23 May 2014

Loaning a Matakau Ancestor Figure

This month Birmingham Museums loaned its Fijian Female Ancestor Figure to the National Gallery of Australia for the forthcoming Atua exhibition.

1918A17.24 Fijian Ancestor Figure © Birmingham Museums


The figure was bequeathed by Captain Norman Chamberlain in 1918 along with 27 other Fijian objects. It was collected in 1877 / 1878 by his father, Herbert, and uncle, Walter who had bought the Fijian island of Naitauba and its cotton and copra plantations. 

The figure is one of only a dozen or so in existence and features a shell bead necklace, fibre skirt -or liku- and tattoos on the mouth and hips. To the back of the figure, a label reads “Figure from the mountain district of Viti Levu – (the tatoo about the mouth shews the married woman), HC”.

While the figure itself was sound, specialist conservation work was required on the fragile skirt which travelled separately in a custom-made box with integrated supports.

Travel Crate for the Ancestor Figure © Birmingham Museums


Following the exhibition tour, the figure will go back on display in Gallery 33 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Adam Jaffer
Curator of World Cultures
Birmingham Museums

23 May – 3 August
National Gallery Australia


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