Treasure Islands Supper Dance

Jackie McMillan
7th Apr 2024

The process of decolonising museums is a complex one. It’s not just about returning objects colonising nations stole, it’s also about more accurately contextualising objects we purchased or legitimately acquired. Treasure Islands, which culminated in a supper dance at Parramatta’s Arts & Cultural Exchange last night, took on this task in conjunction with the Powerhouse Museum. The Powerhouse opened its collection of Pasifikan artefacts to groups of Pasifikan knowledge holders who produced six videos talking about and demonstrating their cultures in relation to the artefacts. Participating in this process helps the Powerhouse to move beyond a coloniser narrative that positions artefacts one-dimensionally as exemplars of fine Pasifikan craftsmanship.

Hosted by Leo Tanoi, a cultural leader with Samoan ancestry, the supper dance presented song and dance from six different Pasifikan cultures. It was a particular treat to see dancers Lepolo & Wika Lomavita from Kiribati take to the stage. The United Nations recognises Kiribati as one of the world's most vulnerable nations to climate change, with one report stating it is likely to be uninhabitable by 2100. This makes the preservation of culture a particularly urgent endeavour. 

None are quite so eloquent at explaining what we stand to lose if we don’t act to protect Pasifikan nations than former Miss Samoa, Maryjane McKibbin-Schwenke. In a performance by Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts, Maryjane spoke of returning to her village in Savai’i and finding it was now too hot to walk on the beach at sunset. A traditional song from this area describes Samoan women walking together at sunset, applying flowers to their hair, and admiring their beauty reflected in the sea. However there’s a real chance that Schwenke’s grandchildren won’t ever see this happen. Short of acting on climate change, preserving culture may be the only way this practice continues. 

For an astounding $20 ticket price, made possible by the NSW Government through the Culture Up Late Western Sydney Program, this event walked the line between vital messaging and celebration. Even the Pasifkan diet was interrogated, with a band called High BMI playing while guests tucked into dinner boxes of palusami, baked taro, green bananas cooked in coconut cream, and other Pasifikan dishes from Bidwill’s legendary Palms Pacific. Let’s hope this carrot and stick approach gets the message across: we stand to lose something incredible here. 

Watch the videos 》