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Founder of Pacifica Mama, Mary Ama, with her Museum Medal.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Language & Culture

'Honoured and humbled': Cook Islands artist awarded Museum Medal

Mary Ama has been recognised for her contributions to Pacific arts and cultural heritage.

Mary Ama migrated to New Zealand in the 1980s and not long after arriving from Rarotonga, she founded Pacifica Mamas - a space for artists and knowledge holders.

It was also a place where people could actively practise, teach and preserve their indigenous arts.

Ama's contributions have not gone unrecognised. Last week, she was awarded a Museum Medal (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum).

Ama said she was “moved beyond words”.

“I feel honoured and humbled to receive the Museum Medal, but know it is not mine alone.

"It acknowledges the huge contribution, stories, and knowledge shared by our people of Te Moana Nui a Kiva (Pacific Ocean).”


Home to over 32,000 members from 26 ethnic groups, artists continue to gather at Pacifica Mama today through Moanaroa, the Pacifica Arts Centre in West Auckland.

The space provides the opportunity for an intergenerational exchange of traditional knowledge.

Weavers, carvers, artists, dancers and more congregate at the centre to share their talents with younger generations of New Zealand-born Pacific islanders.

Auckland Museum Tumu Whakarae chief executive, David Reeves, said the Museum Medals recognised individuals who had delivered excellence in the study of their cultural and natural heritage.

“This year’s recipients have made major contributions to their areas of study and the creation of new knowledge, and it is a privilege to be able to celebrate their achievement with the recognition of the Museum Medals,” he said.

Ama was one of four winners of this year’s Museum Medals, alongside Dr John Braggins (Associate Emeritus of Auckland War Memorial Museum), Dr Susan Abasa (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum) and Christina Hurihia Wirihana (Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum).

Museum Medal winners, from left, Christina Hurihia Wirihana, Dr Susan Abasa, Dr John E. Braggins and Mary Ama. Photo/Auckland War Memorial Museum