Collections Collecting Dust

I’m definitely not a museum guy. The stuffed, lifeless atmosphere inside our temples for the admiration of all things dead and gone usually gives me the creeps if not outright despair and rage. But after having crossed the entire Pacific pretty much in vain in a passionate search for any remaining traditional Polynesian sea craft, it was an eye and heart opening experience to visit the traditional canoe exhibition at the famed Auckland Maritime Museum back in April. Cramped in the space of a good size gym you find yourself meandering around, between and amongst a host of ancient nautical contraptions that make your mind wander into the realms of distant times where man still had enough of this rare substance called courage to brave the elements face to face, cheek to cheek and with his own bare hands, without hiding inside a veritable armor of digital technology where the adventure consists in pressing buttons and staring at glaring monitor screens.

Many slender canoes rest here in apparent peace, I guess in a sort of retirement home, away from the strains of the harsh life on the water. Most of them were made along time ago from wooden planks precisely cut by agile adzes, then hewn together with sennit rope that was handmade from coconut fiber and any gap between the planks was sealed with sticky breadfruit sap. A highly advanced building technology went hand in hand with an astonishing system and sense of orientation where man by looking up at the heavens with open eyes could precisely gauge his position on a featureless watery plane of waves, ripples, foam and spray. I know we always tend to think that other times where much better than ours, so when breathing in the dusty atmosphere of the exposition hall I though twice and resisted thrice before plunging into the imagination of that great era of Polynesian voyaging.

Everything we do nowadays seems so lame, so plastic, so disconnected! Those people shaped the world around them with their hands, with simple tools but very elaborate techniques.  You can see in those hull shapes condensed and distilled experience. They talk of riding over many waves, small, big and mighty ones. Some of those you have to pierce with all your strength, others you have to let gently roll under your craft, and then there are the ones that invite you to dance on their crest, slide down their face and then wander around in their troughs. It takes many generations to accumulate the knowledge needed to conquer the seas without breaking your back! Our hope was to see those mighty vessels in use throughout the Pacific Islands, but sadly we had to come all the way across this vast ocean and can only admire them under layers of dust propped up on exhibition stands, accompanied by small tablets that apologize for the lack of real life by giving fanciful explanations.

Outside the museum on its open-air piers Te Aurere is tied up. This is a vessel that is still in active use at the present time. This reconstruction of an old Maori ship is an instructional vehicle serving the important purpose of passing on some of the ancient maritime wisdom to the next generation. Hers is a brave but solitary existence, filling a tiny niche where there should be a great expanse, a cultural oddity where it should be the norm. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not trying to diminish her noble achievements but I do accuse the society at large of a terrible and reckless neglect!

2 Responses to “Collections Collecting Dust”

  1. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    I love all your writing. Do not stop doing it!!!!!.
    I hope to see you soon 🙂

  2. Paz Says:

    Wonderful pictures and story about the history of navigation in that part of the world, Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: