Monday, November 1, 2010

Around the World in 6 weeks - 2nd update


More news from Pauline

More news from Pauline Reynolds on her Churchill Scholarship Tour

For someone who has spent most of her life in the Pacific, it’s been a real revelation to me to travel to the UK via New Zealand and Hawai’i … I’ve been glad for the itinerary that led me gently out of the Pacific then onto Los Angeles airport and onwards to Heathrow.
Pitt River Tapa on display
Mauatua tapa on display at the British Museum

My scholarship is to study the material culture left by our Polynesian foremothers who boarded the HMS Bounty in 1789 bound for Pitcairn – barkcloths gifted to passing captains which eventually made their way into European museums. Now I find myself making my way to them by joining the dots on a vast museum map working toward the north of the UK and then across to Norway. Since my last report I’ve been to museums in London, Cambridge and Oxford.

I’ve been surprised and disappointed at the minimal Pacific representation in British museum displays in general. So it is a sweet thing indeed to have seen two Pitcairn barkcloths on display in public galleries: one in the British Museum (in the Enlightenment Gallery: a tiny piece by Mauatua, Fletcher Christian’s sweetheart) and the other at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (a lovely patterned poncho). Another pleasant surprise is the resoundingly enthusiastic reception I have received at each of the museums I have visited by the hard-working curators of huge out-of-sight collections.

Behind archive doors there have been more, so many more, pieces of beautiful barkcloth for me to ponder over. Some white and finely made - others a patchwork of colours. A great side effect of my visits is the raising of awareness of the significance of these pieces. I am hoping that, even in a small way, my visit may change the way the pieces are viewed within the museums, because an item with a story makes it so much more valuable.

By the time you read this, I will have left Oxford and will be working my way up to Scotland where there are several interesting barkcloths.


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.