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Please Touch Gently: Fijian Lali Drum

Do Not Touch. A rule so clear, yet so tempting to break. Admit it, we’ve all done it. We’ve all touched an object in a museum when we thought no one was watching. The variety of textures found in MOA’s displays—the sumptuous fabrics, sleek soapstone and jagged carvings—can tease visitors with strong haptic tendencies. For those who are especially tactile, visiting the museum can turn into an exercise of restraint. If you fall into this category, there is hope: MOA is home to five objects we want you to touch!

“Visitors are faced with a conflict of information,” notes Senior Conservator Heidi Swierenga on the challenges that come with allowing visitors to touch a limited collection of objects. She explains that one of the main issues with this type of accessibility is ensuring that the select pieces are engaged with respectfully. Exposing works to public hands increases the likelihood of damage, but the importance of touch as a learning device is undeniable. “The value that you can get from having people interact with objects outweighs the risk,” Heidi says, adding that touch helps facilitate new understandings of cultural objects. So the next time you are at MOA and feel the urge to reach across a barrier and touch an object that’s off limits, turn to this one instead.

Fijian Lali Drum, by unknown maker

MOA collection 1188/82. Photo by Jessica Bushey.

Although beating a lali is traditionally used to draw a crowd for ceremony in Fujian culture, it doesn’t have to be a special occasion to tap this drum in the Multiversity Galleries. It is said that the sound of the drum can carry seven to 10 miles on a calm day, so make sure you play it softly!