Take a journey through Oceania and discover masks, tools, weapons and more from the islands and cultures of Polynesia and Melanesia.
The Otago Museum’s Pacific collections are of national and international significance, and include cultural treasures and everyday items. The collections were built through the generosity of many benefactors including Willi Fels, James Chalmers, Frederick Bowie, George West, Charles Fox and Isidore de Beer.
Former Director of the Otago Museum H D Skinner played a significant role in facilitating collecting in this area and the Hall of Polynesia is named after him.
In the late 1940s, the New Zealand government purchased a large collection of Pacific artefacts from William Oldman, a London dealer and collector. H D Skinner played a major part in bringing about the purchase.
The Oldman collection was shared among several New Zealand museums, with the Otago Museum receiving a significant amount of Cook Islands and Kiribati material.
The Otago Museum moai statue from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is the only moai in New Zealand. Moai are thought to represent the living faces of ancestral chiefs who the people of Rapa Nui believed were descendants of the gods.
Carved from a heavy, volcanic stone called trachyte, the moai in the Otago Museum was purchased in 1929. It is thought it may have been removed from Rapa Nui in the late 1800s.
Lapita pottery is named after the site of Lapita in New Caledonia and provides an important clue to the settlement of the Pacific. The Lapita people who made these distinctive ceramics sailed through the Melanesian islands thousands of years ago.
Lapita pottery in Fiji has been dated to about 3,000 years ago, and in the next 1,000 years the Lapita people also settled in Tonga. Several Lapita pottery sherds are on display in the Pacific Cultures Gallery.
A visit to the Pacific Cultures Gallery is an encounter with a wide variety of rare and special objects. Look for the turtle-shell mask from Torres Strait, one of a few, fine historic examples in the world. Other items of international significance include a unique stone figure from Pitcairn Island.
A bright red and yellow feathered cape from Hawaii is said to have belonged to Queen Liliuokalani, the last queen of the Hawaiian Islands, whose reign ended in 1893.
Covered in turmeric, the munge dukna is a sculpture from Santa Cruz. Such sculptures usually depict deities or supernatural beings. The male figure on display in this gallery is named Melaganu.
As well as these treasures, look out for Kiribati armour made from coconut fibre, red feather money from Santa Cruz and much more.