The Museum of New Caledonia (MNC) and Solomon Islands National Museum (SINM) are participating in a cultural exchange - the return of the traditional red feather money (te vau). Red feather money is considered a national treasure by the people of the Solomon Islands.
This is a welcomed new addition to the artifact collection at SINM and it serves to strengthen cultural ties between the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.
A ceremony for the handing over of the te vau will take place at the SINM in Honiara today. The event will be officiated by Dr Jimmie Rodgers, the out-going Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The event is being jointly hosted by the Pacific Islands Museums Association (PIMA), the Solomon Islands Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and SINM.
The te vau had been under the care of the Museum of New Caledonia since 1999, after it was donated by Roy Benyon, the SPC Director of Translations. Benyon had originally purchased the traditional money while attending the first Melanesian Arts Festival in Honiara in July 1988. The traditional money is from the Santa Cruz Islands in the Te Motu Province. It was sold at the instruction of one of the elders from that island.
Last year, at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, hosted in Honiara, Benyon decided to return the te vau to its rightful home. “I am so happy to have (the) te vau returned to the Solomon Islands and for it to be (showcased) in the museum gallery in Honiara. This will ensure that museum visitors, as well as locals, are able to view it and learn about the importance of traditional currency that is a core part of the Solomon Island culture and tradition,” says Benyon.
In February 2006, PIMA issued the Code of Ethics for Pacific Islands Museums and Cultural Centres, under which it encourages its member organisations to 'support the reconnection of ex-situ natural and cultural resources located domestically or internationally with their originator or creator communities'.
PIMA is happy to see that two member museums are upholding this principle through the repatriation of the traditional feather money of the Solomon Islands. PIMA says this demonstrates global best practice, as promoted in the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics, which openly states that museums have a duty to exercise respect for the feelings of human dignity held by all peoples, and be prepared to initiate dialogues for the return of cultural property to a country or people of origin.
Within the Pacific region, there was only one other case of repatriation of cultural item involving the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii and its museum counterpart in Tonga.
Tony Heorake, SINM Director, believes this is a very important cultural artifact for the people of the Solomon Islands. “There is currently no te vau on display at the museum in Honiara, nor any in the museum collection. This repatriation is a timely event where our visitors will be able to view one on display," he said.