The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

The Great Ocean Voyage: Vaka Moana and Island Life Today

The Great Ocean Voyage: Vaka Moana and Island Life Today


●Online Gallery Talk

Conveying Traditional Cultures to the Future
Shuzo Ishimori, Center of advanced Tourism Studies, HokkaidoUniversity

Valuable visual records of modern navigators are also displayed in the special exhibition. It is exciting to see and hear the people who are active in carrying traditional navigation into the future. The great ocean-going voyagers who first appeared in human history gradually developed their maritime cultures over long periods, but these cultures seemed to disappear in the process of modernization. Traditional navigation relied on observation of natural phenomena such as the movements of stars and sea swells. Such knowledge survived on only a few islands of South Pacific, into modern times.
Please listen to the modern navigators as they try to convey wisdom built up by a proud maritime people from generation to generation, and especially Mau Piailug who was Captain of Hokulea, a traditional double canoe rebuilt in Hawaii and sailed to Tahiti, and Nainoa Thompson, the Hokulea navigator.

Armour from Kiribati
Isao Hayashi, National Museum of Ethnology

Battles often broke out between groups in Kiribati in the past. Boys were trained to fight since they were small, and were regarded as men after a ritual to take over the spears made by their grandfathers. Weapons included spears, knives, and blades attached to fists. Here we show a sword bordered with sharp shark teeth, a coconut fibre armour suit and corselet, and a porcupine fish helmet. The helmet might have been effective for head-butting at close quarters. At the special exhibition, “Images of Other Cultures” held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our opening to the public, a similar armour suit in possession of the British Museum was displayed, but this is the first time that a complete set of the armour, including a porcupine fish helmet, has been displayed.

Can you guess what this is? It came from a mountain village in the Philippines!
Ritsuko Kikusawa, National Museum of Ethnology

This is something used everyday in Japan, but the shape and material are different from those we are familiar with. What is it? The answer is a rice serving spatula. In this village and some other places in the Philippines it is made of a water buffalo’s shoulder bone. Rice is a staple food in the Philippines, just like in Japan, and is typically eaten three times a day. People used this spatula to transfer rice from a cooking pot onto flat, woven bamboo baskets. From such a “plate,” each person ate rice with fingers. These days, enamel dishes and metal spoons are more commonly used. However, the rice serving spatula made of bone is still retained in traditional villages. This spatula, as well as woven baskets for serving rice, baskets used to carry lunch to the rice fields, a mortar and pestles for pounding rice, and other traditional artifacts, are displayed in a reconstructed kitchen in the Philippine section. Please come and see the similarities and differences in the material cultures of two rice-eating societies.


Huli's Wig, Papua New Guinea
Yukio Toyoda, Rikkyo University

This photo shows the scene when the Huli people of Papua New Guinea explaining how to make their traditional wigs, which is also shown by video in our exhibition. Even in Papua New Guinea, where the people’s life is considered to be less modernized, the Huli are one of the few groups who still wear their traditional costume in everyday life. The wigs are an outstanding feature of their costume, and they are explaining in the video the meaning of their crescent wigs and the ways how to make them. They emphasizes that wearing wigs is traditional, and that people are not just wearing them for tourists. It is ironical, however, that the scene was filmed when they are explaining these things to tourists.


Masks in Papua New Guinea
Eijiro Fukui, National Museum of Ethnology

The etymology of person is ‘persona’, an actor’s mask or characters. In other words, humans wear various personas in society, and play their own roles.
In Oceania, it is often observed at rituals that people dance with masks that embody their ancestors, praying for a productive harvest and the prosperity of their families and relatives. Masks are usually situated in a different context nowadays. Many masks for souvenirs decorate the wall of a travel agent’s office in Papua New Guinea. Do these masks still carry traditional hopes and prayers? We can enjoy the elaborate designs and distinctive atmosphere of Papua New Guinea from the masks. Isn’t it curious how the world is globalized through from souvenirs?


Makiko Kuwahara, Kinjo Gakuin University

The custom of tattooing arrived in Tahiti across the ocean, and is still expanding across the ocean. Many tatooists and tatau/tattoo lovers across the world gathered at a tattoo convention called Tattoonesia at Moorea in 2005, and Tahiti in 2006. Visitors enjoyed seeing artworks completed on the skin while the tattoo machines buzzed noisily. Our slide show of highlights of the tattoo convention shows tattooists in Tahiti learned various styles from overseas at the convention. The convention was a good opportunity for them to expand their network with tattooists across Polynesia, Europe and the USA.


Valiha: Bamboo Harp
Taku Iida, National Museum of Ethnology

Madagascar, east of the African continent, has a mixed Africa and Southeast Asia cultural and human heritage. Their ancestors crossed the Indian Ocean. One piece of evidence for this is the valiha, a musical instrument. It consists of a bamboo-cylinder resonator, with bamboo-skin or metal strings.
Similar instruments are found here and there in Southeast Asia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It appears that voyagers active in Southeast Asia also reached to Madagascar. I think this is true. Malagasy language spoken in Madagascar is in the same language family used in and around Indonesia. Other similarities are also found between the cultures of both regions.

Lapita Pottery
Michiko Intoh, National Museum of Ethnology

Many valuable voyaging-related objects are displayed in the 'Great Ocean Voyage' exhibition.
One example is a rare kind of pottery called Lapita. This was made by the ancestors of Polynesian people more than 3000 years ago. The decorative pattern on the surface is consisted of a series of elaborate dots. In some case, a motif of human face was expressed. Tracing the remains and movements of this kind of pottery tells us how and when the Austronesian speaking people migrated to Polynesia.
The Lapita pottery on display was made in New Caledonia about 3000 years ago, which is the time when Jomon pottery was being made in Japan. Jomon pottery exhibits strong and dynamic designs, while Lapita pottery exhibits delicate style. This is the first time that a real Lapita pot, being extremely fragile, has been displayed in Japan.
Don't miss this good chance.

Lapita Pottery
Rintaro Ono, National Museum of Ethnology

3500 years ago, a mysterious group appeared in the south Pacific. We call them Lapita, and the pots left by them are Lapita pots. The distribution of the Lapita pots tells us about the movements and activities of people on the islands of the south Pacific. Their area covers more than 5000 kilometers from the isolated islands of eastern Papua New Guinea to the far away Samoa and Tonga of Polynesia. This is why Lapita are called Proto-Polynesian.
Some Lapita pots bear geometric or human face patterns made by continuous marking using a tool with small teeth. This technique may have been derived from tattooing, and may indicate that Lapita people practiced tattooing. The patterns may become keys to unravel the mystery of Lapita.

Star Dome
Tetsu Ichikawa, National Museum of Ethnology

How did humans migrate to islands in the vast Pacific Ocean? ‘The Great Ocean Voyage exhibition answers this question in various ways. One answer is in the Star Dome, a multi-media display created by Auckland Museum, New Zealand. It projects stars inside the dome like a planetarium, and explains how Austronesian people navigated their ocean canoes. They studied the movements of the Sun and stars, shapes of clouds, direction of winds and current, and the habits of seabirds. With all of these signs, the movement from one island to another remote island was possible. Visitors will understand how people could expand across the vast Pacific Ocean in ancient times without compass or charts.

War Canoe Cross-section in Tahiti
Chihiro Shirakawa, National Museum of Ethnology

As many as 15 canoes including real ones and miniature replicas are displayed in the Great Ocean Voyages exhibition. This enormous full-size cross-section of a double canoe is well worth seeing. The war canoe called ‘Britanne’ was constructed in Tahiti in 1774. This huge canoe was made by connecting two hulls of 33 meters length with a platform. The cross-section is heart-shaped, and has enough space for an adult to sit in it. What surprises us is not only the size. People may think at first sight that the hull was made by hollowing a huge log. In fact, the hull is made of many planks securely tied together with rope. This was the creative technique of Polynesian people living on islands with no huge trees and no metal tools. This is such an inspiring piece.

Pandanus Workshop
Peter Matthews, National Museum of Ethnology

The unique display here is a set of sleeping mats and pillows. The pillows have plaited pandanus covers, and are filled with kapok cotton, a traditional bedding material obtained from down covering the seeds of the kapok tree. The mats are double-sided, with carefully bound edges, and are very soft and comfortable to sit on or lie on. Please come and try using them!
Similar plaiting techniques, using pandanus, were used to make sails for outrigger canoes, all over Oceania.
The mats and pillows were especially commissioned for the exhibition, with the help of Dr Jeanine Pfeiffer, an ethnobotanist working with the Tado community in western Flores, Indonesia.

Period: Thursday, 13th Sept. - Tuesday, 11th Dec.
Admission Charges: Adults ¥1,000 (¥700) / Students of Senior High School or College ¥530 (¥300) / Children (Elementary and Junior High School) ¥300 (¥150)
Brackets mark price for individual on group of 20 people or more.

Visitors in the following categories qualify for a discounted admission charge (documentation is required)
(1) Students who use the Museum as part of their course work. Conditions apply; please submit a syllabus or curriculum as evidence.
(2) Repeat visitors: those who have visited the Museum within the previous three months. A ticket used in the last three months is required.
(3) Visitors aged 65 and over. Please present a document that shows your age.

  Admission for the permanent exhibition is included for these tickets.
  Admission is free every Saturday for primary school, junior high school, and senior high school students.
  Admission is free for everybody on Sep 17, Nov 3, Nov 17 and Nov 18, 2007.

Business hours: 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Entry is permitted until 4:30 p.m.
Closing Day: Wednesday
Telephone enquiries: 06-6876-2151 (9:00 - 5:30)