World Cultures

The museum’s world cultures collection is of international significance. Collected by 19th century travellers, missionaries, soldiers and colonial officers, these rare and beautiful objects offer an insight into the history of different cultures from around the world, including the Pacific Islands, the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Inevitably, the collection reflects the colonial framework under which it was made, but it is of renewed relevance today as an historical record.

Outstanding objects in the collection include a carved female figure from Tahiti, an early collection of Australian Aboriginal weapons, a collection of over 140 items of clothing from a Chinese family and a suit of Japanese Samurai armour. Early acquisitions include objects collected by the missionary George Bennet in 1821-24; aboriginal clubs collected in Australia by John Helder Wedge; and a bequest from Lord Charles Harvey that includes bark cloth given by Queen Emma of Hawaii.

Objects in our world cultures collection are on display in our World Cultures Gallery.

Here are digital copies of the gallery text labels:

Many more objects are kept in storage and can be viewed by appointment.

Figure (SAFWM – 1835.185)

Carved wooden figure of Tii Vahine, the Goddess of Revenge. Tii Vahine was worshipped by the inhabitants of Tahiti, in the Society Islands. The figure is likely to have been taken from a shrine or place of worship. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Armour (SAFWM – 1940.3.1)

Armour worn by a member of the Samurai, an elite Japanese warrior class. The helmet is the oldest part of the armour, dating from about 1540, and the body armour dates from 1700 to 1850. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Necklace (SAFWM – 1907.234)

Necklace with openwork beads, of Zulu origin. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Puppet (SAFWM – 1840.146.1)

Shadow puppet from South-East Asia, painted on translucent animal skin. (Current location: storage)

Pot (SAFWM – 1880.76)

Clay pot from Northern Peru, dating from 1300-1500. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Writing board (SAFWM – 1946.6)

Wooden writing board from Nigeria. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Weight (SAFWM – 1977.172)

Weight, used for weighing gold dust, used by the Akan people of Ghana. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Comb (SAFWM – LN.355.174)

Wood and metal comb from Afghanistan . (Current location: storage)

Moccasins (SAFWM – E.371)

Pair of dark skin moccasins with copper tassels and curved designs in moose hair. Possibly from the Huron people of North America. (Current location: Worlds of Man gallery)

Parka (SAFWM – E.398)

Waterproof coat or parka, made from strips of seal gut. Thought to originate from Kamchatka, Bering Strait, Alaska. (Current location: storage)

Pipe (SAFWM – 1926.4)

Bamboo smoking pipe from Papua New Guinea, decorated with an incised and burnt pattern of chevrons. (Current location: storage)

Badge (SAFWM – 1988.32)

Badge of office taken from the front of a Mandarin robe. It was made in China between 1821 and 1850. (Current location: storage)

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