26 July 2018. Blog article by Lucie Hazelgrove-Planel on the project Heritage Matters, invited by MAA - Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge.
Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific
The Heritage Matters project researched the current and possible future contributions of Pacific Island museums to sustainable development.
Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific was a pilot project that sought to analyse how museums in the Pacific could better serve the needs of local populations. Building on existing relationships between the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) at the University of Cambridge, UK, Solomon Islands National Museum and the Kiribati National Museum and Cultural Centre, also known as Te Umwanibong, the project asked how a museum or cultural centre can respond to a nation’s intractable challenges and how it can promote sustainable development.
The project sought to identify and draw together a range of ideas and perspectives and so the research was based both within and outside of the museums, bringing together representatives of partner institutions as well as the public. Over two months in June-August 2017 we held a series of workshops and consultations in Kiribati and Solomon Islands to open up discussion around cultural heritage, people’s experiences of their national museum and their perspectives on local social, economic and environmental change.
We set up pop-up photographic exhibitions of artefacts and historic photographs from the MAA’s collections and shared community books of the MAA’s photographic and anthropological collections from Kiribati and Solomon Islands, created by Dr Lucie Carreau and Dr Alison Clark respectively as part of the Pacific Presences project, also at MAA. These exhibitions and booklets helped people to engage with the issues we discussed and elicited memories and imaginings of the future. Facebook discussion groups, the favoured social media platform in Kiribati and Solomon Islands, continued the conversations online and meant that we could engage with more people, both in-country and in the diaspora.
The exhibitions and booklets enabled us to give concrete examples of some of the possibilities presented by museums. Museum staff in Solomon Islands were for example pleased to see the careful storage and care of Solomon Island artefacts at the MAA, as some of their own collections were looted during the recent ethnic tensions in the capital. In Kiribati, these exhibitions inspired interesting conversations about the possibilities presented by preserving artefacts; the recent Pacific Presences collaboration between MAA staff Dr Alison Clark and Rachel Howie and artists Kaetaeta Watson, Lizzie Leckie and Chris Charteris who rediscovered the techniques used in creating historic I-Kiribati fibre armour was a particularly poignant example. Such examples were important when highlighting how museums can serve the needs of local populations through means other than tourism.
While cultural heritage is valued by many in both Kiribati and Solomon Islands, the countries face many challenges such as rapid urbanisation, high rates of unemployment, climate change, the extraction of natural resources, overpopulation and violence against women. The national museums in both countries are therefore ideally placed to address some of these issues.
Following Eoe (1990), Pacific Island museums can serve their communities through community engagement at the grassroots level or through policy work at the national level. The lack of funding, resources and trained staff at the Kiribati and Solomon Island museums however means that they struggle to maintain key functions and programs, such as the proper care and safeguard of artefacts or documentation of cultural heritage around the country through the National Site Survey in Solomon Islands and the Cultural Mapping Project in Kiribati.
There is little appropriate legislature to preserve cultural heritage in these countries and the institutions have a lot of work ahead of them to catch up with the new challenges to social life. Working closely with local communities is another important way of creating change and promoting sustainable development; indeed Oceania is notable for the number of grassroots movements that draw from their cultural heritage (Rio & Hviding, 2011). The populations of Kiribati and Solomon Islands are however dispersed and transportation is expensive and time consuming. New ways of working therefore have to be developed.
During fieldwork in Solomon Islands, there were calls for training to be given to local communities so that they could promote their cultural heritage and protect their cultural shrines themselves. This is not dissimilar to the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta’s fieldworker programme, where fieldworkers from around the country research their own local culture and simultaneously promote it (Bolton, 1999; 2006).
In Kiribati, life in South Tarawa, where over 50% of the population are based, is made difficult by overpopulation and a lack of land. The museum has large grounds and a maneaba, a local meeting house, that could be opened up for public use. The gardens and museum exhibition hall are conducive spaces for reflexion and creation and would be conducive for informal meetings and gatherings of local social or cultural associations.
Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific produced reports for the two museums to consolidate their social roles and suggest ways of working to help them fulfil their objectives and maximise their existing resources and programmes. Nevertheless, the shortage of funds within these countries coupled with the significant collections of Kiribati and Solomon Island collections in international museums means that these institutions have a responsibility to support and collaborate with their Pacific Island counter-parts. This can be done by facilitating access to collections, disseminating information about collections, arranging temporary loans of artefacts, or the sharing of expertise through training and research.
Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific received funding through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), benefitting from a Research Innovation Award under the Translating Cultures and Care for the Future themes through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), award number RG86407.
The project’s facebook pages are Heritage Matters in Solomon Islands and Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific. The reports are available for download on the MAA website.
Lucie Hazelgrove-Planel worked on the Pacific Presences project for MAA and is currently a PhD student at the Centre for Pacific Studies, Department of Social Anthropology University of St Andrews.