In my role at The Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound I am fortunate to be immersed in Moana oral histories. As a child of diaspora my body always occupied other ways of knowing, taking in their nutrients just as the porous flesh takes in minerals. Along with a genealogy of blood my body keeps record of the distances I have also absorbed—an assembly of history’s traces deposited in me. My body is also an archive.
The immediacy of sound makes it unique as a cultural artefact. Sound creates a visceral connection to the past, and is also one of the most inaccessible things about it. Once created, sound reverberates in the air, and unless recorded it vanishes again. Audio recordings cast us into a memory, dissolving the boundary between ourselves and the past.
But the minutiae of archival operating rhythms disrupt our relationship with the past. The act of preserving our ancestor’s voices removed them from their original auditory place to be studied by academics from a climate-controlled room. They were selected and arranged by the depositor—usually a palangi researcher—where their names and villages were often omitted, as if unnecessary. The richness of sacred ceremonies were reduced to English generalisations like ‘prayer chant’ or ‘canoe hauling song’. Without a thread to connect us back to their origin stories we have been denied the richness of these tapu recordings.
The concepts of time and space are embedded in indigenous languages and cultural practices. In Moana Oceania cultures the past is usually placed ahead and in front, and is said to help us retain our memories of the past and awareness of its presence. Understanding the past is an act of imagination, it requires a leap into the virtual space of memory. Indigenous practices make this space less a chasm and more an interstice that connects us across time and space.
For example, over time the genres of Tongan classification remain the same despite the use of new materials, technology and inclusion of new practices. Faiva is a classification for the Tongan art of performance. The aim of faiva is to create beauty and harmony through the rhythmic or symmetrical arrangement of tā/time in vā/space, and literally means, ‘to do time in space’. Faiva speaks to the fundamental concept of tā-vā whilst being open to its different expressions as they evolve.
Anglo-American standards supplant indigenous classification systems that have been shaped for millennia. They impose foreign terms on our cultural practices that are informed by linear distinctions between past/present/future; traditional/contemporary; authentic/derivative, and so on. That initial quest of arkhē, to articulate reality as a whole, will always fall short as long as it refuses other ways of knowing. When our taonga are not properly cared for, the archive is not a reliable source of truth and authority for our peoples.
We have also been denied access to our ancestor’s voices through the archive’s distance, which in Tongan might be termed vātamaki: a disharmonious in-between space. For many of us, the archive exists on the outskirts of our everyday lived experience. The minutiae of archival operating rhythms further impose a border between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Gatekeeping tactics such as proprietary law gives ownership to the depositor instead of the families of those recorded. Rather than inviting families into our fale to share lotu, kai and talanoa we tell them to fill out forms.
Such cracks in the archive as these reveal how history is constructed. A prevalence of Western ontology has generated ‘the gaps, silences, absences and violences of the archive.’ Centring indigenous knowledge systems is an undoing of the colonial power structures at play in our institutions. It is a conversion of these cracks into generative spaces.
Lagi-Maama Academy & Consultancy is an independent Moana-led organisation composed of Barbara Makuati-Afitu (Samoa-NZ) and Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai (Tonga-NZ). They are concerned with the structures that organise information, and have been working behind the scenes interweaving the richness of Indigenous Moana knowledge systems into our most prominent cultural heritage institutions.
Mālō ‘aupito and thank you to Kolokesa and Barbara for generously giving their precious time, knowledge, and candid insights into their mahi. Thank you also to Michelle Mascoll for lending your audio expertise and recording the audio during this talanoa. Fa’afetai tele lava.
 Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (2016). via Cracks in the Archive, Andrew Woods
 Seth Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.
 Laura Millar (2017). Archives: Principles and Practice. London: Facet. pp.37-38
 Māhina, O. (2002). Tufunga Lalava: The Tongan Art of Lineal and Spatial Intersection, in Filipe Tohi: Genealogy of Lines Hohoko e Tohitohi. S. Rees. New Plymouth: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
 Ka’ili, Tevita O. (2008). Tauhi Vā: Creating beauty through the art of sociospatial relations. [PhD Dissertation]. The University of Washington.
 Rebecca Comay; Joshua Nichols (2012). Missed Revolutions, Non-Revolutions, Revolutions to Come: On Mourning Sickness, in Phaenex Journal, Vol.7(1), pp.326. https://doi.org/10.22329/p.v7i1.3612
Huni Mancini (she/her) is a writer and archivist whose practice centres on memory, embodiment and modes of archiving in the diaspora. She is currently employed at The Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound and is a board member at RM Gallery. Huni was born in Los Angeles and is based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her heritage is Tongan (Mu’a, Tongatapu; Hihifo, Niuatoputapu) and Italian (Grillara; Monti, Rovigo, Venezia).
She has completed a Master of Arts at The University of Auckland and PGDip Information Studies at Victoria University. Recent projects include Talia Smith: Moving forward but looking back (supplementary text); West Space: Offsite Issue 4; un Projects: un Extended; Kei Te Pai Press Journal: Issue One Te Korekore; Pantograph Punch; play_station gallery: Fixed-Term (solo exhibition); Samoa House Library: Curriculum #7; RM Gallery: Archive Residency and co-editor Lieu Journal.
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