Pacific curator Rachel Yates introduces a co-collecting project that took Te Papa to Tokelau’s three low-lying coral atolls in the South Pacific to document the effects of climate change.
The practice of museum collecting is constantly changing, and questions of authority are critical – the what, who, where, and why something is collected are ongoing.
For the NZ History and Pacific Cultures teams at Te Papa, co-collecting is a curatorial practice that has allowed us to work closely with our communities, and aims to enable them to have greater authority over the stories representing their lives and experiences. At its core, it works from the understanding that communities themselves know best how to tell their stories.
To date, we have acquired a number of taonga (collection objects) into the collection as a result of co-collecting initiatives. Te Papa has worked alongside Chamorro people in Guam, Tongan communities in Auckland, indigenous aloha shirt makers from Hawai‘i, and, most recently in 2017, communities in Tokelau.
- Artists’ hands: messages from Chamorro artists of Guåhan
- Countering stereotypes through co-collecting with Tongan youth
- Collecting the spirit of Hawai‘i through aloha shirts
Tokelau and representing climate change
Project IKA was a co-collecting project that took place on the three atolls of Atafu, Fakaofo, and Nukunonu in 2017. Named ‘ika’, the Tokelau word for fish, it is also an acronym for the climate change themes explored: Innovation, Indigenous Knowledge, and Atoll life.
Te Papa acquired over 250 taonga from Project IKA. They include physical and digital taonga, revealing a myriad of local experiences, and efforts on the ground to tackle climate related challenges.
In July 2017, I traveled with Paula Faiva (Climate Change Manager) to Tokelau to present the concept of co-collecting climate change. After rigorous discussion and negotiations, each taupulega (village council) agreed to recruit co-collectors for the project.
Our co-collectors were Adeline Tehumu from Fakaofo, Atonio Tuia, Patrick Alofosio, and Ioakimi Senio from Nukunonu, and Le Naponita Lepaio, Siniva Kalolo, and Samaria Koropaga from Atafu.
In September 2017, phase two ensued and our co-collectors made the trip from Tokelau to Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. This brought co-collectors together with key Te Papa staff for a week of workshops and talanoa (discussion).
There was copious talk about connection to culture, its preservation, and access for future generations. Throughout our shared time at the museum, a sense of urgency was felt by all. Talanoa sessions highlighted concerns of cultural loss accelerated by climate change.
Co-collector Ioakimi Senio reflected that ‘lots of people come and take photos of atoll life, but we want to learn how to take photos of ourselves’.
Digital taonga was identified as both a valuable tool to both help document the geography of Tokelau, and an asset to help people engage with their stories.
From this suggestion, we secured the services of Sāmoan photographer Andrew Matautia, who met the group in Aotearoa New Zealand, and shared his knowledge about photography and visual design.
Our seven co-collectors went back to Tokelau thinking about how objects could tell their stories, but also how they could tell their stories through image.
On Te Papa’s follow up trip to Tokelau a few months later, staff worked alongside co-collectors to purchase taonga and document stories for the national collections.
For the digital elements, Andrew followed the co-collector’s direction and took photos of sites and features they had pointed out as important. He had also taken a drone with him to capture a view from above.
These three clips were compiled together and edited by Te Papa using the raw drone footage collected by Andrew as part of Project IKA. They offer a perspective imperative to telling Tokelau’s climate change story.