Educational and Cultural Exchange with Torres Strait Islander students

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Delegation from Tagai State College in front of the Torres Strait display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on 13 November 2013.
Left to right: Curator Anita Herle, Stephen Yamashia, Amelia Mari, Valent Kirk, Margaret Rishbeth (Haddon’s graddaughter), Zach Bani, Tanisha Pabai and Deborah Belyea.

During the week of 11 November 2013 the Museum welcomed 5 secondary students from Waybeni Koey Ngurpay Mudh Tagai State College on Thursday Island.  Led by their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies teacher, Mrs Deb Belyea, the students (Zach Bani, Valent Kirk, Amelia Mari, Tanisha Pabai, and Stephen Yamashita) were keen to re-connect with aspects of their heritage at the University of Cambridge.  MAA has developed strong collaborative relationships with people in the Torres Strait, and hosted numerous visits by Islanders, but this is the first time that the Museum has worked closely with a student group.

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Tagai State College students Stephen Yamashita and Tanisha Pabai with teacher Deborah Belyea looking at a dibidibi shell pendant collected by Alfred Haddon in 1898.

Academic Advisor Dr Anita Herle developed a week-long programme which focused on the University’s important Torres Strait collections, many of which originate from the landmark 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait lead by Alfred Haddon. The students each selected an artefact to study and compiled a learning log. Other academic activities included a visit to the University Herbarium to see the Torres Islander plant samples collected on the Expedition, a tour of the Haddon library, a talk in Bio-anthropology, and a presentation given by the students to the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group.  A highlight of the visit was meeting with Margaret Rishbeth, Haddon’s granddaughter.  Amelia Mari demonstrated a range of string figures using the string that was taken by Margaret’s mother Kathleen Rishbeth (née Haddon) to the Torres Strait and New Guinea when she accompanied her father on a research trip to the region in 1914.  On return to the Torres Strait the students shared their experiences at a Community Feedback Evening.

P1080204_smallAmelia Mari demonstrating string figures to Haddon’s granddaughter Margaret Rishbeth.

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