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A group of islands
Oceania is the name of the continent formed of the many islands in the Pacific Ocean. Geographically and ethnographically, it breaks down into three areas: Melanesia or ‘the black islands’ (from the Greek ‘melas’ – black – and ‘nèsos’ – island), which takes its name from the skin colour of its inhabitants; Polynesia or ‘the many islands’ (from the Greek ‘polus’ – many); and Micronesia or ‘the small islands’ (from the Greek ‘micros’ – small). Only Polynesia and Micronesia are represented in the collection.
An important section of the collection consists of objects from Easter Island (Polynesia). The focal point is the colossal, six-tonne stone sculpture, which probably represents the god of the tuna fishers; it was brought to Belgium in 1935 by a Franco-Belgian expedition on board the training-ship Mercator. A full-size replica of another, colossal stone statue from Easter Island is also on display and is surrounded by a selection of bombast fabrics. Charts and photographs illustrate the geography and climate of the immense region, as well as the origin and culture of the inhabitants. The necessary attention is also given to the navigational skills of the region’s peoples. A separate room is devoted to the Easter Island Expedition of 1934-1935. Two films are shown and close by is a model of the enigmatic island.
Illustrated, too, are the various elements of the material culture of Polynesia and Micronesia, including the working of stone, wood and bone, the manufacture of bombast, fishing and agriculture, house-building, food-preparation, warfare, clothing and finery. From New Zeeland (the Maori), there is fine wood-carving; from the islands of Australia, a large, fan-shaped headdress; and from Tahiti, a human figure topping the haft of a status object.
The spiritual culture is evoked by items from Easter Island: stone busts, rock reliefs and wood sculpture, depicting gods and spirits.