Lost traditions find artistic supporter
The cultural and social enrichment that occurs when two cultures meet intrigues Wellington artist Michel Tuffery, who has been exploring the influence of Germany in Samoa.
Tuffery has been fascinated by the cultural influence of Germany on Samoa, particularly during 1899 to 1914 when Samoa was a German colony.
He has German Samoan heritage through his mother’s side, as well as Tahitian and Rarotongan blood, and says despite some stigma still persisting surrounding the German period in Samoa, he’s proud of it.
‘‘A lot of German Samoan’s spend a lot of time being ashamed of it, but it’s only just come out now that they can start talking about the German part, and that’s why this exhibition’s really important.’’
German thinking had a strong influence on Samoan agriculture and technology, and as well as intertwined blood lines, the Germans left many cultural and artistic nuances in Samoan life, he says.
Tuffery has been researching these links on and off since 1999, including visits to both nations. In March this year he returned to Samoa to develop his research into a project, Siamani Samoa ( Siamani is Samoan for German), that is now on display at Porirua’s Pataka gallery, and is booked to travel to Sydney and Germany next year.
Tuffery collected footage of items of German Samoan culture and projected them onto the old Courthouse building in Apia, built in 1890, which has been used by a succession of different administrations. The footage accompanied a performance by the Samoan Royal Brass Band, whose sound descended from German music, and accompanied by dancers.
‘‘The band still do the march every day, and play, I worked with them and went through their score cards and got translations. They couldn’t pronounce the German, but wanted to know the meanings of the songs, and were just blown away.’’
The ensemble toured the project to significant villages, and had a strong response.
‘‘We found all these people would come out and say ‘my nan . . .’ or ‘my cousin . . .’, and share their memories – that was the whole point, to reawaken the elderly ones’ memory banks, because once you lose those hard drives you’re stuffed.
‘‘It was really important to start the project in Samoa, where the stories started, and let them tell the story first.’’
Tuffery joined a campaign to save some of the historical buildings that were scheduled to be demolished while he was in Samoa.
The campaign was largely unsuccessful, the facade of one building was saved.
‘‘People see it as because it’s old it’s actually not useful, but it’s part of our personality, you lose part of your soul and your visual identity.’’
For him, one item that has become symbolic of this lost heritage is traditional hair combs.
‘‘They’ve disappeared, they’re something that haven’t been familiar for quite a while,’’ he says.
Siamani Samoa is on show at Pataka until February 19. For more information visit pataka.org.nz or micheltuffery.co.nz.