For New Zealand and Sāmoa the First World War began in August 1914, when a New Zealand Expeditionary Force party landed in Apia and claimed the islands from Germany. Just over a century later, a shipping container and two Auckland Museum staff arrived in Apia – this time to work with the Museum of Sāmoa to tell the stories of this 'entangled' relationship.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum exhibition, Entangled Islands: Sāmoa, New Zealand and the First World War, was the first in a series of exhibitions commemorating the centenary. Recognising the importance of this shared history, Auckland Museum gifted the exhibition to the Museum of Sāmoa. Project manager Tanya Wilkinson travelled to Apia to help set up the exhibition in its new home. This is her second post in a series from Sāmoa.
Exploring the Museum of Sāmoa collection
Our week started with some fine tuning of the exhibition layout. Once we were happy with where everything was located, Grant started fixing the wall panels with the help of our great (and strong!) team Maleko and Ropati.
Working with Museum staff we have identified objects from their collection to add to the exhibition.
These include items such as silverware salvaged from two German warships which, along with another German ship and three American ships, were wrecked off the coast of Apia in a hurricane in March 1889. Over 150 lives were lost during this tragic event.
Other items which will be going on display include a cricket bat and ball from an important match played in November 1935 and a certificate awarded to Private R.E. Allen who served in the Sāmoan Reserve Forces in the First World War. There is also a booklet titled Samoa and its Story printed in 1914. It was collected by an American Navy Engineer, Jack Jennings, who was based in Sāmoa in World War II and annotated it with comments about what he saw and who he met while here.
Grant and Ropati started work setting up the audio visual equipment today, while that was happening Maleko and I began putting the object cases together.
On a shopping mission to get supplies, I found out that Maleko was in fact a professional trapeze artist and knife juggler! For more than a decade he had been part of a performance troupe that travelled the Pacific and in America, before Sāmoa called him home. He now works for the Ministry of Education maintaining schools all over Sāmoa, as well as helping out at the Museum when they need work done – luckily for us!
Measuring up to the job
The Museum is located next to a school and over past few days a growing number of curious students have started making an appearance to see what we are up to.
One in particular has become a regular visitor at lunch time and after school.
Fale Tolu has been testing out his maths skills helping measure up the spacing around graphics in the cases, and has been wonderful helping out with less glamourous jobs including helping clean down the gallery walls!
An object of interest
Other interesting objects are coming out of the woodwork. The owner of the hotel where we are staying turns out to be the President of the local RSA. Through his connections we have identified some items that may be included in the exhibition.
Over the course of the week there has been a steady stream of visitors calling in to see the Museum, including a lot of visitors from New Zealand. Even though the show is still being set up they are keen to see it and have been very interested in the exhibition content.
For some, the story of the relationship between Sāmoa and New Zealand over the past century is not that well known, and for others they have discovered links to their own relatives.
Almost in place
It's the end of day five and most of the show is up. It's time for the fiddly bits – mounting the electrical supply for the audio visuals, getting the last objects in place, making a few object mounts, hanging the Sāmoan flag and making the object labels. Still a bit to do, but it's coming together well!
Behind the scenes, a pile of invitations for the official opening on Monday are being addressed by the staff, ready to be hand delivered tomorrow.
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.