International collection

    Oceania Collection

    In many respects, the internationally recognised Oceania Collection is the most significant the Museum of Ethnography has to offer. Three-fourths of its 14,500 pieces are associated with the four great names in Hungarian ethnographic collecting, all of whom were active at a time when Hungary's international connections, through its status as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, were broadest in scope and the peoples inhabiting the islands of the Pacific were still highly isolated.

    Of the four collectors mentioned above, the first was Sámuel Fenichel (1863-1893), who brought back some 2500 objects from his travels in German New Guinea in 1892 and 1893. Following his death in 1893, his work was continued by Lajos Biró (1856-1931), who between 1896 and 1901 assembled not only 200,000 zoological specimens, but also some 6,000 artefacts and more than 300 photographs. Between 1893 and 1898, at the time Fenichel and Bíró were in New Guinea, a third great collector, Rudolf Festetics (1865-1943) was also present in the region. Unlike his less privileged naturalist contemporaries, Count Festetics belonged to the nobility, and could therefore afford to take an 8-year honeymoon trip in the area of the Pacific islands. His collection of nearly 1,600 artefacts and more than 600 photographs was presented to the Hungarian National Museum on the occasion of its 100-year anniversary when the count returned from his travels. The fourth great contributor to the collection was an Italian merchant named Giovanni Bettanin, who sold the museum nearly 2000 objects of Pacific origin between 1897 and 1908.

    Another means employed frequently by Western European museums in their quest for new material was to commission commercial and military ships with the gathering of ethnographic items from the regions they visited. The 200 pieces brought back to Europe by the Austro-Hungarian military ship the Panther in 1907, still found today in the Oceania Collection, stand as a testimony to the success of this technique. Oszkár Vojnics (1864-1914), another rich landowner and world traveller of the ilk of Rudolf Festetics, also collected ethnographic material during his several lengthy excursions to foreign lands. During his travels in the Pacific between 1906 and 1908, Vojnics acquired 100 objects and took 650 photographs, all of which have since found their way into the museum's collection. Another significant contributor of material of the period was the traveller Ferenc Hopp, from whose estate a number of pieces, particularly from New Zealand, were added to the collection.

    After this initial period of extensive collection work had passed, the museum's holdings grew more slowly. One worthy contributor of the time was Károly Sándor Verebélyi, a pearl fisherman of Hungarian descent who donated his private collection of 180 pieces to the museum in 1928. Of all contributors to the Oceania Collection, the only professional ethnographer was the world renowned advocate of psychoanalytic ethnography, Géza Róheim (1891-1953), whose research sites included locations in Mid-Australia, the Massim Region of South-east New Guinea, and the Island of Normanby. The museum acquired 227 objects from Róheim's fieldwork in Australia in 1929 and a collection of 211 objects from his subsequent work on Normanby Island. The last significant contributor to the collection from the time between the wars was the geologist Horst von Bandat (1895-1982), who donated his collection of 135 artefacts from Western New Guinea to the museum in 1940. Minor contributors during this period included Simon Papp (1886-1970), a geologist and crude oil researcher, who presented the museum with 14 pieces collected in New Guinea between 1928 and 1929, and the archaeologist László Vértes, who in 1953 and 1954 donated two priceless wooden statues from the Easter Islands acquired on the international art market. Vértes later left the museum a third wooden statue from Maori in 1970.

    Though the political reprieve of the 1970's theoretically gave the museum the opportunity to acquire material from locations outside Europe, work on the Oceania Collection had by that time virtually stagnated. The only pieces to be added in recent years have been those donated by Hungarians living in emigration in foreign countries, together with a handful of purchases and exchanges. Such additions include the gift by Sydney anthropologist László Vimláti in 1968 of several objects from Arnhemland in Northern Australia, among them two valuable bark paintings; a collection of recent Easter Island carvings donated by Montreal bacteriologist and M.D. György Nógrádi; and 360 pieces from the Tennant Creek area (Northern Territory, Australia), donated at the end of the 1970's by the gold digger László Pintér.

    The curator of the collection is Dr. János Gyarmati and Anna Bíró

    The scientific treatment of the most outstanding subsection of the Pacific Collection, namely, the ethnograpical materials collected by Lajos Bíró, has been most generously sponsored and supported by the de-Unger scholarship since September 2006. To view the objects processed enjoying the support of the abovementioned organization, please visit our online database.

    To view the notes on the artefacts collected in New Guinea by Lajos Bíró, please click on one or more of the below:

    Inventory and labels of ethnographical objects, Huon Bay, New-Guinea, Page 695, Drawing N.o. 478 (EA 4715)

    Inventory and labels of ethnographical collection, 1900, Bismarck Islands, New Guinea?, Page 159., Drawing N.o. 69. (EA 4716)

    Notes taken regarding photographies made during field work, 1896-1902, India, New Guinea, Ceylon, etc, Page 479, Photo N.o. 302., Map N.o. 14. (EA 4718)

    Vilibáld Seemayer: Inventory of Museum für Völkerkunde Astrolabe Bay (New Guinea) objects, 1899, Berlin, Germany, Page 200., Drawing N.o. 412., Map N.o. 2. (EA 1028)


    Indonesia Collection

    The core material for the Indonesia Collection, now comprising some four thousand objects, was collected between the end of the 19th century and the outbreak of World War I by János Xántus, Sámuel Teleki, Giovanni Bettanin, the Ethnographic Mission, Árpád Karácson, Ernő Zboray, and Oszkár Vojnich.

    The collection is founded upon the material collected by János Xántus during his expedition to East and South-east Asia in 1869 and 1870, including 500 objects brought from the South-east Asian islands of Borneo, Sumatra, The Celebes, Java, The Sulus, Aru, and Timor. Meriting special mention, both for its complexity and for the high quality of its material, is an assemblage of objects purchased from the Dajaks of Borneo. Not only is the Dajak material the most complete grouping within the collection, it is also the result of nearly six months of carefully planned ethnographic field work. Material collected from the wajangs, the famous puppet plays of Java, by Ernő Zboray in the first half of the 20th century was added to the collection only after World War II, as were several pieces from a Javanese gamelan musical group.

    In terms of geographic distribution, approximately half the objects in the collection originate from the two rather minor territories of Java and Borneo, each making up about one-fourth of the total Indonesian holdings. The material from Borneo provides the most complete ethnographic picture of the culture it represents, with artefacts related to lifestyle present on a broad scale. About one-third of the collection consists of weapons, including spears, krises, swords, knives, arrows, shields, and blowguns. The most valuable pieces in the collection are to be found among the assemblage of shields collected by János Xántus in Borneo and the weapons (krises and parangs) and statuary purchased from Giovanni Bettanin.

    The curator of the collection is Gábor Wilhelm Ph.D.


    Europe Collection

    The Europe Collection was one of the first to be ordained a permanent presence by the museum. During the 19th century, fieldwork in ethnography in Hungary tended to concentrate on the Finno-Ugric peoples, groups ethnically related to the Hungarians. With the turn of the 20th century, however, a new emphasis was placed on national groups living in or near the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

    These two bodies of material were later expanded to include artefacts from both northern and western Europe to produce a collection of truly European scope.

    From a geographic perspective, the collection covers virtually every ethnic group in Europe, including both the Hungarians themselves and their distant relatives living in Siberia. Items currently number nearly 10,000, of which more than one-third is Finno-Ugric material, another one-third has been collected from the Balkan Peninsula, and the remainder from various other European cultures. The collection on Finno-Ugric peoples, established with the 19th century travels of Antal Reguly, Károly Pápai, Bernát Munkácsy, János Jankó, and József Pápay and expanded through the early 20th century collecting work of Benedek Baráthosi Balogh, constitutes the best conceived and best documented of all groups of items in the collection. Within this material, the Ob-Ugric, Finnish, and Estonian collections each offer a particularly complete perspective on the ethnic groups they represent, and are thus of significance on an international scale.

    The second major component of the collection consists of objects collected from the Balkan Peninsula and from the South Slavic peoples once belonging to the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy. Most of these artefacts are pieces of decorative embroidery removed from various articles of clothing, though a number of musical instruments, metal objects, leather belts, jewellery, and ceramic pieces are also included. The best-represented ethnic groups in the collection are the Croatians and Albanians, with some 1000 and 300 items, respectively.

    Compared to the Finno-Ugric and Balkan materials, the Northern and Western European collections are somewhat slighter in volume. Most objects from these areas were added to the collection without thought to conscious development of the collection as either opportune purchases or donations.

    The curators of the collection is Lilla Dóra Kövesdi


    Asia Collection

    Four-fifths of the 16 thousand items currently found in the Asia Collection date to the initial period of the museum's history, which lasted from the end of the 19th until the beginning of the 20th century. The foundations for the collection were laid by János Xántus's expedition to East and Southeast Asia between 1868 and 1870, during which some two thousand artefacts from China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and India were collected.

    Between the year 1880 and the onset of the Second World War, conscious efforts at expanding the museum's holdings placed what were termed "related peoples" in the focal point of field work pursued in non-Hungarian locations. In Asian countries to which this concept did not apply, field work was limited to the collection of a few representative objects of limited size. For "related peoples," however, the concept targeted acquisition of a full complement of ethnographic material, in the hope of eventually coming to a deeper understanding of artefacts collected domestically. The term "related peoples" was understood to include four sub-categories: the Finno-Ugric, Turkic-Tartar, Caucasian, and Iranian ethnic groups. As a result of this work, by the end of the 19th century, the museum's special collection on Ural-Altaic-Caucasian peoples had grown to become the largest of its kind in Europe outside Russia.

    Of particular interest within the collection are the Zichy collection on Turkestan; the Amur and Ajnu material collected by Benedek Baráthosi Balogh; Vilmos Diószegi's Mongolian and Siberian shaman collection; a group of objects brought from Turkey by Gyula Mészáros; and items related to Mongolian lamas contributed by Hans Leder. Quantitatively, the largest subgroups are those comprising items from China and Japan, India, the Amur region, Mongolia, Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains, and Turkestan.

    The curator of the collection is Gábor Wilhelm Ph.D.


    America Collection

    During the period between 1874 and 1918, when many of the museum's collections were founded, Hungary's position as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy gave it access to a complex network of foreign relations. Accordingly, international connections at the Museum of Ethnography were established primarily through the Royal Court Museum in Vienna, while ships of war (such as the Zrínyi and Szigetvár) were often commissioned to collect ethnographic material after the German and Austrian example.

    Additions to the America Collection made during this period included 700 ethnographic and 550 archaeological artefacts before 1903, followed by a further 1100 ethnographic objects from 10 countries between 1903 and 1918. At the end of the 19th century, the museum acquired the material collected by missionaries Ede Szenger, Lajos Schlesinger, Jenő Prokop, Jenő Bánó, and Dr. Wilhelm Bauer for the Ethnographic Mission Exhibition, followed by the collection of J. Pap, Leo Hirsch, Dr. Ödön Nesnera, and C. Wahle. It purchased its Eskimo collection at the World's Fair held in Paris in 1900.

    Total acquisitions between 1919 and 1945 came to 59 new ethnographic items, followed by a further 43 artefacts between 1945 and 1960, all donated by charitable benefactors, in addition to some 200 items acquired through archaeological explorations. About half of contributors were Hungarians living abroad, though some items came from the Museum of Applied Arts as part of the legacy left by Ferenc Hopp and János Xántus.

    As a result of the political reprieve experienced in the 1960's, relations between various institutions were revitalised, and museum researchers, external individuals, and later a growing number of students embarked on extensive field work projects. The collection was influenced most heavily during this period by the work of Lajos Boglár, who carried out research in both Brazil and Venezuela. Since the 1960's, the collection has benefited from the addition of over 3000 new acquisitions.

    The collection includes 2,670 archaeological objects, with nearly every significant culture of the Americas represented by at least one or two artefacts. Although more than half of these were taken from known locations, most did not come to the museum directly from the archaeological dig where they were discovered. Not counting 1,430 stone utensils originating from the United States, the greatest number of findings, 726 objects, come from Mexico, with a further 156 from Peru, and 110 from Columbia.

    Some 600 pieces were added to the collection prior to 1918 (1911), while additions came to a total of 200 items during the second period in the collection's history. In terms of sheer numbers, growth has been greatest since 1965, with new acquisitions numbering 1,800 items, although 1,284 of these came in the form of a single donation of obsidian utensils from the United States. However, the remaining 600 items include the vast majority of the best archaeological discoveries in the collection.

    The curators of the collection are György Szeljak Ph.D. (ethnography) and János Gyarmati Ph.D. (archeology).


    Africa Collection

    The Museum of Ethnography's Africa Collection offers some 10,000 objects representing the entire African continent and the island of Madagascar.

    More than half the collection was assembled between 1874 and the end of World War I through six large-scale acquisitions: the donation in 1889 by the hunter and explorer Count Sámuel Teleki of 338 objects collected in East Africa; the 1,520 artefacts purchased by the museum in 1898 from the material of the Ethnographic Mission Exhibition; 2,600 East African artefacts purchased from the collector and dealer Baron Pál Bornemissza between 1901 and 1905; the gift of 391 pieces from the Belgian Congo donated by the world famous British Museum collector/ethnographer Emil Torday in 1910; 189 objects primarily of West African origin sold to the museum by the art dealer Ferenc Pázman in 1914; and the donation by the traveller Jenő Kalmár in 1916 of 223 pieces gathered in Cameroon. During the period between the wars, the largest gift received by the museum included 680 pieces collected by Dr. Rudof Fuszek during several decades spent in Liberia.

    Since the 1950's additions to the collection have been made primarily through purchase, rather than donation. In terms of volume, acquisitions meriting special mention include a collection of 192 Coptic crosses from Ethiopia, a group of 70 artefacts, primarily figurines, collected in the Congo, 246 objects chiefly of West African origin purchased from the estate of István Rudnyánszky, a gift of 30 pieces of northern African pottery from Edit Szávay, and the donation of 70 objects of everyday use from the collectors Géza Füssi Nagy and Mihály Sárkány, who participated in a research trip organised to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the voyage of Sámuel Teleki.

    In geographic terms, the territories of East Africa have contributed the largest proportion of material (more than one-third of the collection), while the largest thematic group is that of weapons (occupying a full one-fifth of the collection).

    The curator of the collection is Edina Földessy Ph.D.