By: Melanie van Olffen, Category: Science, Date: 09 Dec 2010
On December 7th a group of young Fijians came to visit our Fijian collections, and as a thank-you this group, The Redemption Singers, performed for everyone in the museum's Atrium where their amazing voices filled the whole museum!
The Pacific collections at the Australian Museum consist of objects and artifacts from all cultural areas in the Pacific. The earliest objects came into our collection in the mid nineteenth century through traders, travelers, missionaries, colonial officers and anthropologists that travelled, worked and lived throughout the Pacific region. The strength of the collection lies in the objects from Melanesia, which is the cultural area that includes Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji.
Although the Pacific collections are currently not on display in the museum, the collections are being accessed on a regular basis behind the scenes by other curators that borrow objects for exhibitions at other museums and by researchers with a specific interest in objects from a specific area or collected by a certain collector. However, we also actively engage with community members to look at material which is part of their cultural heritage and we invite them to visit the collections in our store rooms.
This group of young singers from the Suvavou SDA church in Fiji, was on a month-long tour around the Sydney area and they had arrived in Sydney a few days prior to their visit here at the museum. The fifteen very talented, young singers were amazed to see the objects from different parts of the Pacific, as we first took them to see objects and tell some stories about part of the Papua New Guinea collections where some of them immediately noticed the similarities with traditional Fijian tools and weapons.However, they were mostly touched and amazed to see so many significant Fijian objects.
Some of them were delighted to see the hollow, bulbous clay water vessels (saqamoli) as they recognised these from its depiction on the Fijian $1 coin, but had never seen the actual traditional water container before, while others were excited to see some objects that once belonged to Reverend Thomas Baker. Thomas Baker was a missionary in the mid-nineteenth century who got killed and eaten by some villagers in the highlands of Viti Levu. Traditionally cannibalism was common practice as part of traditional warfare, but as Christianity spread throughout the Fijian islands and was adopted by most Fijians, the practice was abandoned. Unfortunately, Rev. Thomas Baker was probably one of the last people in Fiji to be killed and consumed in 1876. One of his daughters later donated some objects that once belonged to her parents, amongst which was a beautiful cowrie neck ornament traditionally only worn to indicate high status. Another object that had belonged to Rev. Baker is an decorated bamboo flute with the inscription 'veiyalayalati vou jis' (which translates in English 'New Testament Jesus').
After the collection visit and some refreshments, the guys performed for visitors and staff in the museum's Atrium. The guys compose their own inspirational songs and the objective of the group is to be utilised as an outreach program in Fiji through singing. In December 2010 they are still performing around the Sydney area at community events, in local churches and prisons, at Carols in the Park and more..
(For more info on the group and to support their mission see their Facebook page)