Nemani Keeps Fiji Museum Alive
Keeps Fiji Museum Alive
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 is pumping life back into what used to be known as a ‘dormant museum.’
Sipiriano Nemani at the Fiji Museum.
Sipiriano Nemani in one of the exhibition rooms at the Fiji Museum.