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Suru was originally worn during war times and later became an headdress for dances that depicted war

Throughout the mapping process I found only one physical artefact of the Suru which is currently held in the British Museum as well as sketches and photos.

Further archival research of explorers notes mentioned the head dress called the Suru in notes by Gordon MacGregor on the Rotuma web. In MacGregors consultation with Rotuman consultants, he noted,

“the suru was worn by commoners. Peaked head-dress, decorated with feathers.. these hats were worn in war and signified fighting.. it was tabu for anyone in time of peace to wear any sort of headdress or head band… this was explained as a privilege allowed men who were about to die”(1932).

The Suru was the first piece that we collectively decided to remake. As knowledge is still developing around the art piece, we felt that remaking the Suru would aid our storytelling sessions with Elders and could stimulate conversation..

In the process of revitalising the Suru - every storytelling session, revealed more knowledge, and the headdress became more than an object, it revealed stories of warriors, chants, places, spaces and knowledge systems. Discussions around the materials used in the making of the Suru then sparked stories about the bird Taväke from which the feathers came, which sparked stories of our To ‘a, our warrior giants, who would wear the Suru in battle.

These discussions then sparked reflections around the disconnection from place and loss of knowledge of our homeland ecologies. For some they may see a mere database of artefacts collected, but for our communities it is a tapestry, doorway that reveals pathways of stories each that hold within them a story of person and place, relationships, connections.

During one our storytelling sessions, one of the Elders was able to explain her knowledge of the Suru. She noted,

in 1981, that’s the last time that I have ever seen the Mak Koloa’ ta, war club dance, with the full traditional costume being worn… the Suru, the headpieces, the commoners would wear it too”(Participant).

She also noted that,

“my father had all these pieces and it’s unfortunate that we threw it all away and we never knew that times like this is why we keep this”(Participant).

We later found videos of this performance on YouTube:

Video 1: see 2.05 – 2.33:

Video 2: see 5.35 – 6.34:

As I began discussions with my father about my project and the discovery of this headdress. He proceeded to go upstairs into our family documents and extracted an envelope that mapped out our family genealogy as well as information on cultural protocols and processes written by elders in our clan. Within this was sketches of the Suru and one of the chants associated with it called the Kauta. It was incredible to discover that information that some of the gaps in knowledge on the Suru that I had not found in any museums and archives was right in my own home. Throughout this process, many of us reflected that we sometimes never know the significance or relevance of the knowledge our family elders may have. I realised that for the most part this was due to the fact that as busy, urban dwelling peoples, the relevance of this information has diminished and we see time as limited, so we just don’t take the time to hear these stories. It was a wonderful moment spent talking with my father about family connections and histories.

Image: Excerpt from an unpublished family manuscript compiled by Ilisapeti Inia and Etike Eliesa

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