Salish ceremonial blanket (VK1) from the North-West coast of America, catalogued in 1828. Photo: Markku Haverinen/Finnish Heritage Agency.

Ethnographic collections

40,000 artefacts from every continent.

Some of the National Museum of Finland’s oldest collections are part of the ethnographic collections. Particularly the artefacts collected from the beginning of the 19th century onwards from Arctic peoples are of significance, even on a global scale. The Alaska collection of A.A. Etholén, who worked for the Russian colonial administration, and the artefacts collected from Siberia by researchers of linguistics and culture are among the conerstones of the ethnographic collection.

People who have travelled the world for many other purposes have also acquired items for the ethnographic collections, and artefacts have also been gained through the museum’s own collecting efforts. Sailors and whalers who travelled to China and Alaska were able to acquire souvenirs, exotic items and samples for teaching and research purposes. Furthermore, social anthropologists, such as Edvard Westermarck, used to collect objects as part of their field work, as was customary in the beginning of the 20th century.

The collection also includes colourful pieces of history complete with fantastic stories. C.G. Mannerheim, who served as a Colonel in the Imperial Russian Army, was sent to the east as a military intelligence officer in 1906–1908 – on horseback across Central Asia, through Tibetan territory and onwards to Beijing. In order to conceal the true purpose of his journey, he posed as a scientist, and to make this story plausible he acquired a sizeable collection of objects from the peoples in the region and took over a thousand pictures, which help to illustrate his two-year adventure across the deserts and mountains of Central Asia.

The collections have also expanded through missionary work conducted around the world, including the Ovamboland material collected at the end of the 19th century by Martti Rautanen. Newer, sizeable donations have complemented these collections: The artefacts of the discontinued Kumbukumbu Museum of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission were added to the ethnographic collections in 2015, and the objects collected mainly from the Himalayan peoples from the end of the 19th century onwards by the Evangelical Free Church of Finland were added in 2016.

Since the 1970s, the collections have also been expanded by various diplomats and development cooperation workers living in different countries. In addition, collectors have bequeathed larger and smaller personal collections to the museum. Otherwise, the focus of the collection work has shifted towards acquiring contemporary objects, particularly during anthropological field work, which allows for reliable documentation of the acquisitions. The museum’s own collection work has mainly been conducted in connection with exhibition, teaching and research projects.

The ethnographic collections originating from all over the world interest not only Finns but also the descendants of the original makers, owners and users of the collection artefacts. For example, in recent years local artisans and scholars have been studying the Ovambo and Japanese Buddhist material but particularly the Alaska collection.

Some artefacts of the ethnographic collection are also on display in the National Museum’s Object of the Month series and the Finna service.

Additional information:

Pilvi Vainonen, tel. (0) 295 33 6432,