Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg
Barong, mystisches Tier in löwenähnlicher Gestalt, Bali; Foto: Brigitte Saal

The largest part of the Oceania collection originates from the insular states of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, scattered across the Pacific Ocean. Australia, Indonesia and large areas of the Malay Archipelago are also integrated in the Oceania department for historic reasons.
As early as in the 1880s the collection became significantly more valuable due to the acquisition of about 700 objects from the Godeffroy mercantile family from Hamburg. Among the artefacts are some exceptional pieces such as three wooden sculptures from the Nukuoro Atoll, a Polynesian enclave in Micronesia.

Due to its completeness and artistic flair, the “Rauru”, a Maori meetinghouse from New Zealand, is unique in Europe. It is one of the main gems of the museum. Since 1910 it has been located in the upper south wing of the building where it remains a stunning example of the Maori culture and impressive Maori woodcraft.

The focus of the department is on the renowned inventories from Melanesia and Micronesia. Mainly from the South Sea expedition (1908-1910) initiated by Georg Thilenius, these collections were to a large extent complete and well documented. Consisting of more than 6.600 ethnographic objects from Melanesia and about 8.000 from the Micronesian islands, these collections, the fruits of this ambitious project of ethnological research, established a high benchmark, even despite losses during the war. Thus, we have extensive masks, dancing costumes and sculptures from the Bismarck Archipelago of Melanesia. A selection of these artefacts is part of the exhibition “Masks of the South Sea”, open to the public since 2008.

In 1905, the museum acquired a collection of about 3,000 objects from the same region formerly in the collection of the merchant Franz Emil Hellwig. In the 1960s, extensive acquisitions supplemented the inventory with several hundred important items from the midland of today’s Papua New Guinea.

The Micronesian inventory consists mainly of everyday objects such as domestic equipment, clothing and fishing equipment acquired mainly on the Caroline Islands in the second year of the famous South Sea expedition. Recent purchases document the revival of traditional crafts.


The Australian inventory focuses on several hundred items, consisting chiefly of aboriginal ritual objects, jewellery, weaponry and clothing from North Western and Central Australia. The collections of the missionary Oskar Liebler and the anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch from Breslau dating back to the first two decades of the 20th century are of special significance. Recent additions from Western Australia were acquired thanks to the oceanographer Helmut Petri.


The wide-ranging set of recently donated Shadow-puppet figures and textiles dominate the profile of the diverse Indonesia collection, which suffered significant losses during the second world war. The collection of the physician Johannes Winkler dating back to the beginning of the 20th century provides special insight into the culture of the Batak in Sumatra with over 1,500 artefacts.

Among the numerous Javanese and Balinese shadow puppets, stick puppets, masks, jewellery and manuscripts is a house from a Balinese prince that contains extremely elaborate woodwork. For several years now, the prince’s house can be admired in the exhibition “A dream of Bali”. This exhibition on Balinese culture is accentuated by the recent acquisition of a Balinese temple. The temple stands in front of the museum, signifying for the importance of Balinese culture in the museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg.


Dr. Jeanette Kokott
Head of the Oceania department
phone: 040. 428 879-536

Currently, selected artefacts of the collection are on display in our exhibition