Herbert Ian Fetaiai Bartley, Te Papa Audience Engagement Facilitator writes: Working at Te Papa for 5 years, I still get really excited visiting the Pacific Collection Store room. Each time, I always spot something I have never seen before and ask our knowledgeable Pacific Cultures team loads of questions. A lot of the conversations I’ve had with the team have been really empowering. The history and stories our taonga hold, have really helped me value and reflect on my own museum/Pacific Collection at home.
We all have treasures, each with their own history, significance and importance. Here are a few things that I have acquired, been gifted, purchased or in the case of my Dad’s shirts, taken.
This huge and very unique tapa was given to my Mum from my Aunty Faitete on my first ever trip to Samoa and my parent’s first trip back together. All the tapa was stored under the mattress on the bed I slept on so I remember my Aunty pulling them all out and asking my Mum to choose one. Initially, Mum politely declined but she reluctantly had to accept the offer. They were all really stunning with really intricate designs, but Mum chose the simplest one and my least favourite at the time. It now hangs in my living area and I cannot go anywhere without it.
I was such a sook as a kid and remember one Sunday morning loudly sobbing over something which was traumatic at the time but of course now forgotten, in the middle of the kitchen at my grandparent’s house. My Granddad quickly distracted me by grabbing a coconut shell within reach and proceeding to colour the inside of it with a blue and red vivid marker. He then carved a line along the outer part of the shell and tightly bound a string around this indention. Granddad tugged the string and like magic he had made a spinning top! The top endlessly swirled a purple magic on the kitchen table. I was instantly entranced and amazed and of course forgot whatever I had been sobbing about.
These retro shirts are two of many items I have pilfered and reclaimed from the dark side of Dad’s closet. Both from Hawaii, from what I know, these are gifts from my Great Aunt Ane from her holiday in Hawaii in the mid 70’s. The white one is almost like a Hawaiian Dashiki, with its kitschy Hawaiian tiki print and the other, a cream colour, has Maori Kowhaiwhai patterns on it though it’s made in Hawaii. I always imagine my Dad wearing both these shirts with his Bony M styled fro, drinking straight Chivas Regal Whiskey with his boys while jamming his Five Star records. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I bought the first doll, on the left from The Salvation Army Family Store in Petone. It was in immaculate condition at time, her Masi outfit wasn’t torn as it is now. I thought I would have to pay at least five dollars for her. Upon taking it up to the counter, the sales clerk looked at it very dismissively and priced her at 50 cents. “It’s scary and hideous” the clerk remarked. I gave her a $1.00 for it; she was worth every cent and more! She reminded me of Manu from the TV show Play School and I had just read Sia Figiel’s They who do not grieve, a Samoan story with fascinating female characters. I named her Malu after the main character. This was the first of many Pacific objects I started collecting from op shops over the years, I often wonder about the lost stories of their provenance and how they came to be donated. The items I have collected vary and range from unwanted holiday souvenirs to discarded Pacific themed costumes.
The second doll was acquired at The Family Store in Newtown just this year. Still in her bag and priced at $2.00, I noticed that dolls of similar quality of another ethnicity were priced at $5.00, 150% more than what I paid. While I made a saving, I do wonder how this pricing was decided.
Look around you! What do you have in your museum?