Ne­mani Keeps Fiji Mu­seum Alive

Keeps Fiji Mu­seum Alive

mailife - - Contents - By AIMEE JANE-ROCKETT Pho­tos by IVAMERE ROKOVESA

Kubu­lau’s own Sipiri­ano Ne­mani is now Di­rec­tor of the Fiji Mu­seum and couldn’t be more ex­cited about the changes hap­pen­ing there on his watch. He’s pump­ing life back into what peo­ple used to call a ‘dor­mant’ mu­seum. Ne­mani, 35, be­came Di­rec­tor of the mu­seum only in Jan­uary of this year and has al­ready been on board with four spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions that opened dur­ing the past few months. “The op­por­tu­nity to be­come Di­rec­tor was a com­plete sur­prise and one I wasn’t ex­pect­ing at all,” he said. Af­ter sec­ondary school he stud­ied So­ci­ol­ogy at Foun­da­tion level. One of the units fo­cused on Cul­tural An­thro­pol­ogy which re­ally sparked his pas­sion. An­thro­pol­ogy as a study dis­ci­pline wasn’t of­fered in Fiji, but Ne­mani said his teach­ers were, “sup­port­ive and help­ful” in di­rect­ing him to­wards the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Queens­land in Aus­tralia where a course was avail­able. He stud­ied for his de­gree there and “when of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to be­come Di­rec­tor of Fiji Mu­seum, it came at the right time, given the qual­i­fi­ca­tion I have.” Grow­ing up in Suva, Ne­mani at­tended Catholic schools. His par­ents fol­lowed the Catholic faith and had met when they were work­ing at Mako­gai, once an outpost where lep­rosy pa­tients were treated. “In school, the nuns were very strict and would of­ten dis­ci­pline us if we did some­thing wrong. “You could be pun­ished if you were caught speak­ing Fi­jian in­stead of English – I be­lieve it was the school’s way to help stu­dents ex­cel.” Ne­mani seems to have a for­giv­ing na­ture and says he is ex­tremely grate­ful for his younger school years, believ­ing they moulded him into the per­son he is to­day. He moved

on to sec­ondary level at Marist Broth­ers High School which has fewer clergy and Ne­mani took part in sports and other ac­tiv­i­ties the school of­fered. “My par­ents started their life in Mako­gai be­fore mov­ing to Suva. While my mother Maria was very strict, my fa­ther Maretino was a rather quiet and a hum­ble man. Be­ing third youngest in the fam­ily you’re not al­ways your par­ents favourite.” Chores were ever present in young Ne­mani’s life and ev­ery morn­ing and even­ing he had to make sure all were done. “If you wanted to get sweets when your fa­ther came home from work you had to make sure your chores were fin­ished.” The youngsters were drilled to ex­cel in school and to work hard and was how he earned a schol­ar­ship to the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Queens­land, he said. “I owe it to my strict up­bring­ing for the op­por­tu­ni­ties I was given be­cause it made me work hard at school. I stayed home most of the time, but I had a re­ally good up­bring­ing and re­ally en­joyed it.” Now he is en­joy­ing his new role at the mu­seum. “There are over 20,000 arte­facts so it’s hard to tell which is the old­est. How­ever the mu­seum is cur­rently in the process of repa­tri­at­ing a fe­male face form, Mana, found on Mo­turiki Is­land, Ovalau. She is over 2,800 years old, so one of the ear­li­est Fi­jians ex­ca­vated. “The site was dis­cov­ered by Pro­fes­sor Pa­trick Nunn, a ge­ol­o­gist and ar­chae­ol­o­gist who pre­vi­ously worked at the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pa­cific, with a team of stu­dents and arche­ol­o­gists who ex­ca­vated the site.” Fiji Mu­seum was built in 1955 and had be­gun to age. Ne­mani is do­ing some­thing to change that. “I want to give life back to the mu­seum to draw in the crowds it used to have, and its work­ing.” He wants peo­ple to come in and be en­thralled by the ex­hibits so is al­ways look­ing for projects to make sure there is al­ways some­thing new go­ing on. “I first vis­ited the mu­seum in Year 3 and I still saw the same arte­facts and same peo­ple, it looked like some of peo­ple were

were still work­ing in the mu­seum.” Lit­tle had been done to change, he said. “Arte­facts are what keeps a mu­seum run­ning so you need to make sure that there are al­ways things of in­ter­est be­ing shown.” With a hold­ing of more than 20,000 items it is one of the new Di­rec­tor’s main pri­or­i­ties to make sure that they are all kept in the best con­di­tion. With a Con­ser­va­tion Pol­icy in place and con­ser­va­tion­ists, along with the 30 hard­work­ing staff mem­bers at the heart of the mu­seum, this pri­or­ity is achiev­able, Ne­mani said. “Govern­ment sup­port is re­ally piv­otal for the mu­seum and I am so thank­ful to govern­ment for com­ing in and help­ing. It al­lows the mu­seum to develop new vi­sion and di­rec­tion. “As the mu­seum has lim­ited fund­ing I have to start small. But I want to make it worth the in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors pay­ing the ten dol­lar en­try fee.” Ne­mani be­lieves in the po­ten­tial of the mu­seum and is lis­ten­ing to stake­hold­ers as well as look­ing up vis­i­tor com­ments to see what can be im­proved in a way that pleases peo­ple most. “My main pri­or­ity is vis­i­tor sat­is­fac­tion and also the up­keep of the mu­seum.” In­fra­struc­ture is some­thing that Ne­mani also has to fo­cus on. He has had mi­nor ren­o­va­tions done to make sure the mu­seum is in the best shape it can be to main­tain the arte­facts and the flow of peo­ple com­ing to visit ev­ery­day. “I am en­joy­ing it all very much and re­ceiv­ing great feed­back from the pub­lic. It’s worth fight­ing for and pur­su­ing fur­ther, to cre­ate a new life for the Fiji Mu­seum.” With a new ex­hi­bi­tion Ka­mu­naga: The Story of Tabua re­cently opened, he’s def­i­nitely keep­ing his prom­ises to keep­ing the mu­seum alive, lively and chang­ing for the bet­ter.

Sipiri­ano Ne­mani at the Fiji Mu­seum.

Sipiri­ano Ne­mani in one of the ex­hi­bi­tion rooms at the Fiji Mu­seum.

Sipiri­ano Ne­mani is pump­ing life back into what used to be known as a ‘dor­mant mu­seum.’

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