NAI YAU VAKAVITI:NA KA MAREQETI – Nai Talanoa Kei na Veiwasei


Written by Dr. Tarisi Vunidilo on behalf of Joana Monolagi & Alipate Traill

In 2016, the team spearheading the Pacific Collections Access Project (PCAP) at Auckland Museum approached a select group of people in Auckland’s Fijian community to bring a cultural richness to the collection. Our job over the past year was to look over 1,500 objects within the Museum's collection and share the stories of how the objects were crafted, named and used in traditional society and today.  

This was a calling of the highest order.  The three of us (Tarisi Vunidilo, Joana Monolagi and Alipate Traill) were to work with key knowledge holders of the Fijian community in Auckland to record relevant stories for the museum archives. 

Knowledge holder Alipate Traill helps to enrich our knowledge of one of the 1500 objects held in our Fijian collection. One of the tasks required by the team was to name the PCAP Project with a Fijian title. Eventually the team came up with the title 'Nai Yau Vakaviti: Na Ka Mareqeti' which translates as 'Our Fijian Treasures, That Are Treasured'.

Knowledge holders Dr. Tarisi Vunidilo and Joana Monolagi share a joke.

Golden moments

Golden moments

During the one year project, there were three particular highlights - Fijian Language Week, the Rotuman Community Celebrations and one of the first Knowledge Holder sessions on mat weaving. 

The first highlight I wanted to touch on was the launch of PCAP on Fijian Language Week on October 1st, 2016. We worked alongside Auckland’s Fijian Community to deliver a program that would fulfil two key outputs:  to launch the PCAP Fijian Collections Project and to launch the Fijian Language Week, hosted by Tāmaki Paenga Hira and co-sponsored by the Ministry of Pacific Peoples and supported by the Pasifika Education Centre (PEC). 

This event was well attended and coincided with the Fijian Community Leaders Workshop also held at the museum. Piggy-backing on this pre-arranged workshop enabled key Fijian community leaders from across New Zealand to be part of the PCAP Program. They, in turn, became advocates of our program, which helped to draw over 1,000 visitors into the museum to view our Fijian treasures over the last 12 months.

Welcoming new groups

Welcoming new groups

Another highlight was the inclusion of the Rotuman Community in our cultural celebrations. One of the strategies we developed as a group was to invite the three confederacies that make up Fiji. Historically, Fiji is made up of the Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata confederacies (matanitu). Each matanitu becomes an umbrella of 5 provinces, one of which is Rotuma. Reviewing the Fijian collections, we had become aware that Rotuman treasures were also labelled as Fijian. Instead of clustering them under Fiji, we could, as a group, decide to give Rotuma the attention it deserves. Otherwise, they would always be perceived primarily as a minority cultural group of Fiji.

The Rotuma Day saw around 150 Rotumans, most of whom live in Auckland, attend this special day. It was an eventful day of cultural sharing that included a 45-minute cultural performance of singing and dancing by a troupe New Zealand-born Rotumans.  It was a sight to behold! They brought life and the sounds of drums and laughter to the museum. 

They brought with them cultural artefacts, including Rotuman fine mats, baskets, coconut graters and fans. They also came bearing traditional Rotuman food, which provided museum staff with a taste of the richness of their culinary arts. Everyone took the opportunity to visit the museum basement collections as well as the PCAP room, where selected Rotuman artefacts were on display. At the end of this special day, Fesaitu Solomone led the discussions of Rotuman history, supported by Mrs. Faga Mosese and her husband Pastor Ravai Mosese.

Beyond the walls 

The three Fijian Confederacy Days (Kubuna Day, Burebasaga Day and Tovata Day), saw many Fijian families - some of which spanned three generations - attend these special days. 

Fijians are very patriotic people, so cultural days are one of the most effective ways of inviting them into the museum space. Any events that include family lineage or highlight maternal links (vasu) tend to attract Fijians to attend. One of the other discoveries we made was the power of social media to put the word out and help to share these stories beyond the walls. 
We were so thankful that we were able to help bring a great many Fijian families into the museum to view their ancestral treasures. 

Over the year, we have spent hundreds of hours looking at over 1,500 objects from pineapple clubs to kava bowls. The experience of researching and documenting these Fijian artefacts has enriched our lives in so many ways. During the journey, we have shared our back-room experiences; the sights, the learnings, and the stories with our families, and they too have deepened their own knowledge of Fijian culture.

Collection Technician Leone Samu holds up one of the Fijian treasures.

Woven treasures

Woven treasures

The last highlight I would like to touch on was the first session which involved looking over woven mats, baskets and fans. Mrs. Kulaya Vukicea expanded our knowledge through sharing her weaving skills; from the gathering of raw materials such as coconut fronds, pandanus leaves or bark of wild hibiscus, to the final process of mat weaving. 

She also named the different parts of a basket, and noted the use of various types of fans for the weaving of numerous mat designs. While discussing the use of fans in dancing, she broke into a dance accompanied by a melodious tune of a Fijian meke that she recalled dancing to when she was a young girl. 

Similar spontaneous experiences occurred during the follow up workshops that covered masi. Mrs. Railala Gade Gaunavou (pictured) shared her experience of learning how to make masi while growing up on the island of Moce, in Lau Province. Mr. Fotu Waqabaca shared his knowledge and skills in the field of wood carvings, since he is originally from Kabara Island in the Lau group – a group of people who specialise in the manufacturing of wooden materials, including kava bowls.  The research on the tabua (whale’s tooth) was incredibly fascinating, as well as the workshop on stone tools and pottery work. 

We are forever grateful for the opportunity to provide a link between the Fijian community in Auckland with many Fijians from around the world. The use of social media has expanded our network of interested Fijians wanting to learn more about their own history through museum collections. We anticipate an increase in numbers of Fijian museum visitors in the months and years to come and look forward to enriching the lives of New Zealand Fijians as they take that journey in discovering more about their culture and heritage.

From Joana Monolagi, Alipate Traill and I, vinaka vakalevu for supporting us on this amazing cultural journey -  Vinaka vakalevu sara na yalo ni veitokoni kei na veivakayaloqaqataki. Vinaka vakalevu na noda cuqena me maroroi vinaka na noda I yau maroroi. Nai Yau Vakaviti:Na Ka Mareqeti!