- Pacific Hall
Recently renovated, restored, and renamed, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Pacific Hall offers visitors new ways to engage with its extensive collections. Using the latest technologies, the sounds and images of peoples from the Pacific fill the hall. Drawing on the latest research in archaeology, dna testing, and linguistics, a new perspective on the story of Pacific migration and a revised timeline of settlement over a six-thousand-year period are presented. In special exhibits, visitors can view artifacts uncovered by museum researchers from important archaeological sites in Tahiti, the Marquesas, the Cook Islands, Sāmoa, Tonga, Fiji, China, and Taiwan.
Along with the changes above, the presentation of objects and information on the main floor of Pacific Hall represents a shift in the museum’s educational mission. The earlier Polynesian Hall was much more focused on the artifacts on display, while the new exhibits tell stories about and for the peoples of the Pacific. As a former cultural collections manager at Te Papa Tongarewa (the National Museum of New Zealand) and at Bishop Museum, I welcome this shift [End Page 304] from an object-centered approach to a visitor-centered one.
When I first visited Pacific Hall, I was excited to hear Pacific music and the voices of Pacific Island scholars and to read quotations from Oceanic writers and leaders, especially delighting in their emphasis on how we are connected by a vast ocean. At the same time, intensely illuminating and significant truths can run the risk of casting other important perspectives into shadow. As a Pacific Islander who grew up in Tonga, migrated to New Zealand, and then moved to the United States, I am aware of the differences between growing up in the Islands and growing up overseas. Having worked on projects with Pacific Island communities in both areas, I know they do not always share the same views. Some Islanders may feel alienated by the museum’s views on migration if they believe they are descendants of Tangaloa in their own places and are not related to the peoples on neighboring islands. Others may be excited and inspired by the museum’s exhibits and new research.
Community members and visitors to the region alike may well wonder whose views are represented in Pacific Hall. Although the answer is surely complicated, I feel the current exhibits do not adequately represent the diversity and richness of the views of those who live in the Islands. I believe the museum should add their voices to the ones already in place. This could easily be achieved by recording interviews with a range of scholars, cultural practitioners, educators, and community leaders. The museum is already scheduled to augment its exhibits with an audio tour. I hope it can provide us with different views of Oceania through this additional program.
It is also worth noting that the change in names from Polynesian Hall to Pacific Hall created high expectations among some Pacific Island visitors. They hoped to see their cultures represented, but the exhibits did not always meet their expectations. For example, in the exhibit for ceremonial dress, the items displayed are only from Sāmoa, and there is nothing from Micronesian or Melanesian island groups. Presenting a variety of materials from different cultures under the same theme or topic can offer a more accurate and more compelling view of the similarities and differences among the material cultures of Oceanic peoples. More of an effort should have been given to working directly with people in Pacific Island communities—finding out who they would select to represent their interests, what they would like to see, and how the exhibition could better serve them as an educational resource. Of course, not every expectation can be addressed, but more voices and perspectives can be included. I look forward to hearing the new audio recordings and hopefully hearing Pacific Islanders speak with pride and authority about objects that originated in their island groups. In this way, we can avoid the problem of having Oceanic peoples see themselves and their cultures primarily through the museum’s view. [End Page...