September 2013

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Göttingen Visit
25- 27 July 2011

Arawa visitors in Cambridge

June 2011

Cook collections: research breakthrough at the British Museum

Cook First Voyage collections: research visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ngai Tamanuhiri in Cambridge

September 2010

Sainsbury Research Unit collaboration

Funding excellence

August 2010

Pacific Arts Association Xth International Symposium

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July 2010

Research seminar: Digital Subjects, Cultural Objects

June 2010

Introductory talk for TATAU: Symmetry, Harmony and Beauty

MAA hosts Semisi Fetokai Potauaine

EXHIBITION – Tatau: Samoan Tattooing / Global Culture

January 2010

Visit to Uawa




News

Pare Kura: Cook Islands headdress at MAA
Maia Nuku, February 2013

Project team members have re-examined many of the artefacts in MAA’s significant Polynesian collections at close quarters. This spectacular feather headdress (known in the Cook Islands as a pare kura - from pare, a head covering and kura - a reference to the red feathers incorporated into its bindings) comprises a coconut fibre helmet and woven net attachment from which thick tresses of human hair hang down the length of the back. A front panel of densely packed red feather clusters is set beneath an impressive crest of tropic bird (tavake) tail feathers which rise up dramatically to frame the face and head.

The headdress has long been associated with another in the British Museum, largely on account of the similarities both bear to a well-known image used by John Williams as the frontispiece to his Narrative of Missionary Enterprises (London: John Snow, 1839). The image, entitled ‘Te Po, a chief of Rarotonga’, featured a heavily-tattooed ariki or chief wearing a headdress of this type.

Complex assemblages such as these, which incorporated rare and highly potent or tapu materials speak not only of the enhanced mana and prestige of high status individuals but were also literal instantiations of personal efficacy which aimed at effecting transformation.

Our detailed studies of this important artefact at MAA led to the exciting discovery that the dark brown barkcloth which wraps the helmet bears the same scalloped design as that on a piece collected by Captain James Cook in 1769 during the brief visit of the Endeavour to Rurutu in the neighbouring Austral islands. This distinctive piece of barkcloth remains in the Cambridge collections today and gives us vital clues as to the dynamic and fluid interaction which existed between the islands of these archipelagoes, where styles, techniques and influences were constantly in transit and flux.

These findings and the latest research on the museum’s collections are included in the catalogue Artefacts of Encounter (2014).


Pare kura, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.
Photo: Maia Nuku