In late March, the Museum and several community partners welcomed our newest co-curators: five Marshallese-American high school students from Enid, Oklahoma. The students will help us produce a small Marshall Islands exhibition in our Pacific co-curation gallery, which will be installed and open to the public in 2020.
Before the students began their busy two-day introduction to the museum world and exhibits development, a powhiri, or formal welcoming ceremony, was held on the marae. Museum staff, Native American community partners, Philippines co-curators and many of Chicago’s Pacific community were in attendance to greet the students.
Speakers included Conrad White, representing the Maori of Tokomaru Bay; Lanialoha Lee, representing Chicago’s Pacific Islander community; Heather Miller of Chicago’s American Indian Center; and Lani Chan, a long time member of the Museum’s Filipino-American co-curation team. Speaking on behalf of Enid atoll were students John Sibok and Ezola Hong, Enid High School Assistant Principal Cindy Black, and Enid Marshallese community leader Terry Mote.
Following the ceremony and a tour of the current Pacific Halls, exhibition developers Ryan Schuessler and Monisa Ahmed guided the students in brainstorming sessions and activities to help identify goals and themes for the exhibition. The guests were also able to view the ~150 piece Marshallese collection in storage, sparking inspiration for the content of the show.
In April, Regenstein Pacific collections manager Chris Philipp will accompany the exhibits team back to Enid, where the group will continue to plan the exhibit, select objects, and hear feedback and ideas from the larger community. Philipp hopes the visit will represent a start of a deeper relationship between the Museum and the Marshallese people, both in the US and in the islands.
Gallery: Powhiri. All photos © John Weinstein 2019
Dr. Thane Militz and Nittya Simaro of University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, examined the Museum’s collection of Melanesian shell money from the Bismarck Archipelago. Militz had seen black and white photographs of some of the Museum's collection back in 2017- but color is particularly important in identifying types of shell currency.
Militz and Simaro work with people in New Ireland, PNG, to study their methods of creating, using, and trading/selling shell currency. They will be returning to their community partners with detailed photos of our historic shell money from which modern practitioners hope to learn old methods of manufacture. Militz notes, "The New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has long placed a cultural significance on shell-based valuables. The practice of producing shell money for trade or sale continues today. For many small island communities, far from major markets and without arable land, shell money production is one of the few cash-generating livelihood opportunities available. The production of shell money continues to be used for traditional exchange rites and, more recently, supplies a contemporary shell-based handicraft industry (being incorporated into earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc.)"
In March, the FM exhibits department and collections staff will welcome Marshallese high school students from Enid, Oklahoma. The students will see collection objects up close, and help the Museum plan its next co-curated exhibit in the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific.
Enid’s large community of Marshall Islanders is, in part, a result of climate change which has seen life in the islands change substantially over the years. Nuclear testing during WWII also resulted in some migration out of the islands. At least one third of the population of the Marshall Islands now live outside of the islands themselves. Coming to the Museum will give these students the chance to experience a part of their ancestors’ culture from over 150 years ago, and relate that culture to what they know today.
The Enid Public Schools press release follows:
February 19, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information: Amber Graham Fitzgerald
Executive Director of Human Resources & Communications 580‐366‐7000 I email@example.com
EHS to Partner with Field Museum for Pacific Islander Exhibition
Enid High School Islander students will join forces with the Field Museum in Chicago this spring to share their vibrant culture with the Museum’s more than one million annual visitors.
Museum officials have reached out to the school’s students to help co‐curate a display in the permanent Regenstein Halls of the Pacific exhibition, which will be installed in the winter of 2019. The exhibit will feature artifacts, multi‐media displays, educational information and stories about the Marshall Islands and its people.
Representatives of the Museum and the district announced the partnership Tuesday night during the school’s annual Islander Night, which features authentic Islander cuisine and musical entertainment.
The Field Museum is a groundbreaking research institution that cares for one of the world’s largest collection of artifacts and specimens. Its mission is to fuel journeys of discovery to enable solutions for a brighter future rich in nature and culture.
“We are increasingly partnering with the communities whose heritage is cared for and displayed at the Museum,” said John Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at the Field Museum. “It’s not a one‐way street. We are excited to learn from the Marshallese community in Enid and hope this is just the beginning of a partnership.”
Approximately six Islander Club students and two adults will travel to Chicago in March to assist with the exhibition. They will have the opportunity to share their knowledge of and passion for their culture, as well as learn about the process used to develop first‐class museum exhibitions.
The students have been invited to share a musical performance at the Museum during their visit, if they choose. Members of the Museum staff also will make a trip to Enid in April to further collaborate with other Islander students and community members.
“It is an honor for our students to be selected for this partnership, especially with such a prestigious museum,” EHS Principal Dudley Darrow said. “Our Islander Club has been active across our community and our state – sharing their culture with others and teaching them about life in the Marshall Islands. They enrich the school experience at EHS, as well as the lives of those who get to see them each day. It is rewarding to know that museum visitors will also have the opportunity to learn about them, their families and their culture.”
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is located in the Micronesia region of the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. It includes two parallel chains of 29 choral atolls, thousands of tiny islets and hundreds of small low‐lying islands.
From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, at least two of its islands served as sites for atomic and thermonuclear bomb testing by the United States. Partly because of this action, the U.S. and Marshall Islands entered into a compact that allows citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to live and work in the U.S.
Enid is proud to be home to one of the nation’s largest Islander populations. More than 2,000 Islanders live in Enid, with more than 870 Islander students enrolled in EPS schools.
According to Terry Mote, community leader and local Micronesian Coalition member, it will be beneficial for the Islander community – as well as the public at large – to experience an exhibit about the Marshallese culture.
He is especially excited for Islander students to gain a deeper understanding of their history and traditions.
“As we begin to embark on this journey into the Marshallese past, it’s important to reflect upon the way that people remember the past and the way that knowledge is passed down to new generations,” Mote said. “In the past, much of the knowledge of the ancestors was told when grandparents tell stories to their grandchildren to sleep at night before bed. This exhibit is a great opportunity to share the uniqueness of our culture not only to the younger generations but also to the world.”
Mote continued that storytelling and communication are treasured ways that Marshallese people preserve their heritage.
“A Marshallese word, Jitdam Kapeel, is the practice of asking and answering questions regarding family relationships and cultural values,” he said. “It is a way of passing along information that is extremely important to the Marshallese people. It is how we share and forms the basis of identification and our history.”