As part of our Pacific Collection Access Project, we've been bringing knowledge holders from 13 nations - from Kiribati to the Cook Islands - into our collection rooms to share their knowledge about these treasures.
By tearing down the walls and allowing communities to re-connect with these objects, we’ve uncovered a wealth of stories about their provenance, traditional use and the fine craftsmanship involved in creating these taonga. But, that’s just a small part of the whole project.
We talk to Community Facilitator Barbara Afitu to get the bigger picture…
1. How did the project come about?
One of the main drivers for the Pacific Collection Access Project (PCAP) was the publication of “Future Museum”, a strategic plan that put our collections and audiences at the centre of everything we do. A big part of this strategic plan was breaking down the doors and opening up our collection via the web and through outreach programmes like PCAP. This was further kicked along by a large gallery renewal project, because it became clear to us that we needed to know more about the collection.
2. What particular challenges were there in collecting stories about these objects?
Because this is an entirely new project there was no road map for us to follow; instead we've had to feel our way, so we came across a number of hurdles. For me, I think it boils down to three major challenges, the first being that these stories are themselves taonga. I felt an incredible responsibility as a Moana Pacific descendent myself to ensure that this oral history is protected. The second problem we encountered was finding knowledge holders in New Zealand. To tap into the great reservoirs of knowledge that a community holds, we asked the community to nominate knowledge holders, though unfortunately sometimes these masters are living in the islands. Sadly, too, many knowledge holders have passed away. The third challenge we faced as a team was building trust in a community.
3. What have been some of the highlights so far?
I think the most emotional moment was when our Cook Island knowledge holders, Mama Mary and Mama Kimi and Papa William taught us the song, “Mou Piri” for them during the close of the Akairo A Te Taunga. That said, each day is emotional, and each day brings its new delights.
4. What is your typical day like as part of the PCAP team?
Each day is different – our team are doing the ‘mahi’ – conservation, documenting, finding innovative and creative solutions for storage, while we are hosting our lovely visitors and surprise guests!
5. What are some of the most-satisfying parts of the project?
I truly feel honoured to be re-connecting these communities with these taonga – some of whom live within 10 minutes of the Museum, though they have never thought to come in here because they felt there was nothing that related to them. Many of these people have not seen or heard of these taonga – so for them to lay eyes on the objects that their ancestors made is incredibly powerful. One of the most beautiful moments was when one of our Kuki Knowledge Holders picked up a ‘pate’ which hadn’t been touched by a Kuki hand for over 120 years and was gifted a chant! That was so beautiful and so incredibly moving.
6. In what way do you think this is changing the nature of Auckland Museum’s relationships with communities and challenging the status quo?
This should be the status quo – as kaitiaki of their taonga we have to ensure we activate the ‘va’ for these descendants to connect/reconnect with their taonga. I would love to challenge other Museums to change their policy and make community engagement the norm in truly honouring the way we all Teu le Va
7. How is digital technology changing the flow and exchange of information about these cultural treasures in your mind?
Being able to share our taonga online stimulates so much korero and connection. For example, Fijians from anywhere in the world will be able to search on our AM website for Saqa ni wai
. This is a Fijian water pot that we knew very little about. However, after speaking with our Fijian knowledge holders, we found out how it was traditionally made, how its earthen colour pinpoints its origin to clay-country and how it was filled by submerging it in water.
Below is a smattering of some of the conversations that have been happening online.
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.