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Ama awarded NZ Museum Medal for her contributions to preserving culture

Monday 1 July 2024 | Written by RNZ | Published in Local, National

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Ama awarded NZ Museum Medal for her contributions to preserving culture
Mary Ama with her Museum Medal. Photo: Supplied/Auckland War Memorial Museum/24063010

Cook Islander Mary Ama has been awarded a prestigious Museum Medal (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum) recognising her contributions to Pacific arts and preserving cultural heritage.

Upon immigrating to New Zealand from Rarotonga, Ama founded “Pacifica Mamas” in the 1980s, a space for Pacific artists and knowledge holders to actively practice, teach and preserve indigenous arts.

This gathering continues today through Moanaroa, the Pacific Arts Centre in West Auckland.

Home to over 32,000 members from 26 ethnic groups, the space provides the opportunity for an intergenerational exchange of traditional knowledge.

Weavers, carvers, artists, dancers and more congregate at the centre to share their talents with younger generations of New Zealand-born Pacific islanders.

Ama said she was “moved beyond words” at the awards ceremony at the Auckland Museum on 26 June.

“I feel honoured and humbled to receive the Museum Medal, but know it is not mine alone. It acknowledges the huge contribution, stories and knowledge shared by our people of Te moana nui a kiva (Pacific Ocean).”

Auckland Museum Tumu Whakarae chief executive David Reeves said the Museum Medals recognise individuals who have delivered excellence in the study of our cultural and natural heritage.

“This year’s recipients have made major contributions to their areas of study and the creation of new knowledge, and it is a privilege to be able to celebrate their achievement with the recognition of the Museum Medals,” he said.

Ama was one of four winners of this year’s Museum Medals, alongside Dr John Braggins (Associate Emeritus of Auckland War Memorial Museum), Dr Susan Abasa (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum) and Christina Hurihia Wirihana (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum).

According to Wikipedia, Ama was born in Vaka Takitumu in the southeast of the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, and has Cook Islands Maori, Samoan and English heritage.

Her mother died when Ama was young and her father remarried, and Ama was raised by her grandparents. She immigrated to New Zealand in 1965, and worked for various government departments.

Ama founded Pacifica Mamas, a community arts collective based in Auckland, New Zealand, in the late 1980s The collective designs and delivers Pacific-based arts and cultural programmes in schools and the community both in New Zealand and overseas in the Cook Islands, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Ama also developed a programme for Pacific prison inmates, which she has delivered at Spring Hill Correction Facility near Huntly for more than 10 years.

She has been the Pacific Island Arts Advocate for the Waitakere City Council and has taught at both Mt Albert Grammar School and Corbans Estate Arts Centre.

In 1998, Ama began working for the Waitakere City Council, and as a part of Pacifica Mamas began teaching tivaevae classes in 1999.

She has delivered other Pacific arts, culture and community projects for Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland Council, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, and ASB Polyfest.

In 2012, the collective won the Creative NZ Pacific Heritage Arts Award. In 2015, Ama and the Pacifica Mamas won the Arts Access Corrections Community Award for their work at Spring Hill.

In the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Ama was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the arts and the Pacific community. RNZ