dancer in polynesian headdress, fringed neck adornment with sharks-teeth-like white attachments, carrying a stick
Dancers from Beats of Polynesia

Bringing cultures and protocols into an institutional space

In this piece, Jo Walsh, our lead educator, interviews Natasha Vaike, Pacific Community Leader about working with cultures and objects inside the Museum.

Natasha Vaike established and is Arataki (leader) for ‘Beats of Polynesia’, a Pacific Island dance group that has been running for over 12 years and specialises in Cook Island and Tahitian dance.

She is part of the National Maritime Museum Pacific Consultation Community and is a lead educator on the Pacific Wananga (learning session) and sensitive histories training given to staff at the Museum. Here she insists that cultural protocols are not only vital to the cultural learning process, but are vital to keeping the exhibition space ‘alive’ and relevant.

Natasha speaks both Aotearoa/New Zealand Māori and Cook Island native languages and is a specialised dance choreographer and teacher of culture. She has connections to Tane-Mata-Ariki, the Mangaian Toki, which you met in Week 3. This is on display in the Pacific Encounters Gallery.

JW: What are your thoughts on bringing cultures and protocols into an institutional space?

TV: If an institution is going to hold, carry, display any element of indigenous culture, then it is their responsibility to uphold and carry forth and share correctly and appropriately any protocol connected with anything on display. Bringing the tikanga (customs, traditions) into the space will allow the taonga (treasures) to live again , it will ensure indigenous peoples reconnect with what was wrongfully acquired and give both the people and the taonga the chance to ‘breathe’ together again. This ‘breath’ can then be shared and passed on to future generations. The taonga may never be able to be returned but the best possible outcome for some would be to have their cultures brought to them as best as possible. For non-indigenous people, they can finally learn the truth from those that should only have the right to teach it.

JW: What are the important elements around cultural protocols connected to the development of the Pacific Encounters Gallery?

TV: The the initial process of the consultations. All negotiations in the Pacific Islands are done face to face and together as a collective. This whole process allowed us all to move forward as a whanau (family) together and this whakawhanaungatanga (partnership, relationship) should remain throughout the period of the gallery. From here, continuing to acknowledge the togetherness as one but also the individuality of each people within Te Moana-nui-a-Kiva (Pacific ocean) and to bring as many of these individual cultures together as much as possible within the space. Blessing the gallery appropriately and correctly in accordance to as many protocols as possible is very important.

Sensitivity training is also vital to the understanding of all those who work within the space and this needs to be ongoing in order for the taonga and their people to feel acknowledged and safe. It is also vital for the staff and visitors to the gallery so that they may be able to present, learn and be secure through correct knowledge and the truth.

JW: From the contributing communities, how is this implemented in the space and why they are important to the gallery and keeping everything awake / alive?

TV: Through all of the above processes, and the consultations, and they need to be ongoing. Annually perhaps. Through the ongoing training of the staff. What would be a wonderful way to keep our taonga happy and awake would be to be able to have some time, perhaps annually again, whereby the people of the taonga could come and spend some time - not even necessarily have it planned out - but to have some time within the gallery just to sing, dance, talk, share cultural stories with the taonga – to bring them alive with voices, song, dance and stories from their islands. Followed by a sharing of food somewhere, for the communities. This is a wonderful chance for a ta’okota’ianga – a gathering together, to share.

Glossary

Arataki – leader (Rarotongan)

Mangaia – The southernmost island of the Cook Islands

Toki – adze (Mangaian)

Wananga – learning session, discussion (Te Reo Maori O Aotearoa)

Tikanga – customs/traditions (Te Reo Maori O Aotearoa)

Whakawhanaungatanga – coming together/partnership/relationship (Te Reo Maori O Aotearoa)

Te Moana-nui-O-Kiva – Pacific Ocean (Rarotongan)

Taonga – treasure (Te Reo Maori O Aotearoa)

ta’okota’ianga – gathering/a coming together (Rarotongan)

Have you ever been encouraged to follow cultural protocols in museums or other spaces? What form did they take?

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This article is from the free online course:

Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in Museums and Public Spaces

National Maritime Museum