Return of the Moai

Recently the Rapa Nui, people indigenous to Easter Island, have asked the British government to return one of the British Museum’s most viewed and treasured objects – the iconic stone moai statue called Hoa Hakananai’a. The eight-foot high statue is one of hundreds carved by Polynesian settlers on Rapa Nui between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Moais are giant stone monolithic figures representing ancestors and powerful chieftains. They are synonymous with Rapa Nui, as Easter Island is now known. There are over 900 moai located on Rapa Nui. They lie scattered in fields on hilly slopes, and along the island’s sea border. Many are half buried up to their shoulder by tradition or because many standing moai had fallen or been pushed down by the 18th and 19th century.


Hoa Hakananai’a

Hoa Hakananai’a is currently exhibited in the British Museum in London after being taken from the island by British sailors 150 years ago, is seen by about 6 million visitors a year. Aside from questions of access, study, and the preservation principle of not keeping all one’s eggs in the same basket, the request for its return to Chile raises other challenging issues for the British Museum, one of the world’s great global museums.

One key question is about the importance of retaining objects that can instruct a broad audience about the richness and variety of global cultural heritage. Certainly, not everyone can get to the British Museum, but far fewer will ever be able to appreciate Rapa Nui cultural heritage in its original Easter Island location. And the people who do travel to Easter Island will be able to see the Hoa Hakananai’a’s 900 giant stone kin in their traditional cultural environment.

The Rapa Nui, on the other hand, point to the Hoa Hakananai’a’s significance as an ancestor of the people, and endowed with a life force called mana. They have said that moai provide protection and the presence of this particular moai on the island may help restore its ecology and the Rapa Nui’s culture.  With recent improvements to their heritage conservation infrastructure, they feel they are now in a position to bring Hoa Hakananai’a home and to care for it.

In response to the British Museum’s reluctance to return the statue, the Easter Islanders are now proposing that they carve a replica of Hoa Hakananai’a and trade it for the original. It would be offered to Queen Elizabeth in exchange for the original.

The carving is to take place on Rapa Nui, using thousand-year-old techniques combined with modern technology to allow the job to be completed in seven months. A committee of islanders and Chilean government officials plans to travel to London next month in hope of negotiating the moai’s return.

In August 2018, Chile’s National Monuments Council and the National Forest Service of Chile (CONAF) joined five representatives from the island’s Rapa Nui tribe to ask the British government to begin a dialogue on the return of Hoa Hakananai‘a. Chile’s National Treasures Minister Felipe Ward said that the request for the British Museum to return the statue, “seems appropriate given the new coordination and conservation functions being carried out on the island.”

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ICA Conference 2018

Last week I attended the International Council on Archives (ICA) 2018 Conference at Palais des Congrès in Yaounde, Cameroon, and I would like to share some highlights…


Before the conference, David Fricker who is President of ICA welcomed its members. He said that the conference was the premier event on the professional calendar to  strengthen networks and gather the ‘professional intelligence’ that enables each of us in the field to stay at the very forefront of developments from around the globe. He added, “The conference will be a forum to share technical knowledge, but will also serve to promote the importance of archives and records management across the  region  as  an  essential requirement for good governance and effective public administration.”

The theme of the conference was  “Archives : Governance, Memory and Heritage.” The Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philemon Yang, believed that the theme’s importance is self-evident for Africa, internally falls in line with the initiatives and public policies that the Government of Cameroon deploys so as to put in place an efficient national archives management system.

The Conference ran for three days, November, 26-28. The program included ICA governance meetings,  keynote speakers, workshops and breakout sessions. The ICA Executive Board Meeting was held on Sunday 25 November. The Executive Board discussed the organisation’s strategic directions which will contribute to the creation of the 2019-2022 strategic plan. Among ICA strategic priorities, the Executive Board decided to choose 2019 as the year of Africa. The Africa Program has been allocated resources to allow it to pursue two main objectives: raising governments awareness of archival issues on the one hand, and training professionals in the field on the other.


Yaounde, Cameroon

The Executive Board then discussed ongoing partnerships and joint initiatives between ICA and other international organizations, in particular the UNESCO-PERSIST project and the Swisspeace initiative for Prevention of Illicit Trafficking and Disaster Recovery and Heritage Preservation, as well as the “Memory of the World” program.

The General Assembly was then held on Monday 26 November. Assembly heard reports from the President and the Vice-Presidents Program and Finance, approved the organization’s accounts and endorsed the   results  for the election of officers from September 2018. Mr David Fricker and Mr Zuber were re-elected and Mr Charbonneau elected for a 4 years mandate. The General Assembly also nominated Mr Gérard Ermisse, Mr Carol Couture and Mr Jonathan Rhys-Lewis as Fellows of ICA, to acknowledge and celebrate these three great professionals.

As for me, the conference was very busy. On the second day I helped facilitate The Basics of Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness Workshop. This interactive workshop examined the four basic stages of disaster preparedness: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. It helped participants to consider all situations and levels of the disaster’s impact, particularly those that cause damage to records, collections, and disrupt the flow of business and services.

The workshop was also intended to inspire participants to be more proactive before, during and after a disaster occurs at their organization. At the end of the workshop, I brought to the participant’s attention the launching of the PARBICA’s new disaster management’s guidelines. The five guidelines will guide record keeping professionals through the steps in effective disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and will show you how to identify vital records and assess significant records.


The New Guidelines on Disaster Management on the PARBICA Website:

Finally, on the last day of the conference I presented my paper titled Combating Climate Change the Traditional Way: Pacific Island Archives and the Fight to Protect Their Cultural Heritage. The paper showed how Pacific Islanders are utilizing their traditional ways to combat the threats caused by climate change. Inspired by this proactive stance and the use of traditional skills, those responsible for safekeeping cultural heritage can also learn to be more resilient. These techniques being executed by record keepers of the Pacific Islands region will then hopefully set an example and encourage worldwide cultural heritage organizations whose collection are threatened by climate change.

Overall, the conference was a success. New relationships with colleagues from around the world were formed, and old ones were renewed. The colorful, exotic African backdrop proved to show that this will be one of ICA’s most remembered conference.

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Saving the Tokelauan Language

I don’t get a lot of news from the island nation of Tokelau. So when I do, I don’t hesitate to share. Recently, the New Zealand’s Minister of Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, called on people to become champions of the Tokelauan language.


Where is Tokelau?

During the last week of October New Zealand celebrated Tokelauan Language Week, Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau, which was the last of the seven Pacific language weeks held throughout the country annually.

There are more than 7000 Tokelauans in New Zealand, five times the number on the atolls, but use of the language is falling with just 2469 speaking Tokelauan at the time of the 2013 census. Aupito said with nearly three-quarters of Tokelauans now born in New Zealand, protecting and preserving the language was more important than ever.

The gradual decline had caused the UN heritage agency UNESCO to put Tokelauan on the list of severely endangered languages, he said. New Zealand had to act now to prevent it being lost to future generations, the minister said.

A little about Tokelau…


The flag of Tokelau

Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand consisting of three coral atolls in the South Pacific: Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo. These atolls lie approximately mid-way between Hawaii and New Zealand and about 500 km north of Samoa.

Formerly known as the Union Islands, the name ‘Tokelau Islands’ was adopted in 1946 and then shortened to ‘Tokelau’ in 1976. Tokelau’ is Polynesian for ‘North Wind’.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the atolls of Tokelau were settled around 1000 years ago. Oral history traces local traditions and genealogies back several hundred years and details the origins of the social and political order that was in place by the 19th century. According to oral sources, the three atolls functioned largely independently while maintaining social and linguistic cohesion.

Vice-Admiral John Byron of England found Atafu on his 1765 voyage but saw no signs of inhabitants. In 1791, Captain Edward Edwards found Nukunonu while searching for mutineers from the HMS Bounty. The US whaling ship General Jackson reached the island of Fakaofo in 1835.

In 1889, the islands were claimed by Britain. They became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (Kiribati and Tuvalu) in 1916, which was then renamed the Union Group. In 1925, the islands came under the administration of New Zealand. They became a New Zealand territory in 1948. Today, more Tokelauans live outside Tokelau than on the islands.

Over the past three decades Tokelau has moved progressively towards its current advanced level of political self-reliance. It has its own unique political institutions, including a national legislative body and Executive Council. It runs its own judicial system and public services. It has its own shipping and telecommunications systems. It has full control over its budget. It plays an active role in regional affairs and is a member of a number of regional and international bodies.

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The Turtle and the Island- Papua New Guinea

Our next legend comes from Papua New Guinea and can be found in the book, The Turtle and the Island. I absolutely love this legend because it tells the story on how the island of New Guinea was made by a turtle who got tired of swimming through the big ocean without ever resting. It’s a wonderful story that I hope you enjoy!

The Turtle and the Island

Long, long ago, in the days when turtles had teeth, there lived a great sea-turtle, the mother of all sea-turtles, who spent her time swimming about the wide sea that now men call the Pacific Ocean. Slowly she swam, feeding on the fishes that lived in the sea and the plants that grew there, and snapping up the shellfishes that lurked in the rocks where the sea bordered the land. She swam from one side of the sea to the other, to and fro between the lands that bordered that vast ocean.

She lived in the sea, but she swam both above and below the surface of the water; above the surface she breathed the clear, fresh air and felt the warmth of the sun. She looked up to the sky and saw the sun by day and the moon by night, and the birds that flew across the ocean from land to land. She looked down into the sea and saw its dark, cold depths.

Sometimes the turtle grew tired of swimming, and rested just below the surface of the sea, but she often longed to rest in the warmth and sunshine. She thought how pleasant it would be if only there were a piece of land in the middle of the great ocean where she lived.

In a dark, secret cave far below the sea where the turtle swam there lived a man. His skin was black, and in all that great ocean he was the only man. He had no wife, no children, no tribespeople. The man was lonely in that cave beneath the sea. His heart was heavy as a stone on the seashore. He was weary of being alone.

One day, as the turtle swam about, she came to a place in the middle of the ocean where a great hill of sand was raised up from the bottom of the sea. The hill was so high that the top of it almost reached above the surface of the ocean.

“If I were to bring more sand to add to this big hill, soon it would rise clear above the water,” thought the turtle. “The sun would shine down upon it by day, and it would be a place where I could rest and enjoy the warmth and the clear air when I grow tired of swimming.”

So the turtle went to another part of the ocean floor, where she dug up rocks and more sand, and these she brought back to the hill, so that it grew higher and higher. She did this more times than anyone could count. The sun rose and set, the moon waxed and waned day after day, and still the hill grew higher. And at last it became a huge island in the middle of the sea, and the turtle saw that her work was finished.

Then the birds that flew across the ocean from land to land brought seeds of plants and trees and dropped them on the island. Grasses and flowering plants and tall trees sprang up, covering the rocks and sand. It was a beautiful, fertile island, surrounded by the sea which teemed with fishes large and small.

The turtle rested on the sun-warmed ground of the island she had made. No longer did she have to spend her whole life swimming through the wide ocean and resting just below its surface. And although she still swam about as before, she never strayed very far from the island she had made.

One day, she swam down, down into the ocean, much deeper and farther than she had ever swum before. How dark and cold it was down there, far from the light and warmth of the sun! Suddenly the turtle swam into the dark, secret cave where the man with the black skin had lived alone for such a long time. The man was overjoyed when the turtle came to him; he begged her to find him a wife who would be his companion and bear children.

The Turtle and the Island (Papua New Guinea)

“The Turtle and the Island,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

The turtle felt pity for the man’s loneliness. She took him, riding on her strong shell, to the island she had made. Then she swam across the sea to the nearest land, to a place where a woman stood on the shore, a beautiful woman with black skin. She was weeping; like the man, she was lonely. She desired a husband and longed to bear children. So the turtle took the woman back across the sea to the island, and brought her as a wife for the man.

The man and the woman lived together on the island in happiness and peace. They laughed, they played in the sea, sometimes they quarreled, but they never lost the joy in their hearts. They made children together, beautiful black-skinned children, and those children had more children, and those children had more children. In this way the island became filled with people who grew crops and built houses and fished along the seashore.

 And in time the island that the great sea-turtle had made became known as New Guinea.

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50 years of Cook Islands Creative Writing

Let’s keep to the “book” theme from the Cook Islands…

Last week the Cook Islands News published an article about a new anthology of Cook Islands short stories and poems, which was launched at the University of South Pacific (USP) Cook Islands.

The new book titled “MANA – 50 years of Cook Islands Creative writing in English and Cook Islands Maori” celebrates the role of Dr Marjorie Crocombe in generating the “first wave” of post-colonial writing in the Pacific. It also celebrates the 50th anniversary of USP and the university’s role in supporting Pacific writing and publishing.

Part one of the anthology comprises writings by Cook Islanders published by the University of South Pacific from 1974 – 2010. Part two features new Cook Islands writing 2010 – 2018. The introduction by Cook Islands scholar Emma Emily Ngakuravaru Powell provides a survey of Cook Islands writing from 1968 – 2018. The book is illustrated with 35 watercolors by artist Joan Gragg.

The book launch included readings from the anthology by six of the 20 Cook Islands writers represented in the anthology – Makiuti Tongia, Florence Syme-Buchanan, Jon Jonassen, Vaine Rasmussen-Wichman, Mike Tavioni and Marianna Powell, who read her poem “Sonde”, verses written in Palmerston-English. Author Lynnsay Francis launched the book.

Dr Marjorie Crocombe recounted her efforts, following establishment of the university in 1968 to create its “soul” through Pacific writing. With a number of other writers, she established the South Pacific Creative Arts Society (SPACS) and its journal “Mana”. Those who received encouragement and support from SPACS included noted poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, born in Tongareva, and the renowned Samoan author Albert Wendt who sent the following message to the launch:

 “Marjorie – thank you for all the dedicated and magnificent work you have done all these years for the development of our arts and cultures. Thank you and Ron (the late Professor Ron Crocombe) for all the love and help and friendship and support you’ve given me and my family. Congratulations on this great honor. Alolofa atu, Al and Reina.”

New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Marshall provided the vote of thanks, noting that the book brought together a body of Cook Islands literature that will be a source of inspiration to – and a suitable subject of study for – generations of Cook Islands school and university students.


Sunset- Rarotonga, Cook Islands

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New Language Book in Cook Islands

A month or so ago The Cook Islands News ran an article written by Shar van Leeuwen about how the Tereora College Dragons Den Young Enterprise Scheme winners were selling their book Rarotongan Basic Phrase Book during the school’s trade day.


The book is selling well among pupils and teachers and the group is researching economical ways to make the book available to overseas buyers. “We’ve had a lot of interest from overseas and people Facebooking even through the night,” says financial director Temaui Makimare.

The pocket-sized phrase book contains everything a non, or partial speaker needs to get started communicating in Maori, with everyday phrases and interpretations. As well, there are pages dedicated to the alphabet, vowels, grammar, phonics, numbers and more. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to follow and to satisfy the market in that way, but mostly the idea is to maintain the language,” says the books’ CEO Kavika Nicholas.

The book has had its final reprint and has undergone a couple of changes before the reprint. “We forgot to thank our parents and also Cook Islands printing services, and as well we’ve put our contact details in the back, so that people can get hold of us.”

The book is easy to handle and easy to read Buyers can either purchase them for themselves, or send them offshore as gifts. They’re available from Tereora school or the group’s Facebook page “Korero with Me”.

Because of unforeseen extra costs, the book’s price has had to be increased from $7.00, but at $10 it is still a bargain.

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Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival- PNG

The organizer of a cultural festival in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, Saina Jeffrey, said the community was bouncing back from February’s earthquake. He was pleased that the region was able to host the three-day Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival, which took place from September 21-23, 2018. This was the festival’s eighth year running, and the local host was determined to make it happen despite the damage and devastation they suffered from the February earthquake.

Ms Jeffrey said the 7.5 magnitude quake was a disaster for the more than 40 villages that participated in the festival. The Kutubu area experienced a number of deaths, and houses and gardens were destroyed. Daga Village, where the festival was hosted, lost its traditional Kutubu long haus, which was one of the star attractions at this festival. These buildings surround the outdoor area where the event takes place and provides a festival setting like no other in PNG said Ms Jeffrey. “There is no fence or any white man’s roofing around it, nothing of any Western style around it. It’s just all natural, the surrounding is natural and beautiful.”


PNG Highland Long Haus- from

Ms Jeffrey said the festival was an opportunity to show the resilience of their culture and traditions, and to earn some money. “The festival itself is still seen as an opportunity for the communities to stand together, rise up and say – we have to come together to do something to survive, to get ourselves back on track,” said Jeffrey.

The Mineral Resources Development Company threw its support behind the festival. Despite setbacks, the locals with the help of the festival organizing committee had rebuilt the long haus and their homes to prepare to host the festival and its visitors.

This year’s festival had the theme Yumi mas kirapim bek yumi yet” (We must raise ourselves), which calls for all earthquake affected communities to come together and strive for restoration and resilience after the earthquake.

MRDC general manager Imbi Tagune, presented a cheque of K50,000 to the festival committee on behalf of managing director Augustine Mano. “This year’s festival only goes to show the resilience of our people who have suffered the devastating impact of an earthquake yet have the strength and courage to pick themselves up, to restore their lives just six months since the quake hit.”

Tagune commended the committee and the people of Kutubu for their determination to host and share their culture and heritage to visitors to the festival, despite their losses. “MRDC has been with the people through the devastation of the quake, assisting and providing relief food, water and medical aid to the people, and by supporting the festival we want to help bring normalcy to their lives.”

The Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival celebrates more than 40 different indigenous cultures who come together to celebrate the importance of the Kundu drum and the trade of the Digaso oil in the traditional culture of the Kutubu people. It also plays a vital role in safeguarding traditional practices and the diverse biodiversity of the Lake Kutubu region.

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