I’m Adi Lewa, and I was an intern on the Urban Pathways project, funded by the British Academy’s Youth Futures Programme, supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. This project built on collaborations established during the Fijian Art Research Project between MAA and the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which sought to unlock the potential of the collections of Fijian art, material culture, and associated photographs and archives held in museums in the UK and abroad. For my internship, I used the MAA collections portal online to view indigenous Fijian and Tongan artefacts as well as visuals and audio recordings and choreographed the performance of two traditional Tongan dances called the Lakalaka (a group dance) and the Tau’olunga (a dance for young women).
Performing and sharing these dances was something I knew that I wanted to do, even before the internship. Through these performances, I have been able to connect with my culture on a deeper level. Looking back on it all now, it’s astonishing to me how far we have come as iTaukei. The fact that we are able to follow and keep the same traditions, especially as Fijians in the UK, is remarkable; I know that it’s important to continue practicing traditions passed down by our ancestors. This way, we can keep our culture alive and distinct in the globalised and westernised world in which we live. So when I do get a chance to perform, I am overcome with an immense feeling of pride. It is said that every time you perform, you are dancing alongside your ancestors.
Another key highlight was the talanoa session (a storytelling or conversational session) with the Fiji-based interns (the Urban Pathways project set up an internship programme for youth in cultural heritage institutions in Fiji as well as for UK-based diaspora Fijian youth at MAA). We discussed our upbringings and growing up in different social settings, and how it impacted us as Fijian youth. While I had assumed that these interns, being based in Fiji, had a stronger connection with their culture, in reality, we were a lot more in common than I had thought. We share the common goal of trying to preserve our culture and traditions for future generations in our continuously fast-moving worlds.
One of the main challenges we faced in the UK-based youth internship was being able to navigate certain objects and documentation on the database. Initially, I had searched for them using the Fijian native names. For example, instead of searching for ‘masi’, I had to search for ‘barkcloth’. Through this experience, we were able to identify a potential barrier for Fijians who are interested in exploring their heritage through the MAA database and collections portal online. The MAA team was extremely helpful and encouraged us to voice this type of feedback. They acknowledged the lack of information and are now working towards making their database and collections portal more user-friendly.
It was great to be part of the Urban Pathways program and being able to share ideas and thoughts. Being around people who are as interested in culture as you are, the atmosphere was consistently warm and welcoming. I hope to be part of future discussions too.
This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Urban Pathways: Fiji. Youth. Arts. Culture.