THINKING ABOUT THE PACIFIC IN THE UK
For a woman who has spent all of her life in the Pacific, it has been a
revelation to travel to the UK … I'm glad for the itinerary that led me
gently out of the Pacific from Norfolk Island via New Zealand and
Hawai'i before flying into Los Angeles and Heathrow.
I am presently in the UK studying the material culture left by our
Polynesian foremothers who boarded the HMS Bounty in 1789 bound
for Pitcairn. These women gifted many barkcloths to passing captains
that eventually made their way into European museums. Now I find
myself making my way to them – something like joining the dots on a
vast museum map working my way from London to Scotland and
across to Norway.
I‟m surprised and frankly disappointed at the lack of Pacific
representation in British museum displays in general. In that light, it is
a sweet thing indeed to have seen two particular 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). I‟ve received a resoundingly kind and enthusiastic reception
at each of the museums I‟ve 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 to study. Some white and finely made - others a
patchwork of colours.
It's important to highlight the significance of the barkcloths (and
Pacific culture in general) within the institutions I'm visiting.
Recently I spent a day with Dr Mark Nesbitt at Kew Gardens who has
since written a blog post about the day we spent talking about the
pieces in their collections. Dr Nesbitt generously shared his time
looking through museum notes and archives and we were able to
piece together the history of the barkcloths and how they came to
Kew. It was great fun and a valuable exercise.
Holding these pieces of cloth has been a deeply moving experience
for me. As a people we are in a unique position, because often times
we can name the maker of many of these pieces. What this means is
that those of us of Bounty descent can trace our heritage back to a
particular piece and say, "my great great great great great grandmother
made this‟. With this knowledge comes the responsibility of
protecting the pieces and assuring museums do too.
Over the years I have been pleased to communicate with the curators,
and now meeting them face-to-face perhaps opens a window of
understanding for them too, which is more than I might have hoped
for. They understand the importance of representing material culture
in a way that guards its historical integrity, and working together, we
can come to an understanding of these valuable pieces that are an
important part of our Bounty history.
Pauline recently received a
scholarship to travel to NZ,
Hawai’i, the UK and Norway
to study the material culture
left by the Bounty women
who settled on Pitcairn Island
in 1790. Pauline lived for 15 years
on Huahine, Tahiti, and presently
lives on Norfolk Island with her
Tahitian husband, Tihoti, and their
children Oihanu and Mauatua.