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Figures from cult of the dead of Melanesia. Exhibited in the Ethnographic Collections at the National Museum.


Oceania is a collective term for the many islands and groups of islands located especially in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean. Oceania is geographically divided into three areas: to the south-west is Melanesia with the world’s second largest island of New Guinea, to the north-west is Micronesia and to the east Polynesia, including Hawaii in the north and New Zealand in the south. In addition, Australia is often regarded as being part of Oceania.

As early as over 40,000 years ago, New Guinea was populated by people from whom Melanesia’s Papuan-speaking inhabitants are descended. Around 5000 years ago, the Austronesian-speaking peoples from South-East Asia began to spread themselves out over Oceania.    

Their talent for building canoes and navigation made them very mobile and they became the ancestors of the inhabitants of Polynesia, Micronesia and certain parts of Melanesia.

Subsequently many local languages arose and there was a mixing of the various groups of peoples over an extensive area. There are great cultural variations in Oceania, but numerous common traits also exist. Many areas have been closely connected to each other through regional trade networks, and the sea is seen as binding rather than dividing the peoples of the various islands.

In the exhibition Ethnographical Treasure Rooms at the National Museum you can see collections from Micronesia, including a warrior from the Gilbert Islands, boats, fishing tools, ceremonial equipment, objects made from raffia and jewellery, together with others relating to hunting, war, daily life and the cults of the Aborigines of Australia.

More about Oceania?

Visit the Ethnographic Collections at the National Museum in Copenhagen.