The artefact collections of the Department of Ethnology are concentrated on New Zealand Maori and the Pacific Islands.
The focus of the ethnology collection is to represent and preserve a well-balanced range of arts and material culture from New Zealand Maori and Moriori, tropical Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia, South-East Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas, in this order of priority.
Objects are collected for their intrinsic importance, but also for their place within a cultural or geographic range or by virtue of the relevance of their maker..
The Auckland Museum ethnology collections are already the premier New Zealand collections in these fields, but continuing active and directed collecting is necessary to maintain this status and to provide Auckland Museum and New Zealand with a prime cultural resource.
Content and scope of the collections
The Ethnology collections consist of items of material culture from those areas of the world deemed relevant according to Auckland Museum’s mission statement. The Ethnology collections are characterised by their extreme diversity of types of materials, size and shape, and differing cultural significance. Materials include heavy stone items, fragile textiles, canoes, small high monetary value items especially jade, feathers, bone, much untreated leaf material in mats and baskets, untreated wood, pottery, bamboo, metals in swords and daggers especially, leathers and animal skins. Size ranges from full-sized canoes down to minute fishhooks, with very limited standardisation in shape or projections. Cultural diversity is often the most difficult to assess and requires specialist anthropological knowledge on the part of curators. All of these different types of diversity have important implications for methods of storage, handling, display, acquisition and de-accessioning.
Ownership, collecting strategies and directions
For an increasing proportion of the Ethnology collections, legal "ownership" of these cultural collections is now less important than the recognised moral and emotional "cultural" ownership exercised by some of the relevant ethnic communities. Unfortunately much of the required documentation regarding Maori ownership and inheritance practises was not adequately recorded, leading to many unresolved situations. However, in the present and future ethnic climate and regardless of previous vague registration records, questions of ownership and caretakership will require better collection research and co-operative negotiation. Read more
In view of the cultural complexity of these collections, their curatorial care requires staff with a sound anthropological background and an experienced practical cultural sensitivity. They must maintain close relationships with ethnic communities by frequent fieldwork, and pursue joint research and display projects with other scholars and ethnic communities.
Current Ethnology Department staff consist of the Curator of Ethnology, the Curator Pacific and the Curator Maori, with a general Ethnology Technician. Other collection-servicing functions such as registration, photography, conservation and fumigation are maintained by other sections of the museum.
All of the Ethnology collections are registered in the original and still-maintained manual system which has been extended over recent years by several Maori tribal inventories, subject indexes and geographical card systems. Since the initiation of electronic data entry, all of the Ethnology collection objects have been entered onto the computer data files. This data base is very important for collection management especially and for research generally. However, for much historical research, the old manual system is more important for tracing the history of collections and their changing interpretation.
Search the Databases
This database contains a selection of 212 kete from the Museum’s Maori collection – around 75% of the total kete collection. These kete illustrate the use of a range of materials and include a variety of types and designs.
Pacific Tapa (bark cloth)
There are perhaps upwards of 1000 objects in the Auckland Museum’s various collections that include bark cloth in its manufacture. Presented here is a selection of Pacific bark cloth pieces, and the tools and equipment used in the processing and decoration of these.
Tribute to Maori art anthropologist,
Dr Roger Neich
Auckland Museum paid tribute to its retired Ethnology Curator Dr Roger Neich, who recently passed away, describing him as a leading world authority on Maori and Pacific art. Read more
The Collection in the Museum
Objects from the ethnology department’s collections can be seen in the following galleries:
Maori Natural History gallery.
The Ethnology collections of Auckland Museum began within the core collection of the museum from its founding in 1852. Over the years, sections of that core collection were separated out to form the Archaeology, Applied Arts, History and other collections. Read more
Categories of Collections
For practical purposes of storage and geographical relationships, the Ethnology collection has been categorized into ten collections, but these are accessioned, registered and databased as one collection, within one continuous numerical sequence. To view the collection categories and to find out about their cultural, historical and scientific importance. Read more
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