With blasts of a conch shell and chants that bounced off the walls, a group of Pacific Islander elders formally blessed the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ renovated Arts of the Pacific Gallery.

“We believe that we descend from the gods,” said Nephi Prime, a Maori and one of four elders to speak at Tuesday afternoon’s ceremony. “These treasures that you see around you have been carved, have been woven, with the knowledge of who we are — the descendants of our ancestors.”

Prime delivered a passionate blessing, in Maori and English, in between chants by Samoan talking chiefs Namulauulu Tavana and Matai Alofipo, and a quiet blessing from Heilala Potesio, representing the Tongan community.

The newly renovated and reimagined gallery showcases UMFA’s collection of art from Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific nations.

The museum on the University of Utah campus has been closed since January 2016, undergoing major construction to upgrade the building’s air conditioning and humidity controls. While that technical fix was going on, museum curators took the chance to examine UMFA’s collection and reimagine its gallery exhibits. The museum is set to reopen to the public on Aug. 26.

The Arts of the Pacific Gallery will re-open with 41 artworks, said Virginia-Lee Webb, guest curator for the reinstallation of UMFA’s Pacific and African galleries.

“It’s a very cohesive collection, though small in number,” said Webb, who worked for 30 years at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection, she said, contains examples from many of the major cultural groups of the Pacific islands.

Having the support of Utah’s Pacific Islander communities is vital, Webb said. “Many communities feel we are just caretakers for their objects,” she said. “They have special connections to these objects.”

Prime noted that for Pacific Islanders, the objects mean something beyond their value in a museum. “You may read the placard, but it’s only an inkling of what it means,” he said.