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

A trial review: Looking at Hawaiian collections in National Museums Scotland

Although we’ve only recently gone live with this site, the Pacific Collections Review project actually started at the beginning of April this year. Needless to say a lot more has happened over the past 5 months than I can fit into one blog post but I thought I would share a little about one aspect of the collections I have reviewed so far. The idea of the review is to give an overview of different groups of objects at each of the four partner museums and also to highlight some areas for further research. Following research of other collections review approaches e.g. UCL’s toolkit and that used for the Egyptology collection at Salford Museum and Art Gallery presented in the ‘What’s in Store? Collections review in the North West’ publication, I have formulated a review method to fit the aims and timescale of this project.

In order to ensure this methodology was suitable to be taken forward, it was decided to test it on the collection from the Hawaiian Islands held at National Museums Scotland (NMS). This collection numbers 98 objects, a third of which are status objects. Most of the material was collected in the late 18th and early 19th century. Among the items are eight objects believed to be collected on Captain Cook’s third voyage (1776-9), such as this figure carving, or akua ka’ai:
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Some of the most striking objects in the Hawaiian collection are the feather cloaks and capes (ahu’ula). Different types of feathers were collected from native birds to make ahu’ula. Those composed of red and yellow feathers were associated with the highest chiefs. Yellow signified political power and red was the colour associated with the sacred. These are two of the seven ahu’ula in the NMS collection:

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I was particularly struck by the barkcloth or tapa (kapa) as Hawaiian examples are very distinctive. There are 28 pieces of kapa at NMS. Earlier tapa tended to be thicker with bold, more free-hand patterns such as this example:

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At NMS there are examples of tapa collected on Cook’s third voyage as well as several pieces collected on Captain Beechey’s voyage on HMS Blossom which visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1825-6. One of the pieces from Beechey’s voyage is actually 4 pieces sewn together:
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It seems it was common in the 19th century for collectors (and possibly those working in museums?) to cut sections from a large sheet of tapa to be inserted into books, exchanged as samples and suchlike. There are several pieces from which samples have clearly been cut at some point such as this piece, also collected by Captain Beechey:

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Today, the thought of a collector or curator slicing up a textile in this way would strike fear in the heart of many working in museums, but it appears at one point it was perfectly acceptable. That part of the tapa’s history now becomes another part of the story it tells.

– Eve