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The exhibition

The exhibition

Voyages of the Pacific Ancestors: Vaka Moana

Nguzunguzu canoe prow figure, Western Solomon Islands

This exhibition traces the dramatic story of one of the largest human migrations of all time across one third of the planet - the Pacific Ocean.

It is the story of the settlement of Near Oceania and the islands of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon islands, the subsequent emergence of Oceanic peoples 4000 years ago from South East Asia and their movement into remote Oceanic and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

The name 'Vaka Moana' comes from the widespread use in the Pacific of the words 'Moana' for ocean and 'Vaka' for canoe.

Image: Nguzunguzu canoe prow figure, Western Solomon Islands.
210w x 320h x 130d mm.
Collection: Auckland Museum.

Exhibition highlights

Wooden mask, Mortlock Islands, Micronesia

The exhibition reveals the navigation methods and types of travel craft used, along with the evidence modern investigators have pieced together to retell the story. Highlights include:

  • a full-sized inter-island voyaging canoe
  • ancient boat-building and seagoing navigation tools and instruments
  • over 100 objects including rare sculptures and artefacts
  • recent scientific research into the origins of the Pacific people
  • multimedia and interactive displays.

Image: Wooden mask, Mortlock Islands, Micronesia.
330w x 190d x 640h mm.
Collection: Auckland Museum.

Exhibition themes

Goddess figure, Tonga

The journeys and settlements of the ancestors of the Pacific Islands were accomplished with great skill and bravery. Their extraordinary story is explored in the exhibition through the following themes:

Image: Goddess figure, Tonga.
335h x 135d x 160w mm.
Collection: Auckland Museum.


Video interview with senior curator Michael Pickering (MPEG4 5.4mb) duration 01:48. Video produced by Jeffrey Gear and Ken Steer.


MICHAEL PICKERING: This is Kave. She is an ancestral goddess figure. Originally she was kept in a sacred spirit house in the Caroline Islands.

The ancestors of modern Pacific Islanders came down from South East Asia, island hopping and coast hopping down through Papua New Guinea until they got to the edge of the Pacific Ocean and then they basically ran out of small islands to hop to, and the only answer was to go for blue sea navigation. To do that they developed strong knowledge and technology of ocean growing travel with large canoes that were capable of carrying many people, and they set off into the Pacific.

The Pacific islands are characterised by a diverse number of cultures. Each island has its own cultural groups and within those groups there can be even smaller cultural groups. But they also have common origins and share many common traits which they acknowledge and are very proud of.

Canoes came in a variety of sizes, from the smaller coastal traders and tenders, which were used to take supplies out to the larger canoes. Some of the larger ocean going canoes were certainly up to 40 metres long. They may even have been bigger before Europeans came and observed them. People travelled on these canoes, men and women travelled great distances over thousands of kilometres at sea carrying all their supplies with them. They carried coconuts, pigs, chickens, tubers and plants from their home base, which they then replanted on their new homelands.

Exhibition organised by Auckland Museum — Tamaki Paenga Hira, Auckland, New Zealand. Presented in association with CROWN Worldwide Movers LTD.