Oceanie - Wereldmuseum Leiden
Permanent exhibition


An immense archipelago, hundreds of islands

Oceania comprises more than 20,000 islands and covers no less than a third of the globe. Its inhabitants speak 1800 different languages and the area is characterized by its huge range of different cultures.

Rapid changes through the ages

From the seventeenth century onwards, the arrival of western explorers, missionaries and proselytizers engendered rapid changes in the way of life in Oceania. Inhabitants became acquainted with new materials such as cotton and metal. The conversion to Christianity resulted in the destruction of many indigenous objects. Nineteenth century explorers subdivided this vast region into Australia, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. Modern-day Oceania is characterized by the dynamic way in which its indigenous peoples are working towards a future in which their influence is clearly evident.


The sea, never far away in this region, prompted Oceania’s inhabitants to develop highly sophisticated navigation techniques and efficient canoes.

Wereldmuseum Leiden maintains special ties with the Maoris of New Zealand. The characteristic boathouse in the museum’s gardens with its two Wakas, traditional Maori canoes, bears witness to this bond. Here you can view the interesting reportage that details how the cooperative venture with the Maori woodcarvers and their artisanal skills took shape.

Canoe prow figurehead

A small but very special highlight is this canoe prow figurehead from the Solomon Islands. The figurehead is characterized by its exceptionally beautiful marquetry and rare inlaid gold earrings. These carvings were mounted on the prow of war canoes, of which they were considered an integral part. They could be used for different canoes and exchanged with different groups. They must have been important trophies that would for example have been taken as booty when a rival group was defeated. Although such figureheads are no longer in use, they remain a key symbol of national identity. Since the Salomon Islands acquired independence in 1978 they feature on the national 5-dollar note. 

 Want to view the entire collection of Southern and Central America? Please click here.