The Oceanic Collections of the University Museum

By: D. Sutherland Davidson

Originally Published in 1947

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Funerary mask with large crest
Mourning mask, New Ireland. (height 15 1/2″)
Museum Object Number: P4558
Image Number: 275


Miss Jean Franckaen for the Cover Design of a Mortlock Island Mask, Micronesia. Mr. Reuben Goldberg for the Photographs. Mr. A. Eric Parkinson for the Map and Chart of the Chronological Order of Human Types.

The vignette on the title page is a carved jade breast ornament of the Maori of New Zealand.

Profile view of a wood mask with large round nose, a large topknot of hair and long beard maid of braided strands
Fig. 1 Mask, New Caledonia. (height 36″)
Museum Object Number: P3032
Image Number: 23149

THIS handbook is intended to provide the visitor to the University Museum with a general understanding of the cultures of the Pacific regions and the peoples whose handiwork is represented in the collections on exhibit. It is only through an appreciation of the cultural context of these objects that their real significance in aboriginal life can be determined. Space does not permit consideration of the details of the various cultures, but the outstanding achievements of each are discussed. Emphasis is given also to the interrelationships of the several cultures, for their historical backgrounds are closely associated and the recent trends must be visualized in the proper perspective of time and space.

The University Museum is particularly fortunate in its Pacific collections. All the cultures are well represented, but the collections from certain islands are especially noteworthy. These include, for Polynesia, the woodcarvings of the Maori, the clubs of Tonga and the Austral and Cook Islands, the tapa cloths of Samoa and the general artistry of the Marquesas. Melanesian culture is illustrated by exceptionally fine collections of woodcarvings from the Sepik River and Papuan areas of New Guinea, masks from New Ireland and weapons from the Solomons, Fiji, New Hebrides and New Caledonia. For Micronesia, the Museum possess a very complete collection from Yap and fine examples of armour and weapons from the Gilbert Islands. Of special interest from Indonesia are the collections from the Philippines and Borneo. Western Australia is represented by a fine ethnological collection, and a small but representative series of crude Tasmanian stone tools is available.

It is hoped that the read of this handbook will find new interest in these specimens and in the peoples responsible for them. For those who wish to delve more deeply into the problems of cultural and human history in the Pacific a selected reading list is appended.


Cite This Article

Davidson, D. Sutherland. "Preface." Museum Bulletin XII, no. 3-4 (June, 1947): 3-4. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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