|Entrance to Honolulu Academy of Arts|
After lunch at the Honolulu Academy of Arts (HAA), with Piet Lincoln, his wife and son, I was shown the gift shop in the HAA. Later I took a peak at the display of cultural and materials items in the Pacific Islands Collection on the second floor of the building. Piet is a linguist with a long term connection with the Banoni language speakers of Bougainville.
History (source www.wikipidea.org)
Anna Rice Cooke (1853–1934), daughter of New England missionaries and founder of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, in her dedication statement at the opening of the museum on April 8, 1927 said:
"That our children of many nationalities and races, born far from the centers of art, may receive an intimation of their own cultural legacy and wake to the ideals embodied in the arts of their neighbors ... that Hawaiians, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Northern Europeans and all other people living here, contacting through the channel of art those deep intuitions common to all, may perceive a foundation on which a new culture, enriched by the old strains may be built in the islands." —Anna Rice Cooke
Born on Oʻahu in 1853, Cooke grew up on Kauaʻi island in a home that appreciated the arts. In 1874, she married Charles Montague Cooke and the two eventually settled in Honolulu. In 1882, they built a home on Beretania Street, across from Thomas Square. As Cooke's career prospered, they gathered their private art collection. First were "parlor pieces" for their home. She frequented the shop of furniture maker Yeun Kwock Fong Inn who often had ceramics and textile pieces sent from his brother in China.
The Cookes’ art collection outgrew their home and the homes of their children. In 1920, she and her daughter Alice (Mrs. Phillip Spalding), her daughter-in-law Dagmar (Mrs. Richard Cooke), and Catharine E. B. Cox (Mrs. Isaac Cox), an art and drama teacher, began to catalogue and research the collection with the intent to display the items in a museum. With little formal training, these women obtained a charter for the museum from the Territory of Hawaii in 1922, while continuing to catalogue the collection. Cooke wanted a museum that reflected Hawaiʻi's multi-cultural make-up. Not bound by the traditional western idea of art museums, she also wanted to showcase the island's climate in an open and airy environment, using courtyards which interconnect the galleries throughout the Academy.
The Cookes donated their Beretania Street land along with an endowment of $25,000. Their home was torn down to make way for the museum. New York architect Bertram Goodhue designed a classic Hawaiian-style building with simple off-white exteriors and tiled roofs. Goodhue died before the project was completed; it was finished by Hardie Phillip. This style has been imitated in many buildings throughout the state.
On April 8, 1927, the Honolulu Academy of Arts opened. There was a traditional Hawaiian blessing and the Royal Hawaiian Band, under the direction of Henri Berger, played at festivities. With the opening of the museum came gifts of many pieces, sometimes even entire collections. Additions to the original building include a library (1956), an education wing (1960), a gift shop (1965), a cafe (1969), a contemporary gallery, administrative offices and 292-seat theater (1977), and an art center for studio classes and expanded educational programming (1989). In 1999, the Academy created a children's interactive gallery, lecture hall, and offices.
The original building was named Hawaiʻi's best building by the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the American Institute of Architecture and is registered as a National and State Historical site. The Academy is accredited by the American Association of Museums.
In the gift shop I spotted a book entitled: Fire in the Sea: An Anthology of Poetry and Art, selected by Sue Cowing. I had never seen the book before. In the content page I immediately spotted a familiar PNG name: Kumalau Tawali, then Russell Soaba and Apisai Enos.
PNG writers appeared alongside Pacific writers such as Albert Wendt, Konai Helu Thaman, Hone Tuwhare, Kauraka Kauraka, Sudesh Mishra, Raymond Pillai, Eric Chock, Wayne Westlake, and Alistair Campbell, at least the ones that I know. All these Pacific writers appeared in the book together with some of the world’s favourite writers like Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Yasmine Gooneratne, Judith Wright, Nicholas Hasluck, Fleur Adcock, E. E. Cummings, and Margaret Atwood.
In the preface to this book, published in 1996 as a Kolowalu Book by the University of Hawaii Press, in association with The Honolulu Academy of Arts, Sue Cowing writes: “This anthology includes, I believe for the first time, a significant sample of Pacific poetry in an international collection. The Pacific Islands have long poetic traditions, and the last two decades have seen a lively outpouring of contemporary poetry, especially in Fiji, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and Samoa, that deserves to be better known with and beyond the region.”
The title of the book: Fire in the Sea is a strong imagery of Hawaiian natural landscapes formed by its volcanic activities. Cowing writes: “Just as flowing lava turns the ocean to steam and keeps on burning—fire in the sea—the best poems we hear or read take surprising, even “impossible,’ turns that change the way we see the world afterward. Poets and visual artists try to say what we would have thought could not be expressed, and they succeed, we share their deep pleasure.”
The illustrations, in the book, are from the permanent collections of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and include a few pieces by young students of art at the academy, retained over the years for the lending collection at Linekona.
In the Pacific Islands Collections of the Honolulu Academy of Arts a whole array of material culture and arts of the Pacific were on display. These are material treasures of Oceania that were donated to the HAA. Traditional arts of the Pacific are well represented in the Academy collection. Fine examples from Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia include domestic containers, furnishings, mats, tools, weapons, featherwork, fishing equipment, and musical instruments.
The Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea is represented with ceremonial carvings, ancestral figures, headdresses, instruments, containers, masks, shields, canoe prows and paddles. Artifacts from the Federal States of Micronesia include a variety of masks, utilitarian objects and body ornaments. From French Polynesia are tools, headdresses, bowls, cups and containers.
The amazing thing for me was that most of the artifacts from Melanesia are from the Sepik area. There is the Iatmul slit gong drum, a ceremonial water drum from Chambri Lakes, a Malagan figure from New Ireland, an ancestor figure with skull from the Middle Sepik, a spirit board from the Gulf Province, a mask for yam ceremony from Nuku, a headdress for yam mask from Maprik and a Kavat mask from the Baining people of Gazelle Peninsula in the East New Britain Province. Seeing these on display in Hawaii made me wonder about what the visitors to this gallery would think about Papua New Guinea after they leave. What do they really think?
I know Soaba’s Storyboard is anxious to know the poem published in book Fire in the Sea. The poem as Storyboard knows is my favorite poem: “Looking thru Those Eye-holes”. If Storyboard does not mind, for the sake of those who have never read this masterpiece by Russell Soaba, I would like to have the honor of promoting it on this blog. It reads:
Looking thru Those Eye-holes
once an artist went overseas
his father died in his absence
& was buried in the village
he followed a rainbow upon his return
& came to a cemetry
he dug in search of reality
till he broke his father’s skull
to wear its fore-half as a mask
try it/loo through those eye-holes
see the old paintings/view the world
in the way the dead had done.
Believe me, since the first day I read this poem in the mid-1980s, I have never ceased to be amazed by the power of the poem in its appeal to me. Thank you, Russ for this poem.
Kumalau Tawali’s poem published in the same collection is also another powerful poem that has the magic it has always had on me since the first time I read it in the 1980s. Here it is:
The River Flows Back
In my mother’s womb
Peace was mine
But I said “maping”
I greeted the light
And came into the world,
Saluting it with a cry.
I paddled downstream
Drifting at ease
Like Adam before the fall.
But now a storm rises before me
My canoe has swung around
I paddle against the stream.
The river my helper
Has become my enemy
I fight the river
Until my veins stand out
Until the paddle blisters my palms.
Yet in this battle I gain glory
I grow name
The true essence of it.
One day I will reach the source again
There at my beginnings
Will welcome me.
[Note: Maping in a term for greeting in a Manus language]
Soaba and Tawali are the first generation of PNG writers that I have unreserved admiration and respect for. Seeing their works being celebrated in an international anthology affirmed the poet in me to keep on writing. These two poems have influenced two of my early poems: “Lomo’ha, I am in Spirit’s Voice I Call” and “The Mother and Child” published in my first poetry collection.
My other favorite poet, Carl Sandburg, who describes poetry as (cited by Sue Cowing): “the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Such animals live everywhere—on islands, on coasts, and, like Sandburg, in the middle of continents.”
Am I a sea animal? Is that why I love poetry? Try looking through the eyeholes of a sea animal what would you see?
Epeli Hau’ofa is right: It is the Ocean in Us that makes us who we are and what we are in the middle of Oceania—a body of water/life around our islands.