Hilke Thode-Arora, Museum Fünf Kontinente
Pacific collections in ethnological museums include a large number of wooden artefacts. However, only in very few cases have in-depth analyses regarding their materiality or their deeper meanings been executed. Wood, wood carving and pieces made from wood can have metaphorical and metaphysical implications in Pacific cultures, and they may be interpreted as reflections of social order. Furthermore, historical artefacts now in museums played a part in a political economy of production and exchange, both on a local and a global scale, during colonial times.
Assumptions and ascriptions of what kind of wood objects in museums are made of, if done at all, are usually made according to the academic literature, based on first-hand observations by anthropological field workers. However, oral traditions in museums, hearsay, or assurances given by dealers in ethnographic artefacts when selling pieces to museums, have also often been taken for granted. As a first step and pilot study for a larger project of Thinking through wood, all wooden artefacts of the Māori collection in the Museum Fünf Kontinente will be scrutinized from different angles. A study of the relevant literature on Aotearoa New Zealand woods, on Māori carving and artefacts will be combined with natural science approaches of assessing kinds of wood and carving techniques. Provenance research will try to trace back the artefacts to former owners and, if possible, the Māori owners and makers. Most important, though, contact with Aotearoa New Zealand specialists on wood, carving and carved pieces will be established to invite Māori expertise.