Gallery of the Day: Facing the Sea

December 12, 2011


I must press on with my gallery guides for the new National Museum of Scotland if I want to get them all posted before the end of the year. Facing the Sea is another of the first floor atrium galleries in the World Cultures block:

The Pacific is a vast ocean scattered with thousands of islands. Here, people belong as much to the sea as to the land. For thousands of years Pacific Islanders have travelled huge distances across the ocean to trade and settle new lands. The sea provides nourishment, resources and waterways that connect island groups. Living in this ocean of islands has shaped every aspect of peoples’ lives. (gallery intro panel)

The gallery focuses on the fact that the sea is central to the life of Pacific islanders, ranging from islanders’ beliefs, such as their ancestors still being active in the world as spirits, to their resourceful living and how they rely on the sea for food and materials required in everyday life, to how they deal with warfare and conflict.

Being an ocean full of many, many islands, the Pacific has also always been a geographically interesting place for Westeners, which is reflected in sections on the charting of Pacific Islands by explorers in the 16th and scientific expeditions in the 19th century, and the Scots writers, missionaries and businessmen who tool voyages to the south seas in the 18th century. In fact, most of the over 4,000 objects in the museum’s Pacific collection were collected by Scottish explorers, missionaries and colonial administrators in the 19th century.

But it is not only the Westeners who travelled and navigated the Pacific, the islanders themselves also set out in search of new places to live when islands became crowded or conflicts broke out. And finally, there is a section which looks at art and craftsmanship, which is important to the Pacific – did you known the Pacific boasts a thriving contemporary art scene


  • Early 19th C Waka canoe, for which New Zealand artist George Nuku was commissioned by NMS in 2008 to carve a new stern post from acrylic
  • Contemporary stingray sculpture by Dennis Nona
  • 19th C feather money coil from the Solomon Islands
  • Giant clam (it’s HUGE)
  • Coconut fibre armour

Things to do

  • Listen to a story, song or poem at listening post. You can choose between Pacific Stories (e.g. we very much enjoyed ‘The Rat and the Octopus’) and Scottish Stories.
  • Use the touch screen to find out more about the Waka canoe through film footage and interviews, including its history, comparisons before and after its restorationm and more about the work of artist  George Nuku.
  • Play the ‘Crossing the Ocean’ game to compare European and Islanders’ way of navigating.


* Please note that these are my own personal highlights and not necessarily recommended as such by the museum.


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