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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The early explorers and their crews collected curios and souvenirs from the various Pacific islands which they visited. Such articles furnish valuable information concerning the arts and crafts which existed before material changes were effected through foreign impact. Probably most of these articles have found their way into museums and private collections where they may be studied, once their location is known. It is necessary, therefore, to follow up the field surveys in Polynesia by a survey of the museums in Europe, America, and elsewhere.

The finest collection of Polynesian artifacts is in the British Museum. I studied there for three months and did not get through the examination of all the collection, which includes artifacts collected on the voyages of Cook, Van-page 60couver, Beechey, and others. It also includes the wonderful collection accumulated by the London Missionary Society from the Society, Cook, and Austral Islands. Material collected on Cook's voyages is to be found in Vienna, Florence, and elsewhere. The collection made by Joseph Banks on Cook's first voyage is in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford; Anders Sparrman's collection, made on Cook's second voyage, is in the Royal Swedish Museum, Stockholm; John Webber's collection, made on Cook's third voyage, is in the Bern Museum, Switzerland. It would be fascinating as well as valuable to track down the material brought back by the other early voyagers to the countries to which they returned. One wonders whether anything besides journals and charts can be traced back to the Spaniards, Mendana, Quiros, Maurelle, and Boenechea; to the Dutchmen, Le Maire, Schouten, Tasman, and Roggeveen; and so on to the British, French, and Russian voyagers who visited the Polynesian area. There is valuable material in Petrograd, Madrid, and the cities of Europe and Britain, and good material is to be found in the United States. Material collected by the whaling ships of New England in the early part of the nineteenth century is preserved in the Peabody Museums of Salem and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Collections made on the Wilkes Expedition are in the National Museum, Washington, and in the Philadelphia Academy of Science. Good local material is preserved in New Zealand museums and Bishop Museum.

The difficulty in making a thorough survey of museums is that it requires the services of an expert who can identify Polynesian artifacts by their structure, not by their museum labels. A survey requires an examination of material labeled as Polynesian and the material in other locality cases as well, because there are frequent misplacements. Such a survey would not only reveal where valuable material is located, but would help museums to correct errors in identifications.

The following visits to European museums, made by members of the Museum staff, may be regarded as reconnaissance visits which indicate the need for sufficient time to be devoted to the making of more complete records.