Special Collections Twenty at 20: Archive within an archive

To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number five.

Zechariah Soakai’s tapa notebook


Title page of Zech’s tapa notebook.3

Archival research has been described as a little like climbing a tree; interesting stories on one branch leading off and often connected to those on other branches.1 Zechariah Soakai’s tapa notebook, Pulling thread chasing wind navigating spaces is a good example of this metaphor; it is an archival document which was inspired by other items in a collection in which it is now also housed. In essence, it is an archive within an archive. Finding inspiration from tapa notebooks by Robert Sullivan, Yang Lian, Chris Abani, Joy Harjo and Selina Tusitala Marsh, Pulling thread is a unique and whimsical work of personal reflection told through poetry, artwork, and collage.2


Images of the poets who inspired Zech’s notebook.3

“My writing belongs to the land (which land?)… I am land-locked and sea-searching”3

This notebook was created in 2018 as part of coursework for ‘Opening the Archive’ (English 718), which is delivered in collaboration with Special Collections. Strongly reflecting the author’s Pasifika identity and love of the spoken word, the work is imaginative, personal and fun. It is imbued with meaning and imagery, with the author taking moments to speak directly to the reader, as well as to the poets whose works he chose to draw on.

“My notebook is an investigation of the Vā (the relational space) between each notebook and how that Vā relates to or connects to the Hau (the obligation to give/gift).”3 For several years, Special Collections has been supplying hand-crafted, tapa-covered notebooks to poets with the intention that they fill the blank pages with thoughts, poems, and general musings. The completed notebook is then deposited into Special Collections – something that some authors find a little daunting. For Zech, despite his attachment to the notebook, he saw its return as an obligation, or ‘Hau’, an important theme in this work.

“Archives…Broken in parts, but living breathing stories…”3


Zech’s thoughts about archives.3

This notebook is a wonderful example of how an archival collection can be used to challenge assumptions around the nature of archives. It also highlights a little of the teaching work Special Collections has engaged in over its 20 years.

Zech’s notebook, and those that inspired it, are on display in the Special Collections Reading Room, General Library Level G, until May 27.

Nigel Bond, Special Collections



1 Waru, R. (2012). Secrets and treasures: Our stories told through the objects at Archives New Zealand. Auckland: Random House

2 New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre records. MSS & Archives 2003/4, items: Sullivan, 3/15; Lian, 3/1; Abani, 3/3; Harjo, 3/29; Marsh, 3/9.

3 Zechariah Soakai Pulling thread chasing wind navigating spaces, 2018. New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre records. MSS & Archives 2003/4, 3/42.