Six weeks before the doors of the east section of the Humboldt Forum finally open and all parts of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art are accessible, something is also happening in the western part – more precisely: in the Oceania exhibition.
The large hall with the Luf-Boot, which caused trouble when it first partially opened in September 2021 because the controversial story of its acquisition remained underexposed, is now back in focus. This time it is also about a boat, albeit a replica of a model from 1913. The original is in the Fiji Museum in the capital Suva on the main island of Viti Levu. So there will be no dispute.
The two boat builders Joji Marau Misaele and Rogosava Biuwale, who have traveled from Fiji and who have been constructing the double hull boat in the traditional way from wood and coconut fiber in their home country for the past few months, are now putting the individual parts back together in Berlin. The almost finished catamaran of 10 x 2.70 meters with its hulls of different lengths, the large sail and the small cabin is already impressive. The last thing left to do is add decorative elements. Threaded cowrie shells should decorate the bow. A sign that reads “Domo Domo”, commemorating a recently deceased boat builder who worked until the end, is still waiting in place.
It’s hard to imagine: the Polynesians once explored the East Pacific with such fragile, streamlined vehicles, heading for distant islands in order to settle them. The traditional Druas were still in use up until a good fifty years ago, reports Joji Marau Misaele. Today, like any other modern shipyard, they are also built of fiberglass. Fishing is still an important source of income for the region.
For the engineer, who teaches at Fiji National University, it’s not the first time he’s recreated a traditional boat. There is already a copy of him in London. The Berlin piece was commissioned by the Humboldt Forum Foundation in cooperation with the Fiji National University. The costs amounted to a very low six-digit amount, as director Hartmut Dorgerloh reveals.
For Joji Marau Misaele it is above all a great honor, as he says, that a boat from his homeland, which hardly anyone else in Europe would know because it is so far away, is now in the center of the German capital. And the air boat? Shouldn’t it be returned? Misaele waves it off. It’s all about knowledge transfer.
This is taken care of again in a special way. The double hull boat may in future be climbed by children and young people. In addition, virtual reality glasses are available to convey the right seafaring feeling – including gurgling noises.
Only four of the original Bais still exist worldwide
A hall further on in the west wing of the Humboldt Forum is also being built and even sung. Here, since August 1st, Patrick Tellei and his team from Palau – all in azure T-shirts – have been re-tiling a traditional meeting house with “palm leaf clapboards” that they made earlier and brought in large boxes. There are now only four of the original Bais that used to be found in Palauan villages in the world.
The Berlin example is a men’s house where decision-makers from the village communities used to meet to discuss further construction of houses and roads. Its gable is adorned with a bar with figures on a yellow background, the kind that inspired the “Brücke” painters to do their expressionist paintings. Here they can be seen hunting, fishing and felling trees. The 15 meter long, 5 meter high and 4.30 meter wooden house is also a commissioned work, but from the beginning of the 20th century.
The doctor and ethnologist Augustin Krämer had it built for what was then the Berlin Museum of Ethnology. It has been on display in Dahlem since 1970, supplemented by a floor and roof truss, which are still part of the building’s history. Today’s roofers include grandchildren of the original builders. Like the double hull boat, the meeting house can also be entered by visitors. Instead of VR goggles, there are listening stations for visitors to get a more vivid idea of how gatherings were once held in the Bai.