Tenei au, e tu nei
hei hono-nga, ki nga waa o ona-mata,
tae noa ki tenei waa tonu
ki te whaka-puta i nga uri whaka-tipu
ki te whai ao ki Te Ao Marama…..
No reira tena koutou katoa
I stand before you here today Giving all of myself In honouring those that have come before Honouring those that are here today While we prepare for the future and the generations to come
The statement above is the second half of the mihi my colleague Toluma‘anave Barbara Makuati- Afitu delivers when she’s introducing herself. While written for her, these sentiments speak for many of us in the Pacific Collection Access Project (PCAP) at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum about the work we’re undertaking together. Reader, we love our project; what PCAP has the potential to be, the constant learning curves, and its positive reception from enthusiastic Auckland-based Pacific communities thus far.
To introduce who ‘We’ are, and what ‘Our Project’ is, we are a core team of eight: a project manager, a trio of cataloguers (including myself), a community engagement facilitator (Barbara), two storage specialists, and a conservation expert with more than 30 years of experience working with Pacific collections. Naturally, our Pacific Collection curators advise and work with us closely. Auckland Museum’s Pacific Collection is considered world class, holding over 30,000 objects. For the next three years we’ll be cataloguing, carrying out conservation work, as well as creating safe and accessible storage for 5,000+ of those objects. This segment represents the collections we hold for the following island groupings several of which have strong established communities in Auckland: the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Hawai’i, Kiribati, Niue, Pitcairn Island, Rapa Nui, Sāmoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna.
PCAP’s mission is three-fold:
- improve knowledge and understanding of the Museum’s Pacific collection
- improve the safety of the Pacific collection
- increase the public access and engagement, especially for Pacific source communities, with the Museum and its Pacific collection
It’s that third aspect of partnership and collaboration that sets our project apart from others currently underway at the Museum and that directly influences our approach to our work in a manner unprecedented for this institution at least.
“I read so much more [into this project and have] so much hope – this organisation was asking for community to be at the table from the START, they understood the importance of co-creating and co-developing the kaupapa together – they understand how to ‘Teu le Vā’ and most importantly they recognised that these expert cultural knowledge holders WERE the community.” – Barbara Afitu, Community Engagement Facilitator, PCAP.
Our community engagement practices aim to live the Samoan maxim “Teu le Vā” (‘Nurture the relationship’ teu, beautify, cherish, nurture. Vā, or Va tapuia, refers to the sacred relational spaces that exist between entities). The concept manifests in several ways. We are seeking out the expertise of cultural knowledge holders and incorporating Pacific languages and the indigenous terms for objects, techniques and materials into the Museum’s collection management database. We are connecting with Pacific groups and inviting them to visit and are using culturally appropriate protocol when hosting them. Each Island nation/group is invited to create their own unique identity for their time in the project by creating a name in their own language. We have a display case adjacent to the project workspace where we are co-curating displays with Pacific community members that include artists selecting and interpreting works from our collection or producing works inspired by the collection.
Close to 700 people have passed through our doors to date. These are significant numbers and the interest generated has been remarkable considering the fact the project only started in May and we’re still on our first group collection, for the Cook Islands, which goes by the name ‘Akairo a te Taunga’. The name means ‘Marks of the Expert’ and was given to us by Mama Mary Ama and Papa William Hakaoro, two of the knowledge holders we’ve been working with on the Cook Islands collection.
A range of feedback received thus far:
- Some of our Mamas and Papas have lived in Auckland for over 60 years and this was their first visit to the museum – thank you for making it so enjoyable and for hosting us so well
- Seeing these taunga has made me so emotional – I haven’t seen this since I was a toddler and it makes me so emotional coz it reminds me of my grandmother and my mother
- How do we get more Pacific people into museum careers?
- This collection belongs to ‘us’ and we understand that now – you are guardians caring for our collection so we can have it available for another 100 years
- I never thought the Museum had anything relevant to me or my family but now that I have seen this I will bring my grandchildren to visit
- I am in awe that our ancestors made this kind of beauty with limited resources – fascinating and humbling
With the rewards have come several challenges as we progress through this project. For instance we continue having to revise our timeline because we keep finding taunga that weren’t previously on the Vernon CMS generated list. They might have been misattributed to the wrong island or were labeled under General Pacific, or simply have no attached information at all. These frequent additions might be seen as setting us back in terms of workload but as taunga continue to make themselves known, it’s satisfying to get them reactivated and rescued from storage limbo.
This project has opened talanoa (conversations), emotions, pride and learnings and to think we are only at the beginning. This is truly becoming an endeavour of partnership, of how to mutually engage and lead to so much discovery.
Leone Samu Tui with Toluma‘anave Barbara Afitu-Makuati
The Pacific Collection Access Project is one of several ‘Collections Readiness’ projects under Future Museum, the 20-year strategic plan for Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum. At the present time, similar projects across Human History, Natural History, Documentary Heritage collections as well as renewal of all the permanent galleries have commenced or are due to begin.