Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Town Hall of Arue 'Ahu Sistas exhibition

On 24 October a 'rahiri' celebration was held to open the arts festival at Arue, and the Norfolk Island and Pitcairn delegations were the Town Hall's guests of honour.  I feel extremely honoured and humbled by the generosity of the Mayor Philip Schylle and deputy Mayor Turere Mataoa.  During the week, the Norfolk Island flag flew alongside the town hall and French flag in Arue, and the Pitcairn flag at Papeete.  
Over the last 15 years I have worked on many projects to bring our people - descendants of the Polynesian women who left Tahiti's shores aboard HMS Bounty and their mutineer
 partners - closer to our Tahitian cousins.  The week at the Arue Town Hall was the most successful of these attempts.  I was approached by many Tahitians who were touched by our art exhibition, and especially one piece by Jean Clarkson listing the names of our Polynesian foremothers.  By reading those names they felt a tangible connection to us.  I was in awe of the atmosphere created by the works by Jean, Sue and Meralda.  Sue's 12 vahine pieces gave the impression of shadows of women veiled by mystery.  Meralda's pieces were absolute labours of love, tapa cloth made by her hands from both aute and 'uru and dyed and decorated with dyes used by our foremothers. Meralda's tapa cloths are the first to be made on Pitcairn since the practice was stopped 70 years ago.  Sue and Jean's pieces are their contemporary response to the ancient pieces made by our foremothers, and all those artworks together gave visual support to my book, "Pitcairn Tapa - 'Ahu no Hitiaurevareva".  On the 26 October 2008, the 220th anniversary of HMS Bounty arriving at Pare, across the water from the Town Hall, we officially opened the exhibition and began the Tahiti launch of my book.  Turere donated a glorious cake, and many kind Norfolk Islanders helped make Pitcairn/Norfolk dishes for us share with those present (special mention to John Christian, Rachel Nebauer-Borg, Maree Reynolds and the lovely Karenne Gatehouse).  Many thanks to the Norfolk singers led by Don Reynolds who made us all proud and more than once brought tears to our eyes.


You may wonder why we called this blog 'Tattoo and Tapa'. Tihoti's passion is design using the ancient symbols used by his tupuna or ancestors. Mine is the same, but applied on a different surface.

The designs used by Tahitians in 'tatau' (tattoo) often crossed over into the designs used in 'ahu (tapa) decoration. Some of the deep symbolism used in tatau today in Tahiti is lost, although Tihoti feels that by using nature as our inspiration we can come to understand these designs again, and from there evolve those designs beyond our misunderstandings. But that understanding has to come from a Polynesian perspective.

I am fascinated by the designs and colours used in the ancient 'ahu - everything was symbolic. Much of this knowledge is forgotten today: but not entirely. For me it has become an exhilarating adventure of rediscovery.