Displaying Colonial Relations: from Government House in Fiji to the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Anita Herle



This paper focuses on the assemblage and display of Fijian collections at Government House during the first few years of British colonial rule and reflexively considers its re-presentation in the exhibition Chiefs & Governors: Art and Power in Fiji (6 June 2013 – 19 April 21014) at the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA).  It moves beyond reductionist accounts of colonial collecting and investigates the specificity and nuances of complex relationships between Fijian and British agents, between subjects and objects, both in the field and in the museum. A focus on the processes of collecting and display highlights multiple agencies within colonial networks and the fluid transactional nature of object histories. The Fijian objects that bedecked the walls of Government House from the mid 1870s were re-assembled in 1883 as the founding ethnographic collections of the University of Cambridge Museum of General and Local Archaeology (now MAA). Ethnographic museums have tended to efface the links between the material on display and their colonial pasts (Edwards and Mead 2013). In contrast, the creation of Chiefs & Governors was used as an opportunity to explore the multiple agencies within colonial relations and the processes of collecting, displaying and governing (Bennett et al.2014; Cameron and McCarthy 2015). The second half of this paper analyses the techniques and challenges involved in displaying colonial relations in a museum exhibition and considers the ongoing value of the collections for Fijian communities, cultural descendants, museum staff, researchers and broad public audiences today.


Museums, Fiji, Colonial HIstory, Art, Climate Change

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v16i2.2808

Copyright (c) 2018 Anita Herle

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