Welcome to the World Cultures collections and gallery at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.
World Cultures is an umbrella term given to describe a collection of objects once made and used by indigenous peoples around the world.
The aim of the gallery
The overall aim is to increase an understanding between those who visit the displays and those people whose ways of life are being described here. All of the objects on display in these galleries are real things, made and used by real people. Very few were made deliberately to be displayed to others, although some were.
Content of the World Cultures gallery
This first-floor gallery displays a wide range of fascinating objects that were made to reflect tradition, everyday use, and social even ceremonial occasions. Cultural values and identity are sometimes expressed through the object. The gallery enables the visitor to explore the exchange of ideas and objects between indigenous cultures and Europeans.
The World Cultures collection
Awarded designation status in 1998, the World Cultures collection is considered an important collection both nationally and internationally. There are approximately 12,000 identified items from Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 1,000 items are on display at any one time. Where possible we will work with source communities so that objects can be displayed appropriately with multiple voices.
Associations with maritime voyages and the British Empire
Many of these objects reflect early encounters with voyages and Empire and the peoples whose lives were dramatically changed by it. This collection often highlights the link between Devon and the outside world. Artefacts were largely obtained through Empire by missionaries, traders, military officers, colonial administrators and explorers then donated to the museum many years later. They were acquired primarily as gifts, purchases, souvenirs even exchanges. However, a few items are known to have been unethically acquired during times of conflict.
World Cultures and acts of repatriation
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum has been pro-actively involved in the act of repatriation since 1994. In 1997, shell jewellery believed to have belonged to Aboriginal heroine Trucanini, was returned to Tasmania. In 2007, human remains were returned to New Zealand and in 2008 to Australia.
Yes it has a very small collection. In recent years, the Museum has worked with indigenous communities so that remains can be safely returned where existing documentation and research can demonstrate provenance i.e. knowing where something comes from. Remains already have been returned to New Zealand and Australia. The ethnography collection cares for a small number of remains from Africa and Melanesia. These are stored appropriately and are not displayed. There are also objects that contain remains that have been culturally processed e.g. tsantsa from Peru, a skull drum from Tibet. These are displayed in an appropriate context. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is a member of the Human Remains Subject Specialist Network and acts in accordance with the law, the codes of practice set by the Human Tissue Authority and the guidelines developed by DCMS. RAMM has also produced a policy related to its acquisition & disposal policy.
There are approximately 3000 items from Africa in the collection. In the World Cultures gallery Africa is represented by the arts of West Africa, East and South Africa, beadwork and a collector's case concerning Richard E. Dennett, an ivory and rubber trader in Central Africa in 1879.
Almost 2000 items make up this collection of material from the American continent. These pieces are located in four cases; The Pacific Rim, Northwest Coast, the Subarctic, the Plains, Southwest USA, Mexico, Central and South America and the Amazon.
Whilst items from China, India, Japan and Myanmar (formerly Burma) form the larger part of the Asia collection there is also material from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet and Southeast Asia. There are approximately 3,000 items from this part of the world.
The strength of this collection lies in a donation of material from Oman. However, there are individual pieces such as a finely made Palestinian woollen bisht that had been acquired by Exeter MP Sir John Bowring during his visit there in 1838.
This collection consists of approximately 2000 items from Australia and Tasmania, New Zealand and many of the Pacific island groups such as Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and Easter Island.