On 26 January 2016 museum members Rex and Cheryl met with two members of Te Rau Aroha Marae, Bluff to conduct a cleansing and blessing of the museum prior to it being formally opened on 27 January.
Most readers will be familiar with a blessing, but could be less sure about a cleansing - particularly of a premises that has been well vacuumed, polished and scrubbed in preparation for its opening ceremony the following day. This article describes what was done to perform the blessing and cleansing, then gives a perspective of what the group aimed to achieve.
First, Cheryl and Rex showed their marae guests around the museum, opening doors as they went to ensure all places were accessible. They then found a beautiful blue china bowl in the kitchen which was filled with water and a small sprig off a tree was brought in from outside. The group then went to the innermost part of the museum where a prayer was said in Maori. They then walked through the museum with the leader using the small branch to flick water around on the floor of the various rooms, all the while reinforcing the prayer with additional words in Maori. They eventually reached the main entrance where the blessing was reinforced. That blessing concluded the activity, so the group then went indoors again and had a cup of tea and a chat.
The museum building had previously been home to many radio technicians, was an active transmitting site for Awarua Radio Station and had been base for the Invercargill Radio Depot. When the NZ Government closed the NZ Post Office and privatised its services in 1987 the various functions at Awarua Radio were gradually transferred elsewhere and the Radio Depot was relocated to a new home in Invercargill. For a time the building lay vacant, then after being chosen as the museum site, builders, carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers and many supporters and volunteers put time and effort into creating the museum over a ten year period. Heritage items were put out for display include telegraph, telephone, radio and projection equipment, a lot of which dates back over 100 years.
Readers may be familiar with buildings that have absorbed the feelings of their occupants over many years, such as the peace and tranquility found in a church building, or the tension and stress that seems to associate itself with prison facilities. While these are extreme examples of feelings and emotions being absorbed by buildings, in a small way other such tensions may have associated themselves with our museum building or its artifacts. Stresses may have arisen during museum construction, users of old telephone and telegraph equipment may have passed sad or glad tidings, and audiences watching moving picture shows may have reacted to the scenes they viewed. None of these influences have any place in a modern museum.
The cleansing could be seen as an acknowledgement that many emotions and feelings had been expressed in the building and through use of its heritage items. Using flicks of water to symbolically wash or dilute any such emotions was intended to help release them and leave the museum clean for future generations. The blessing provided a lustre of protection over the newly cleaned facility.
The cup of tea also had its place in this activity. While on one level it was a courtesy offered and accepted, it also renewed a bond that had existed between Awarua Radio and the Bluff community for many years. This NZPO radio station did not have an office for the public to visit. Its 'public' face was over the air waves and for about 80 years Awarua Radio watched over the safety of deep sea mariners, the coastal fishing fleets and the local island and remote coastline families. Contributions of 'kai moana' (sea food) could often be found left by the letter boxes at Awarua Radio's main gate. There was a lot of respect for the services provided by Awarua Radio, and by the station personnel for the fishing community of Bluff and those who made the sea a part of their lives in this region.
We thank Te Rau Aroha Marae and its members for the welcome service they provided the Awarua Communications Museum. We look forward to continued contact as our museum serves the public in a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere.