Te Papa staff Grace Hutton, Humanities Collection Manager, Sean Mallon, Senior Curator of Pacific Histories & Cultures and Rachel Yates, Curator of Pacific Cultures guided our small group, giving us a privileged insight into some rare items in the Pacific collection collected by early visitors or gifted by families representing many ethnic groups living in NZ today.

Sean brought craft making alive and individual family stories of their crafts. Heirlooms have been passed down through generations that have gifting ceremonial uses and Sean shared delightful insights and amusing backgrounds of the families whom many of these items originally belonged to.

We viewed a formidable collection of Pacific 18th century clubs including from the Marquesas Tonga, a staff club gifted to Sir Robert Muldoon from Tahiti, and spears and fishing nets of the Cook Islands and Kiribas.

A highlight was a finely woven and rare pandanus (cloth) from Samoa, with edging of red Sega (parrot) feathers it was gifted from a prominent Samoan historian. Sega feathers were traded throughout Samoa and today these mats are not of the same quality. The gift can be ceremonial, for love, death, or remorse, and many family stories abound.

A 1915 woven pith helmet from Tuvalu, with feathers woven into a backing of fine net fibers was shown along with a hand stitched Tongan marriage tivaevae (patchwork quilt) interpreting the hibiscus flower from the Cook Islands. Tivaevaes were, and still are, made in groups.

Beautifully made Hawaiian cloaks worn by chiefs that are over 200 years old, with fine feather work woven on to netting was another highlight.  We were also shown modern clothing such as the dress “Bambi goes Siva” designed by James Leuli.

The impact of other nationalities, can be seen in the names through intermarriage, and the injection of cultures into the changing Samoan way of life. For example the police force marched to German music.

The final joy was to see sherds from the Lapita peoples (circa 3000 BC).  Many archaeologists have now traced their influence from migration throughout the Pacific.   My thoughts recalled a wonderful week as private guests in 1979 staying with the Chieftain and his extended family in the village of Milne Bay in the Trobriand Islands.

In the evening we talked, learning of the strong oral history passed down through the generations, and family stories, such as local plant medicinal practice the chieftain was famous for using in the region.  Stories of sorcery, and although practicing Christians, they told of their practice of ancient beliefs as well. The practice of planting by the moon, the knowledge of the sea currents and stars, were all such an interesting and spiritual experience and insight.  These stories were told while preparing and cooking their evening meal in their fine beautiful Missima pots over an open fire.

Their stories of the ancient Lapita people using their remarkable sailing skills as forerunners of trading in the Pacific over the centuries, meant bringing many various Pacific island peoples together forever changing the ethnic complexity of the region. These experiences bring alive for me the legends behind the sherds of the ancient Lapita people.

Penelope Klap, Friends Member