Polynesia and Melanesia

barkcloth (tapa), from Hawaii‎The Hunterian has a variety of objects from Polynesia and Melanesia. The term "Polynesia" was first used in the mid 18th century and originally referred to all islands in the Pacific. The term "Melanesia" was coined in 1832 to distinguish the islands which lie to the north and north-east of Australia. The pre-colonial populations of these islands originally belonged to a cultural family characterised by maritime prowess and epic voyages. Polynesian culture is spread over great distances as the Pacific Ocean covers nearly half of the Earth's surface.

The first Polynesian islands were first visited by Europeans in the 16th century. However, exploration of Polynesia by European navigators, who were mainly looking for new routes to wealthy Asia, was limited.

Captain James Cook was the pioneer of a new approach to exploration. On his voyages he mapped the locations of islands, catalogued the plants and animals he found there, and investigated the language and customs of the native peoples.

The Hunterian's collection includes objects which were collected during the voyages of Captain Cook. These objects are known as 'first-contact' pieces, as the arrival of Cook and subsequent European explorers had an irrevocable impact on native societies.