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World Cultures Galleries are closed for redevelopment
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Gallery 20 will be closed from Friday 1 Dec until noon Saturday 2 December

Spear rest

spear rest from RAMMs World Cultures collection

World Cultures collection

RAMM’s World Cultures collection includes objects from traditional communities who live in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Do you want to explore this collection further? Please see the RAMM World Cultures website.


This collection consists of approximately 2000 items from Australia, New Zealand (Aotearoa) and many of the Pacific island groups such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti and Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Significant pieces include a Tahitian mourner’s costume, which was donated by Lt. Francis Godolphin Bond in 1872. There are also items that relate to the second and third voyages of Captain Cook. This material includes a contentious sheet of bark cloth said to have come from the Cook Islands, possibly 18th century in date. Among the historical items that were acquired in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pacific collection also contains examples of contemporary material that reflect the traditions, even changes, of modern day island culture. Examples include several dance crests from Uvol, New Britain, which were made in 1987 for a community festival that commemorates generational change every 25 years. Genealogy, on the other hand, was made by artist Rosanna Raymond in 2007 and highlights how barkcloth is relevant to Polynesian identity today. These trousers relate to the artist’s ideas about her own mixed heritage. Rosanna refers to Genealogy as taonga, a Maori term given to items that are considered treasure.


Containing over 3000 items, this collection of African material has its roots in the colonial 19th century. Examples include a copper-alloy head from the 1897 punitive expedition into Benin City. There are also magical figures collected by Congo trader Richard E. Dennett. A carving of the Yoruba orisha Eshu was given to the Reverend Henry Townsend by a local Oba; in fact he was given several items as a sign of their friendship. This collection was donated to the museum in 1868, however, some of these items had already been displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851!


There are over 1400 items listed for North America with material coming from the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast and Plains regions. There are also objects from other parts of the USA but they are few in number. They can be found in the World Cultures gallery alongside RAMM’s very own crest pole (totem) called Ilchinik, which was carved in 1998. Highlights from this important collection include material obtained on some of the early voyages of exploration such as those of Captain Cook. One example is a very fine 18th century Nuu-chah-nulth whalebone club, collected at Nootka Sound between 1776 and 1780. Among the most significant elements of the collection are the regalia of Crowfoot, or Issapumahsika, Siksika leader of the Blackfoot nation at the time of the signing of Treaty 7. A detailed list of this material can be found on the RAMM Research Collection. RAMM also boasts a fine collection from Central and South America, which not only includes Peruvian ceramics but also interesting textiles. One example is a late 18th century leather coat from Mexico, which is colonial-styled and embroidered with silk thread. There are also contemporary traditional costumes from Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico that were made using natural and synthetic dyes. Material from Amazonia consists of approximately 500 items and includes an early bird’s wing bone apron that was acquired in the 19th century and an Achuar feather tunic from Ecuador, obtained in the 1950s. Woven textiles from Oaxaca, Mexico and the highlands of Guatemala have come to Exeter through a number of recent donations. Certainly most of this material was made by women using a traditional backstrap loom. This old tradition continues today as a means of generating income and to promote cultural identity. One notable item is a Mixtec wrap-around skirt that incorporates hiladillo, or cochineal-dyed silk, a dark blue cotton dyed with indigo and a lilac cotton that was dyed using the secretion of a shellfish (purpura). This is harder to obtain than the conventional modern dyes that are so easily found in the markets.


The Asia collection consists of material from China, Japan, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Tibet, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Significant pieces include a 19th century elm bark cloth tunic from an Ainu fisherman in the Ishicari district on the northwest coast of Hokkaido Island, Japan. There are also a series of 15th century ceramic plaques from the Shwegugyi and Ajapalacetiya pagodas of Bago in lower Myanmar. They depict scenes from the temptation of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) by the demon Mara. In the World Cultures gallery there will be a case dedicated Asian material culture and faith such as Buddhism, Hinduism and islam which reflects collection strengths. There will be examples of Chinese and Japanese porcelain dating to the 19th century, Burmese textiles plus a more modern and exquisite example of lacquerware from Japan.

Near East

This small collection of material comes from Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Kurdistan. The strength of this collection lies in John Carter’s donation of material from Oman. However, there are also interesting individual pieces such as a finely made Palestinian woollen bisht that was donated to the museum by Sir John Bowring in the late 19th century. In 2009, RAMM was fortunate to acquire a large hand woven tapestry from the renowned Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre near Cairo in Egypt. This spectacular piece is called Field and Village on the Nile. It measures 2.90m x 1.80m and was completed by artist Mahrous Abdou in 2009. It took him approximately 6 months to complete. Members of the public will be able to view this splendid work in the Islam and Arab World case of the World Cultures gallery when the museum reopens again. This new acquisition was made possible with the help of the Ramses Wissa Wassef Trust, The Arts Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, FEMAG and Dr. Jenny Balfour-Paul.

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