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Museum brings our history alive

Saturday August 25, 2018 Written by Published in Culture

A story in the London Gazette published on August 26, 1768, read: “This afternoon at 2 o’clock HIS MAJESTY’S Bark Endeavour, with a fair wind behind her, weighed anchor and set sail for the South pacific Island of Tahiti”.

If you lived in London at the time you could have brought that newspaper for two pence and a farthing. But you can still read the story from an original copy of the newspaper at the Cook Islands Library and Museum.

The museum houses a large selection of historic Cook Islands artefacts including ancient weapons, baskets, bowls, a whaling harpoon, ceremonial drums and a pair of sandals made from wild hibiscus, and in perfect condition. 

At the museum’s entrance are a beautiful selection of old sepia photos dating back to the 1900s, an old painting of a gardenia explaining how the much-loved flower arrived from Avaiki with early settlers, as well as original dance costumes collected by Herbert Whalley in 1944.  They include an original headdress in pupu shell with the skirt and ei made from kiri’au from the hibiscus tree.

Other artworks include large old portraits, including one of Marie Watson (nee Peyroux) 1908 – 2003. An old painting of a whaling scene from the 1850s in pastel on hardboard by Edwin Shorter depicts the laborious, long and dangerous business of killing a full sized whale, using only canoes, nerves of steel, and wooden harpoons.

Two old bush beer barrels carved out of the lower trunk of the coconut tree show the history of alcohol distillation on the island, and if you’re curious how it was made, the basic orange brew recipe is on display. A collection of shells from tiny to over a foot long, include a well-documented exhibit donated by Judge Jack Morgan.

In the bird display photos show the kakerori, which was believed to be extinct for over 100 years,  but was happily rediscovered in 1973.

A display of preserved crabs shows the “horrid sea crab”, which did not look horrid at all beside a huge coconut crab with its powerful body and long wide nippers.

Cabinets along a far wall are dedicated to each of the outer islands and in the background a video called The Mystique of the Pearl plays.

The museum is an extension of the library and is open from Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and Tuesday evening from 4pm to 7pm.