Skip to main content


The collection Oceania is currently not on display.

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.

Ceremonial headdress, wood, coconut, shells, feathers and human hair
Ceremonial headdress, 19th cent., Raivavae Island, French Polynesia, wood, coconut, shells, feathers and human hair

Material & spiritual culture

The various elements of the material culture of Polynesia and Micronesia are illustrated, 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.

Kavakava statuette
Kavakava statuette, 15th cent., Easter Island, wood

Easter Island

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. 

Statue of Pou Hakanononga
Statue of Pou Hakanononga, 13th-14th cent., Easter Island, solid andesite

Nicolas Cauwe