A guest blog post from Bryan Sitch, Louise Watson and many others
Staff from the Museum arrived bright and early on the morning of Saturday 14th July to set up our Inflatable Museum and the brand new gazebo for the Mango Festival in Manchester’s Albert Square. We were invited by the Pakistani Consulate to participate in Manchester’s first ever Mango Festival so we took the opportunity to talk about our plans for the South Asia and China Galleries.
One of the great things about Manchester Museum’s collection is that it is so large and so varied that its possible to find things to show almost every conceivable subject under the sun. But mangoes?
Rachel and Lindsey found some beautiful Herbarium sheets in the botany collection showing the seeds, flowers, and fruit of the mango. One print was produced in 1850 for Curtis’ Botanical Magazine from an illustration by Scottish botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892) for Curtis’ Botanical Magazine. This long running magazine started in 1787 to share beautiful and accurate illustrations of plants and it is still printed today by Kew Gardens.
Our Curator of Living Cultures, Stephen sent a small bronze figurine of a Jain nature spirit, possibly the yakṣa Ambika. Jainism is one of India’s oldest religions and there are Jains too in Pakistan and other countries. There are 25,000 Jains in the UK. The truly amazing thing about this figurine is that the woman is holding a mango! It’s from the Deccan in central India and we think it dates from the 12th century. As our Director, Esme ward, commented who would have thought there were so many mango related objects in the collection!
Incidentally, there is a famous story in Jainism in which six friends go out into the countryside and see a big mango tree full of juicy mangoes. They debate how best to get the fruit and consider chopping or sawing the tree down. One of the friends, Nayana, suggests climbing the tree to pick the mangoes but Raman, the wisest member of the group, pointed out that the ripest of the fruit had already fallen to the ground. They ate their fill and even took some mangoes back home. Raman said all creatures depend on one another for survival but some plants and animals have disappeared. We should all be very careful about how we use natural resources and do as little harm to other living beings as possible. This ancient story anticipates modern concerns about diversity, sustainability and the environment by hundreds if not thousands of years.
As well as showing objects we also asked people to share with us what they loved about Manchester, Manchester Museum or mangoes. We got some brilliant feedback with wonderful pictures and quotes from the many people we spoke to. You might be asking yourself why we do this? An organisation called Read Manchester has commissioned a poem using 100 languages called Made in Manchester. Local poet, Zahid Hussain, is writing the poem, weaving together lines from many of the 190 languages spoken by people in Manchester. We’d like to submit some lines for Manchester Museum and our ‘hello future’ project so we seized the opportunity to capture some inspirational words from visitors to the Mango Festival. We’ll be repeating the activity in the Museum over the summer holidays – so watch this space for our Manchester Museum poetry lines.
We also used the Festival as an opportunity to show a recent acquisition for the Museum’s new China Gallery project, a white ceramic bust of Chairman Mao. You may be wondering what the Chinese leader has to do with mangoes. It is a little known chapter in the history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s that the Pakistan Embassy sent Chairman Mao a crate of mangoes. Mao forwarded the gift to various factories and workers’ collectives and communes in China so that everyone could share in the gift. The workers didn’t feel they could eat the mangoes because Mao himself hadn’t eaten them so they held parades in their honour and flew them all over the country. The mangoes were treated almost as if they were holy relics. People would wait for hours just to catch a glimpse – not of the mangoes but of the truck that was carrying one on its way between towns and villages across China. There is definitely a Pythonesque quality to this story but it was deadly serious at the time.
Our Museum shop also did us proud. The Festival was the first time we erected the Museum gazebo. Inquisitive customers were quick to pop in and see what we were selling, with an array of organic and ethically sourced products, from ‘The Great British Bee co’ to the ‘rCUP’ (the world’s first reusable cup made from reused cups). But the star of the show was the fair trade tote in four beautiful bright colours, which came with a free ‘Window to the World’ Museum guide-book! They practically flew off the tables, as did the wooden snakes, butterfly / bee friendly seed kits and tiger masks. It was great fun seeing the children chase each other wearing them and the tiger tails. And I saw one or two of my colleagues walking round with tiger tails attached to back of their trousers. Whether they knew or not, I’m not sure. I didn’t want to tell them and spoil the fun!
It was super busy all day, the weather was gloriously sunny and the traditional live music had us tapping our feet. The Mango festival had a fantastic friendly vibe. And no, I didn’t manage to try the delicious mango, but there’s always next year.
With thanks to Elaine Bates, Karen Brackenridge, Anna Bunney, Stephen Devine, David Gelsthorpe, Wendy Gallagher, Victoria Grant, Helen Mark, Barinur Rashid, Kate Sherburn, Bryan Sitch, Louise Watson, Rachel Webster, Andrea Winn and all those colleagues too numerous to mention who helped on the day or supported the event.