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Ritual Offerings, Peabody Essex Museum

Posted by Geoff Edgers  August 10, 2006 04:58 PM
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We've never heard of offerings made at the Peabody Essex Museum but according to a story in the New York Times, the Salem museum has "an agreement with native Hawaiian groups to allow ritual offerings to be made before a rare 19th-century Hawaiian temple image in the museum's collection."

The story details new guidelines from the Association of Art Museum Directors about how to work with indigenous groups that have a connection to a museum collection. Dan Monroe, the PEM's director, helped write the report.

So which groups does the PEM have agreements with? Which pieces do the agreements involve? And have there been offerings at the museum? When? What kind?

Instead of telling us, PEM responded to our questions with a smidge less detail than the Times account.

Colette Randall, a spokeswoman, responded with an e-mail that stated: "We do not have written agreements with Native American groups or with Native Hawaiian organizations regarding special treatment, handling, or exhibition of certain objects. Instead, we agree to certain procedures for certain works based on dialogue and discussion with representatives of these groups. Written agreements have not been necessary to date."

Then, Randall wrote that while "there are several works in the PEM collections that receive special treatment ... We do not generally release information regarding works that are given special treatment, handling, or care." In addition, "groups have made planned offerings at PEM. We fully support and assist in these endeavors."

Fortunately, using one of those super-powerful reporter tools - Google - we were able to quickly find at least one of the objects in question. This local Hawaiian culture site references what is most likely the piece mentioned in the Times article, "the large carved image made from breadfruit wood of Kuka'ilimoku, the personal war god of King Kamehameha. This heiau (temple) image dates back to the 18th century and is 210 centimeters in height. Only two other large carved images of Kuka'ilimoku have survived: one at the British Museum and the other at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii."

Here's a picture of the object:

templeimage.jpg


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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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