A Day at the MuseumThursday, March 6, 2008 9:25
Considering the size of the Solomon Islands National Museum, it’s really more like 15 minutes though. I have to admit that despite having worked in the Solomon Islands for some 8 years now and despite it being located conveniently in the town center just off the main road, I’ve never visited the National Museum. Not that there is really much to see. You can see the entirety of it in the photo above with my wife. That small hall constitutes the entire museum, so it’s pretty underwhelming.
The exhibits are mostly wooden carvings and examples of shell money, bundles of sea shells tied together that used to be exchanged as currency and are still given as marriage gifts in some communities. There are also some old photographs of some of the early explorers who came to the Solomons.
As a male gamer, I naturally gravitated towards the weapons exhibit. You can see a very simple, unadorned set of bow and arrows in the photograph. Everything is made of wood and only wood. Even the arrows are unfletched and are only long sticks with one end sharpened and ridges carved on it. There was one shield on display and I read that only a handful of such woven shields still exist and are on display in museums in the United States and Australia.
One of the odder weapons was the long staff with one end flaring into a blade-like shape. I read that it was used both to attack enemies and to deflect arrows. The descriptive text notes that many of the tribes in the Solomons were headhunters and regularly fought with one another. I doubt that there were all out wars though, more likely frequent skirmishes and low level conflicts over resources and land.
Here’s an example of one of the wood carvings on display. Look, explicit genitalia! The carving doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned recently though. There’s plenty of dust all around, especially since the museum isn’t even air-conditioned.
This is probably the most valuable thing in the entire museum. Actually it’s probably more valuable than the entire building and the land it’s sitting on. It’s a piece of moon rock from the Apollo missions given by U.S. president Jimmy Carter to the Solomon Islands on its independence. I first read about it on the excellent Everything Everywhere photoblog and I had to see it for myself. You can see much better pictures of it there. It’s not really that much to look at but it feels sort of weird I suppose that this little stone was carried all the way from the moon on a spacecraft.
Gary, the person who runs Everything Everywhere, believes that it’s only a matter of time until the rock gets stolen. I googled for more information on it and discovered that at least one of these gifts have already been stolen, this one given to Malta and stolen in 2004. Anyway, when I went to the museum, the glass cabinet was definitely closed and I didn’t dare to check to see if it was locked. I sent an e-mail to RAMSI, the Australian peacekeeping mission to the Solomon Islands, to tell them about it but so far they haven’t sent me a reply.