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  • The Future of Indigenous Museums: Perspectives from the Southwest Pacific
  • Katherine Higgins
The Future of Indigenous Museums: Perspectives from the Southwest Pacific, edited by Nick Stanley. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007. ISBN cloth, 978-1-84545-188-2; paper, 978-1-84545-596-5; ix + 268 pages, images, black and white photographs, contributor biographies, bibliography, notes, index. Cloth, US$90.00; paper, US$34.95.

"Indigenous" museums in the Pacific are inevitably a source of contention because they are deeply entrenched in colonial legacies. The transformation and evolution from museums representative of colonial legacies into indigenous museums and cultural centers have been concurrent with the independence of Pacific Island nations. If not synchronized with self-determination, the change in museums has been a result of the political shifts to indigenous leadership.

In this collection of thirteen essays focused on the southwest Pacific, the authors follow Soroi Marepo Eoe and Pamela Swadling's Museums and Cultural Centres in the Pacific (1991) in developing the theme of indigenous museums while also confronting the term "indigenous museum." Editor Nick Stanley organizes the essays geographically, putting the institutions or programs on equal footing in this volume that redefines assumptions about museums in the Pacific. The Future of Indigenous Museums presents prominent museums alongside the unexpected alternatives to museums, such as the long-standing Papua New Guinea (PNG) National Museum flanking Eric Venbrux's description of the Bathurst and Melville Islands as open-air museums where Aborigines, like the Kanak community of Lifou (explored by Tate LeFevre in chapter 5), orchestrate "exhibitions" of culture for tourists.

The sections on Island Melanesia, Northern Australia, and New Guinea are bolstered by concluding reflections by Robert L Welsch and Christina Kreps about the complex roles and expectations ahead in the future for indigenous museums. The diverse group of specialists Stanley has chosen —scholars and cultural practitioners—makes for a dense volume of experiences, ideas, and anticipation. Invested specialists like Lissant Bolton explain programs, such as Vanuatu Cultural Centre's Fieldworkers and Women's Culture Project, with which she has long been involved. Pioneering indigenous professionals, such as Lawrence Foana'ota, director of the Solomon Island National Museum and Cultural Centre, write from personal experience. This combination of museum [End Page 211] professionals and scholars produces a volume that provides an introduction to important museological concepts, concise histories of museums and cultural centers, and insight into what "indigenous" museums are and could be. While reading the volume does not require a background in museum studies, a familiarity with Pacific studies or anthropology is valuable.

The chapters explore the diverse range of cultural, social, economic, and political issues in museums, as in Diane Losche's analysis of issues of representation at the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa, New Caledonia. Losche specifically analyzes the suppression of the historical violence associated with the birth of the cultural center that honors the assassinated Kanak leader. While recognizing the complexities of preserving and displaying histories fraught with violence, Losche concludes that by trying to "erase" Tjibaou's death and the wound it left on the nation state, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre constitutes a new beginning for Kanak and Pacific cultures rather than simply a memorial (75).

Also focused on New Caledonia, Tate LeFevre's essay describes how the dance troupe Troupe du Wetr is taking advantage of tourism. Instead of being victimized by the onslaught of cruise ships to Lifou, the troupe has created community cohesion and has invigorated interest in recovering Kanak traditions by developing new beginnings that turn entire communities into vibrant cultural centers without becoming "something in a museum" (89).

"The Journey of the Stars: Gab Titui, a Cultural Centre for the Torres Strait" retells the twenty-year journey of Gab Titui's development. Curators Anita Herle and Jude Philp write with Leilani Bin Juda, a member of the steering committee for Gab Titui, about using the process of display to promote elements of kastom "as a vital source of social cohesion," by emphasizing the center's role as facilitator of access to objects rather than as owner of the collection (107). These authors share sentiments similar to those of other authors in that the story of...