Monday, November 1, 2010



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.


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.