Milne Bay mu­seum opens

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Amu­seum ded­i­cated to the cul­ture of Milne Bay Prov­ince, in Pa­pua New Guinea’s idyl­lic south­east, has opened in Alotau. The Mas­sim Mu­seum and Cul­tural Cen­tre is only the fifth mu­seum in PNG and show­cases arte­facts, carv­ings, weav­ings, con­tem­po­rary paint­ings, pho­to­graphs and cu­rios.

Among the ex­hibits are carv­ings by Mu­tu­aga, one of the first named and recog­nised Pa­pua New Guinean carvers, who was be­friended by mis­sion­ar­ies in the 1890s.

Con­tem­po­rary carv­ings are also on dis­play, in­clud­ing some from the Kiri­wina re­gion, which are ac­com­pa­nied by sto­ry­boards that ex­plain their mean­ings and le­gends.

Many of the ex­hibits have been do­nated by lo­cals.

The mu­seum’s foun­da­tion direc­tor and ex­ec­u­tive cu­ra­tor, Joan Win­ter, says: “There is the de­vel­op­ing un­der­stand­ing that ob­jects will be much safer in the mu­seum than in some vil­lages and houses in Alotau, so col­lect­ing them has not been too dif­fi­cult as peo­ple come to show us what they have stored away. They al­ways bring sto­ries about their pre­cious cul­tural her­itage.”

How­ever, some of Mu­tu­aga’s carv­ings have come from an auc­tion house in Lon­don.

“They were taken to Lon­don in the late 1890s and then turned up at auc­tion in the 1990s,” Win­ter says. “Chris Abel, the grand­son of the orig­i­nal mis­sion­ary, Charles Abel, was alerted by a col­league in Lon­don and he was able to pur­chase them at the auc­tion.

“There are more valu­able and beau­ti­ful ob­jects from Milne Bay prov­ince in mu­se­ums around the world,” Win­ter says. “We hope to be able to repa­tri­ate some of these. There is an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, but prices are of­ten too high for the likes of this mu­seum, so donor sup­port­ers are needed.”

The Mas­sim Cul­tural Foun­da­tion was set up in the 1990s to cre­ate the mu­seum. The im­pe­tus to es­tab­lish the mu­seum came af­ter the very suc­cess­ful Mali­nowski Legacy con­fer­ence in 2015, staged in Alotau to cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of the stay of the fa­mous early an­thro­pol­o­gist Bro­nis­law Mali­nowski. It was made pos­si­ble by a grant from the na­tional gov­ern­ment.

The mu­seum is at the Wanig­ili Cen­tre, a build­ing said to be the largest wooden struc­ture in the south­west Pa­cific. It is co-res­i­dent with a cafe, con­fer­ence venue, ac­com­mo­da­tion and a tour com­pany.

The mu­seum is open Wed­nes­day to Satur­day from 11am to 4pm, or by ap­point­ment. It’s PGK25 for adults, PGK10 for chil­dren and PGK65 for fam­i­lies.

To get in touch with the mu­seum, phone +675 7933 1009 or email mil­nebay­mas­sim­mu­seum@ku­la­mail.net. ■

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