005).
29 UA 18.104.22.168c. Part I, Freeman to Barnes, 14 June 1961, p. 2. Barnes communicated these tidings to Crawford, UA 22.214.171.124c, Part II, Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, p. 15.
30 126.96.36.199c Part II Barnes to Crawford 5 July 1961, p. 10. Heimann looked carefully into this matter, questioning Museum staff and anthropological experts. None of her respondents shared Freeman’s assessment. On his visit to Kuching in 1962, Crawford viewed the artefacts and found nothing special about them, apart from their vulgaritys.
31 Freeman’s belief in the power of images was an enduring aspect of his psychology that manifest itself on numerous occasions, particularly in the final phase of the Samoa controversy, when he produced numerous images depicting his critics as confounded by his rebuttals. I hope to treat this theme in a separate article.
32 UA 2002/12, Crawford No 3, Derek Freeman, Confidential Report: Mr. Tom Harrisson and Research in Sarawak…., September 1961, p. 18; UA 2002/12, item  [b] Freeman No 3, Freeman to W. H. Trethowan 5 July 61, pp. 13ff.
33 UA 2002/12, Crawford No 3, Derek Freeman, Confidential Report: Mr. Tom Harrisson and Research in Sarawak…., September 1961, pp. 6-9.
34 UA 2002/12, item  [b] Freeman No 3, W. E. H. Stanner to Director, RSPS, 4 February 1962, p. 7.
35 The either—or formula is stated in Freeman’s letter to Carstairs, 14 June 1962, p. 2.
Derek Freeman Personal Files. University Archives, Australian National University. Canberra: Australia.
All material on this site is (c) copyright to the respective authors but may be copied or printed FOR PERSONAL USE.