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Categories of collections

For practical purposes of storage and geographical relationships, the ethnology collection has been categorised into ten collections, but these are accessioned, registered and databased as one collection, within one continuous numerical sequence.

Collection size

The collection categories and their approximate size are as follows:

Ethnic Musical Instruments c. 700 objects
Māori Cloaks c. 400 items
Large Māori Carvings c. 800 objects
Māori Material Culture c. 5,000 objects
Material Culture of Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas c. 4,000 objects
Melanesian Material Culture c. 11,000 objects
Micronesian Material Culture c. 900 objects
Pacific Canoes c. 30 objects,
excluding models
Polynesian Material Culture c. 16,500 objects
South-east Asian Material Culture c. 2,000 objects

Geographical groupings

On a purely geographical basis, these collections can be grouped as:

  • Māori Material Culture
  • Pacific Material Culture
  • Material Culture of Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Cultural, historical and scientific importance

Much public money and trust funds have been expended directly in the acquisition of these collections, quite apart from money spent on their storage and maintenance. This expenditure immediately sets a very public imperative for the Museum to provide their best care possible.

Because of their cultural values, these collections have two types of significance, one internally for the Museum in fulfilling its mission, and an external significance as vital components of the cultural patrimony of the cultures and societies that produced them.  Because of cultural diversity, this external significance varies dramatically, being extremely high in the case of Māori culture.

Ethnic Musical Instruments

A specialised collection of high public and scholarly importance, frequently studied by university classes. It is the largest collection of its type in New Zealand and one of the most important in the world.

Māori Cloaks

This is a major component of the Māori collection, providing the Museum with a cultural and research resource of the first order. It has extreme importance for Māori people by virtue of its recognition as one of the few facilities ensuring the preservation of these fragile and culturally-valued objects. Along with the collection in Wellington, these rank as the two best collections of Māori cloaks in the world.

Large Māori Carvings

One of the two most important collections of Māori carvings in the world and the one with the most comprehensive range of periods and regional styles. They enjoy a very high level of use by scholars, students, artists and Māori community groups. 

Internally, this forms the core of the Museum'’s Māori collection and is essential for a whole spectrum of displays and studies in Māori art and culture.

Māori Material Culture

This collection comprises all the other Māori material, and includes the complete range of Māori artefact types.

This collection is of extreme cultural and emotional significance for the Māori people. 

Material Culture of Australia, Asia, South-East Asia, Africa and the Americas

Although of relatively minor significance internationally, these comprise the largest and most diverse collection from these areas in New Zealand Museums, constantly drawn upon for inter-museum loan for this reason.

These collections are essential for display of the diversity of world cultures, in particular South-east Asia because of its prehistoric links with Polynesian cultures and its contemporary regional political significance.

Pacific (Melanesian, Micronesian, Polynesian) Material Culture

The Auckland Pacific collections are the largest from these areas in New Zealand Museums, extremely important nationally and internationally for display, research and inter-museum loan.

As New Zealand's Pacific Island communities become more westernised and those born in New Zealand seek to know more of their ethnic origins, these collections will increase considerably in external cultural significance, thereby requiring better access and documentation.

Pacific Canoes

Among the world's three or four most important Pacific canoe collections, these are essential for presenting Pacific navigation, migration, economics and cultural change, all contemporary topics of great public and scholarly interest.

Virtually all of these canoe types are now obsolete, making this collection of extreme historical and cultural importance.  The difficulties of storage and display should not be allowed to obscure or limit the curatorial development of this collection.