When I moved down to the Antipodes in the early 1990s, it was the first time that I had really had direct contact of any kind with the culture of that geographical milieu – oh, sure, I had heard of the Polynesian seafarers and their extraordinary navigation by the stars, I’d heard some of the mythology and the legends before, the name of Maui was not entirely unknown to me, but it was all at second-hand and distant remove. It was here, in Auckland, that I got to see the descendants of those Polynesian seafarers in the flesh (wearing jeans and t-shirts, to be sure, but descendants nonetheless…) I impressed locals no end by being able to “read” Maori fluently – oh, I had no idea what I was uttering, but I could PRONOUNCE it properly once I was told the rules, because I was born into a phonetic language and I could translate the governing principles of that into the equally phonetic Maori. And eventually I learned a few important words along the way. Words like mana. And tapu.
But this museum does hold a completely different memory for me, too.
It hosted, at one point, a travelling exhibition of spiders. Yes, LIVE spiders. All sorts. This arachnid extravaganza was hardly something I would have gone to myself, feeling a little… icked out… by spiders. But a friend of mine was interested and needed somebody to go with her, and so I was dragged along.
The first thing you saw as you entered the exhibit area was a huge glass terrarium.
And in it was something that was billed as the South American Bird Eating Spider.
One of these guys:
Did I believe this thing ate birds? You bet I did. Not just sparrows and finches, actually, I could believe it ate EAGLES when it could get them.
I spent the rest of the visit sidling sideways, keeping a weather eye on that original container, making absolutely CERTAIN that it had not been breached. Because in the absence of any birds that monster in there would quite happily, I am wholly convinced, have eaten ME.
I didn’t have the opportunity, on THAT visit, to scuttle off to the peace and calm of the Maori taonga galleries to calm my jagged nerves – but in some ways it was enough just to know that they were there.
Eh. Visit a museum. You NEVER know what you might find.
Some pictorial addenda:
The Auckland Museum: Haere Mai. Welcome.