This museum offers a great journey into Fiji’s historical and cultural and evolution. To enjoy the exhibits in chronological order, start with the displays behind the ticket counter and work your way around clockwise. The centre piece is the massive Ratu Finau (1913), Fiji’s last waqa tabus (double-hulled canoe), over 13m long and with an enclosed deck for rough weather. Other attractions in the main hall include war clubs, a gruesome display about cannibalism and the rudder from The Bounty (of Mutiny fame).
The growing influence of other South Pacific and European cultures is documented in a hall on the other side of the museum shop. It is here that you’ll find the well-chewed, but ultimately inedible, shoe of Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary eaten for his indiscretions in 1867. Upstairs, a small Indo-Fijian hall chronicles some of the contributions made by the Indian workers and their descendants who were brought to Fiji in the 1870s as indentured labourers. Also on the same floor is a gallery of beautiful masi by some of Fiji’s finest contemporary artists.
The museum continually undertakes archaeological research and collects and preserves oral traditions. Many of these are published in Domodomo, a quarterly journal on history, language, culture, art and natural history that is available in the museum’s gift shop. The museum has excellent open days on the last Saturday of every month, with live music, traditional dance (and sometime firewalkers), poetry, food and craft stalls.
After visiting the museum, ponder your new-found knowledge with a wander through the compact but beautiful Thurston Gardens. The dense conglomeration of native flora and surrounding lawns are less manicured and growing more haphazard with every coup, but it was here that the original village of Suva once stood. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic – particularly if you camp yourself under one of the grand and stately fig trees.