Exchanging Knowledge about Pacific material culture

In September I ran a Knowledge Exchange workshop as part of National Museums Scotland’s national programme. The workshop ‘An Introduction to Pacific Collections’ was aimed at other museum and heritage professionals in Scotland who care for Pacific collections. This event was one of the outcomes of our Pacific collections in Scottish Museums project. It was an opportunity to share the knowledge I have been developing since beginning the project in April 2013. The event was a one day workshop where attendees could learn about identifying, caring for, displaying and interpreting Pacific material culture.

We began the workshop with an overview of the project, followed by an introduction to the type of material and the cultural areas likely to be found represented in Scottish collections. This information was based on trends which became apparent in the course of reviewing the four project partner collections although of course there will always be surprising artefacts hidden in collections too. I then took everyone around the Facing the Sea Gallery at National Museums Scotland. For any readers who haven’t had a chance to visit the museum, this gallery provides an insight into Pacific culture through display of artefacts from across the region. I talked through different subjects ranging from the concept of mana, the reasons for making and collecting boat models, and changing ideas about how Kiribati coconut fibre armour was be worn.

Looking at the Kiribati coconut fibre armour on display at national Museums Scotland

Looking at the Kiribati coconut fibre armour on display at national Museums Scotland


I took the opportunity to pause at one of my favourite parts of the gallery – a display of fishhooks from all over the Pacific which is great for showing the types of materials used, the variety of distinct styles and the workmanship that went into them. I had also brought some handling materials along for everyone to study and think about styles and materials. We wrapped up the morning with a discussion about collections care, hazards, and considerations when working with secret or sacred material. We discussed cultural considerations in more depth through a case study in which I invited everyone to imagine they had a mask in their collections that was men’s business and that women could not look at or touch. I asked how everyone would approach such an item if it needed to be moved and only a female member of collections staff was available.

After lunch we got into groups to discuss some artefacts which I had invited everyone to bring with them. We had fun trying to figure out where some unprovenanced items in the collection from the Falconer Museum in Forres, near Aberdeen, were from (only one was Pacific!) This was an opportunity to explore what great collections other Scottish museums and archives have.

Discussing some of the mystery artefacts from the Falconer Museum in Forres

Discussing some of the mystery artefacts from the Falconer Museum in Forres


I had then planned an activity to get people thinking about tourist pieces, authenticity and the way items were made for trade. I wanted to show how you might differentiate artefacts as ‘authentic’ but also encourage everyone to think about the notion of authenticity. There are often interesting stories to be told about trade pieces or items that incorporate designs or materials from outside the local community. It can be easy to forget that trade items for a European market were being made right from the point of contact as communities, as you would expect, took the opportunity to engage in exchange transactions. I had taken three hei tiki pendants from the museum stores – one a beautifully carved early example from the late 18th century, another a well made but possibly for trade item from the early 20th century, and the third a plastic version bought in the 1990s. I had also brought along two flesh forks, often called cannibal forks, from Fiji. These were both rather oversized unused items – one late 19th century bought by Constance Gordon Cumming and the other a roughly made piece from the mid-20th century.
Workshop attendees discussing issues of authenticity of artefacts

Workshop attendees discussing issues of authenticity of artefacts

The final part of the day involved a presentation from Pat Allan, project partner and Curator of World Cultures at Glasgow Museums. I invited Pat to speak about working with communities and I ended the session with a film of Marshallese poet and writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner reading her moving poem ‘Tell them’. I have shared the link previously and you can find that video here on Kathy’s blog. I wanted to illustrate the contemporary stories which we can tell through our collections such as the massive impact of climate change. It can be easy for museums with 19th century collections to focus on the past but it is important to acknowledge the contemporary nature of every culture.

The knowledge exchange workshop has been developed into a resource entitled Introduction to Pacific collections. This is one of the core outcomes from the Pacific Collections in Scottish Museums project and will be available online from the 25th November 2014 at www.nms.ac.uk/pacific

– Eve

Mysterious tribute to a Hawaiian Princess

While checking over the galleries at National Museum of Scotland this morning we were intrigued and excited to find two anthirium flowers and a photograph placed on the plinth beside the large Cook Islands feast bowl on display.

Feast bowl from the Cook Islands in the Grand Gallery of National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Feast bowl from the Cook Islands in the Grand Gallery of National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh


They were accompanied by a message in red ink reading:
‘In memory of Dear Friend of Titaua Whom spent family gatherings in Anstruther – Princess Victoria Kaiulani Cleghorn – (16.10.1875 – 6.3.1899) For the deep kinship between the Pacific Princesses’
Tribute to Princess Kaiulani placed beside the feast bowl on the day of her birthday in 1875 - the16th October

Tribute to Princess Kaiulani placed beside the feast bowl on the day of her birthday in 1875 – the16th October


Princess Kaiulani was part of the Hawaiian royal family and daughter of a Scottish man Archibald Cleghorn and Princess Likelike of Hawaii. During the 1890s she spent time in Scotland with the Tahitian Princess Titaua who at that time lived in the Scottish fishing town of Anstruther. The feast bowl next to which the tribute was placed is part of a larger collection at the museum which belonged to Princess Titaua. This particular piece was originally gifted to her in 1871 by Parua, the high chief of Atiu in the Cook Islands.
Princess Titaua was the daughter of an English man and the sister of Queen Pomare IV of Tahiti. Queen Pomare IV adopted Titaua in accordance with a Tahitian custom and gave her the royal name of Tetuanui-reia-ite-raiatea. At fourteen Titaua married Scottish trader John Brander. Following his death, she married Brander’s business associate, a Scottish businessman named George Darsie. In 1892 they retired to Darsie’s hometown of Anstruther.

National Museums Scotland recently acquired a Jour Apres Jour Book (Birthday Book) which belonged to Princess Titaua Darsie. It contains a number of signatures, as was the practice of registering a signature on the appropriate birthday. The book reveals further people within Titaua’s network and adding to her important collection.

Jour apres Jour book whihc previously belonged to Princess Titaua of Tahiti

Jour apres Jour book which previously belonged to Princess Titaua of Tahiti

Collections, Collaborations and Communities

The 2014 Museum Ethnographers Group conference was held last week at the University of Aberdeen. The conference topic of ‘Collections, Collaborations and Communities’ brought together speakers from the UK and elsewhere, and from different disciplines, including curators, artists, academics, and other museum professionals.

Some of the speakers shared their experiences of working with communities whether that is a community local to a museum, or source communities that may be more geographically distant. The discussions around community engagement often came back to questions of who should guide a project when a museum works in collaboration – is a project more effective if a community approaches an institution with a need, or should a museum form a project for a perceived need and then flexibly map that into reality? This tied in to another recurring theme of the conference: communication. There was a clear agreement of the importance of communication to working in collaboration.

The subject of ‘knowledge’ arose throughout the conference – questions were raised over how one defines knowledge, who holds knowledge, and how we share it? At times more specific questions were asked such as ‘how do you display sensory knowledge?’ It seems collaboration is often about different individuals or groups bringing different knowledge to the table. In an ideal situation the equation for collaboration might read: knowledge + knowledge= increased knowledge and understanding.

Eve Haddow presenting to the Museum Ethnographers Group conference 2014 on the Pacific Collections Review project. Photo courtesy of Chris McHugh.

Eve Haddow presenting to the Museum Ethnographers Group conference 2014 on the Pacific Collections Review project. Photo courtesy of Chris McHugh.


I presented a paper at the conference focussed on the Pacific Collections Review project. It was an opportunity to share some of our work with collections over the past year. I reflected on the value of working in partnership with other museums, particularly in terms of exchanging knowledge and looking at networks of objects. I also presented the ways in which we have been trying to connect with different communities, whether that community is the Scottish Museum community, a Pacific island community, a research community, etc. Finally I considered the potential legacy of this project and the types of communities for whom we hope it will have impact.

In addition to the papers delivered at the two day conference, delegates had the opportunity to visit the University of Aberdeen Museums collections centre and the Fiji exhbition currently on at King’s Museum. We also all enjoyed dancing at a Scottish ceilidh!
You can find out more about the Museum Ethnnographers Group here: http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk/en/

– Eve

Life histories: the Reverend James and Mrs Emma Hadfield collection

Chantal has written a blog about an exhibition at the Museum of New Caledonia which has told the story of the Reverend James Hadfield and Mrs Emma Hadfield, and their 40 years as missionaries in the Loyalty Islands. This exhibition included 13 artefacts from National Museums Scotland’s Hadfield collections. Read more here:

http://feastbowl.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/life-histories-the-reverend-james-and-mrs-emma-hadfield-collection/

Pacific Presences conference & workshop

All images courtesy of Chris McHugh, Artist and Researcher at University of Sunderland – With thanks

Chantal and I have just returned from a 2 day conference and workshop at Cambridge University as part of the Pacific Presences: Oceanic Art and European Museums research project. This five year project, funded by the European Research Council, involves research of Pacific collections in museums across Europe.

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge


Following an opening conference dinner held in Corpus Christi College the first day of the conference included presentations from international speakers from Norway, Palau, New Zealand, Hawai’i and New Caledonia as well as papers from the project team and those affiliated with the project in the UK. The conference culminated in a panel discussion that looked at the role of cultural heritage in the Pacific, the dispersal of collections, and on-going work to facilitate community access to collections.
One of the conference Q&A sessions featuring Nicholas Thomas (Director of Museums of Archaeology and Anthropology ,University of Cambridge) and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (Head of Arts and Visual Culture, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

One of the conference Q&A sessions featuring Nicholas Thomas (Director of Museums of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (Head of Arts and Visual Culture, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)


In the evening was a performance at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) by Michael Mel from the Western Highlands province of Papua New Guinea. Michael is a performance artist, teacher and writer and is currently an Associate Professor in Indigenous Art and Education at the University of Goroka. His performance involved Ali Clark of the Pacific Presences project and Anita Herle, Senior Curator for World Anthropology at MAA. It was a moving piece that took place in the world cultures gallery. It commented on the place of both people from Papua New Guinea and their cultural heritage in European museums. As well as reflecting on the complex and sometimes difficult history of the European relationship with Papua New Guinea, the performance revealed something of the issues facing the country today.
Michael Mel performing in the gallery at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with Senior Curator Anita Herle

Michael Mel performing in the gallery at Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with Senior Curator Anita Herle


We had the opportunity afterwards to view ‘Tapa: Barkcloth paintings from the Pacific’, an exhibition of barkcloth including historical pieces from the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. There were two contemporary works by women of the Omie community of Papua New Guinea, acquired in 2012 with the support of the Art Fund.

The workshop on the second day focused on recent collections research carried out on material in some of the museums involved in the Pacific Presences project. I was particularly interested in a paper by Elena Gover of Australia National University looking at tahi poniu neck ornaments of wood decorated with abrus seeds from the Marquesas Islands as there is one of these in the collection at National Museum Scotland. I also found a paper given by Maia Nuku of the Pacific Presences project focused on material from Nauru a small island in Micronesia fascinating. Maia opened her presentation with a video of Marshallese poet and writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner reading her moving poem ‘Tell them’. You can find that video here on Kathy’s blog: http://jkijiner.wordpress.com/video-poems/

This conference gave us an opportunity to find out more about the Pacific Presences project and ongoing international work with Pacific material. It also gave us a chance to consider the place of collections held in Scottish museums in the context of a much wider network of people, places and things.

You can find out more about the Pacific Presences project here: http://pacificpresences.org/

– Eve

Fiji, Scotland and the Making of Empire: A special exhibition at Kings Museum, University of Aberdeen

Suspension hook carved as paired female figures, from Tonga/Fiji, late 18th/early 19th century- Aberdeen University Museums collection

Suspension hook carved as paired female figures, from Tonga/Fiji, late 18th/early 19th century- Aberdeen University Museums collection

Aberdeen University Museums, who are one of the core partners in the Pacific collections review project, currently have a fantastic exhibition Fiji, Scotland and the Making of Empire. The exhibition is at Kings Museum, situated on campus at University of Aberdeen, and runs until the 23rd of May and entry is FREE. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/exhibitions/4504/

It is an unmissable opportunity to see the University museum’s stellar collection from Fiji. The exhibition is a collaborative endeavour of the University of Aberdeen Museums and the Fijian Art project. Fijian Art is a major research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and based at the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, and the University of Cambridge. It aims to promote public awareness and appreciation of Britain’s internationally significant collections of Fijian Art.

As part of the exhibition program, there have been three special posts on the University of Aberdeen Museums blog which you can read here:

http://uoamuseums.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/connections-fiji-and-scotland/

http://uoamuseums.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/meet-the-gordons/

http://uoamuseums.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/connections-past-and-present/

On Tuesday 8th April, 7.30 -9pm, there will be a free public lecture at Kings Museum entitled Collecting Fiji: Gordon, MacGregor and the Aberdeen connection delivered by Professor Steven Hooper of the University of East Anglia. Professor Hooper is the Director of the Sainsbury Research Unit, Principal Investigator for the Fijian Art Research Project and Co-curator of King’s Museum current exhibition. More details here http://www.abdn.ac.uk/museums/events/4834/

– Eve