to main navigation

to content

to area navigation


Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut (Ethnographical Museum Herrnhut)

The Völkerkundemuseum in Herrnhut preserves unique items that testify to the cultural heritage of Alaska and Africa, Asia and America and shows them to anyone who sets out on a journey – not to distant parts of the world but to Herrnhut.

From 1732 onwards, members of the Moravian Church (Brüder-Unität) which was founded in Herrnhut, travelled to many different peoples in order to preach them the gospel. Numerous missionaries studied the languages and cultures of the various peoples and brought their fascinating objects back to Germany. These ethnographical collections and the many written observations recorded by the missionaries made an important contribution to the establishment of ethnography as a science. Other disciplines such as linguistics, geography, botany and zoology are also indebted to the missionaries for some of their basic literature.

In the museum, which was founded in 1878, it is possible to study the cultures of the Inuit (Eskimos) of Greenland, Labrador and Alaska, and also to find out about the Afro-American slave population of the Caribbean Virgin Islands, Indio tribes of Miskito coast of Nicaragua and the coastal areas of Surinam in the north of South America. The population of Surinam is also represented by the Marron and the Creoles, as well as immigrant Chinese, Indian and Indonesian groups. On the African continent the missionaries from Herrnhut preached in the south and among various tribes in what is today Tanzania. There are many objects from the material culture of both these regions in the exhibition. From Sarepta, a town founded by Herrnhut missionaries on the lower Volga, contacts were established with the Kalmyks, the only Mongolian people in Europe. The fittings from a Kalmyk temple yurt that they brought with them from there is a rarity among European museums. The culture of the Himalayas, which is dominated by the Buddhist Lamaist religion, is exemplified by the people of Ladakh and Lahoul (West Tibet). Objects produced by the Aborigines of Australia also reached Herrnhut via the missionaries.

Those who travel to Herrnhut do indeed set out on a journey around the world!

  • In the footsteps of James Cook

    Early ethnographical objects from Polynesia, from the native peoples of the north-west coast of North America and from southern Alaska are among the attractions of the Völkerkundemuseum in Herrnhut. These are the remains of an originally much larger collection assembled during the third voyage of the British explorer Captain James Cook (1728-1779), which was brought to Germany in about 1781 by members of the Moravian Church in London. Unfortunately, the collection suffered considerable losses during the Second World War. The part of the exhibition, which is devoted to Cook's travels, is temporarily closed. The Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut (Ethnographical Museum Herrnhut) takes part in the special exhibition „James Cook und die Entdeckung der Südsee“ (James Cook and the Discovery of the South Sea), which is shown in the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, in the Museum für Völkerkunde in Vienna and in the Historische Museum in Bern. The objects will be on view again from December 25, 2011 in Herrnhut.