Pacific Masterpieces presents the art of the Pacific people and shows some of the most beautiful and important Oceanic art and artefacts in the world ranging from delicate combs to ocean going canoes and from feathered cloaks to shields. More than 600 treasures are displayed as art objects to emphasise their aesthetic beauty.
Most of the Museum's world-renowned collection of Pacific material was obtained during the early years of the 19th century. The precious items on display illustrate Pacific creativity using wood, shell, bone, fibre and workmanship in the ceramic arts, jewellery, weaving and masks.
The largest exhibit in Masterpieces is an outrigger canoe, Vaka Tapu, from the island of Tikopia in the Solomon Islands. It was gifted to the Museum by the Melanesian Mission, which was originally based in Auckland's Mission Bay.
The most striking exhibit in the collection for visitors is the Malagan mask called Kovabat si mi Marada which dates back to the 19th century and comes from the Tabar Islands off Papua New Guinea. Malagan art includes a huge variety of figures and masks that were used in ceremonies honouring the dead. The Kovabat mask was used in this kind of mortuary ceremony.
Another impressive item in the gallery is a striking red feather cloak, (Ahu ula) which comes from Hawaii. Cloaks such as these were only worn by the highest chiefs and only during sacred religious ceremonies or in war. Feathers were tied together in small bundles then attached to the fibre backing. One such cloak belonging to Kamehameha, King of Hawaii, is reputed to have used half a million feathers from 80,000 birds.