Pacific | Taonga

Pacific museums discuss return of taonga

The Auckland War Memorial Museum is hosting the Commonwealth Association of Museums 2024 conference and 12 Pacific Island representatives from nine countries are taking part.

Getting taonga returned to New Zealand from colonial-era museums overseas has been a major achievement for Māori over the past 30 years but the issue is now popping up for Pacific countries.

This week Pacific delegates attended an international conference for museum professionals within the Commonwealth and other nations across the world, which aims to promote cooperation in dealing with post-colonial issues.

Nine countries and 12 representatives from the Pacific attended the conference, which was held in Aotearoa for the first time since the organisations was set up in the 1970s.

The world’s largest holder of Hawaii artifacts along with collections from other parts of the Pacific is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Hawai’i.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museums cultural resource specialist Kamalu du Preez (Hawai’i) says they’re also discussing ways on how they can return these local treasures to the country they came from.

“We’ve inherited the colonial legacies from the first director of the Bishop Museum (William Tufts Brigham) who set the tone of what research would be like and how things were collected.

“We can see that these are things that are collected from our sister, our cousin, our brother communities and we know that we need to make this right.”

Cook Islands National Museum curator Teuru Tuakanangaro says she wants Cook Island taonga back in her country but she can’t do it on her own.

“I need my own government to be with me in returning all this stuff and giving me a better building to hold these (our) taonga.”

“If I don’t get that, then all I ask is if I could have a replica of it for it to show in the Cook Islands. It’s sad.”

Musée de Tahiti et des Îles director Hinanui Cauchois (Tahiti) is grateful for the opportunity to meet with her ancestral cousins.

“One of the main outcomes of the conference is realising how many issues we have in common, so we feel less isolated each one of us feel in our museums and institutions.”

“The real importance is bringing more people from our communities into museums. So that’s why we’re so happy to be here because we’re sharing our experiences in seeking out solutions together.”

The Pacific delegation will have special talks tomorrow to consider forming a network of Pacific museums.

Auckland Museum Pacific strategy manager, Olivia Taouma says secured funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) for the delegation to come over to form this world-first network.

Cauchois says they need this network as they only see each other at large global events.

“One of our dreams I would say is to have more people from the Pacific Islands museums and cultural institutions coming to our countries so that we can also exchange our staff.”

“I think that would be one of the great outcomes of the partnership.”

This story has been updated. The original publication misattributed a quote to Dr. Winters over Kamalu Du Preez.