Shared Heritage: Craftsmen from Palau and Fiji at the Humboldt Forum

News from 08/16/2022

Starting in September, the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will be showcasing masterpieces of Oceanic architecture and boat building in its exhibition spaces at the Humboldt Forum. Craftsmen from Palau and the Fiji Islands were recently in Berlin to work on a traditional meeting house and an original sailboat.

Men in blue shirts work on a traditional sail boat
© SPK / photothek / Thomas Köhler

The Palauan meeting house (or bai, as it is known in the Palauan language) was first exhibited in 1908, shortly after its acquisition, and became a favorite of visitors to the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) when still in Berlin-Dahlem. A few years ago, it was moved to Mitte and rebuilt in the Humboldt Forum. The only part that could not be assembled was the roof. This last job had to wait until a team of Palauans, headed by Patrick Tellei, came to Berlin in August 2022. They roofed the bai in the traditional manner with palm-leaf shingles crafted in Palau.

At the same time, a double-hulled sailboat was constructed in a neighboring room for the exhibition Oceania: People and the Sea. Joji Marau Misaele and Rogovosa Biuwale, both from Fiji, did this work, again using traditional methods. The boat, called a drua, is a new acquisition by the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace – Humboldt Forum Foundation) and it is the product of collaboration with Fiji National University and Fijian boat builders. The drua is one of the highlights of the museum’s family area, and children can even board it.

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