July 29, 2009 / 10:10 AM / 10 years ago

Early explorer relics find home in Singapore museum

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - They came, they hunted and they collected.

About a century after their travels in Southeast Asia, an exhibition at Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum traces the exciting journeys and adventures of six mostly European explorers through a treasure chest of cultural relics.

The “Hunters and Collectors” show pulls together an exotic range of 300 artefacts from carved bullet holders and a Dayak war-coat of bark and fish scales to natural history specimens such as an over 2-meter leatherback turtle and a rare summit rat.

“The interesting thing about collecting then and collecting today is that people, not just museums, even private collectors today, they collect a lot of old paintings, old art sculptures,” the exhibition’s curator, Clement Onn, told Reuters.

“But if you look back, people then were collecting contemporary items.”

Onn said the motivation for such collectors varied from the “sake of science” to “a form of escapism” during the early boom years of the industrial collection.

Italian explorer Captain Giovanni Battista Cerruti came to Southeast Asia in the 19th century to discover gold, but ended up spending 15 years with a remote tribe and becoming one of the region’s key collectors of cultural relics.

Cerruti never found his gold, but instead became a protector of the rights of indigenous people who put together a stunning collection of wooden ancestral carvings from Indonesia’s Nias islands.

The exhibition also has a section on American naturalist and adventurer William Louis Abbott which is decorated to mimic a night illuminated by the glow of fireflies, reflecting his preference for roughing it out in jungles.

The exhibit takes visitors back to Singapore’s first museum, the Raffles Museum & Library, re-created using old archival photos, an ethnographic collection and natural history specimens.

Onn said he hoped the exhibition would not only conjure up nostalgic feelings of visiting the old museum for visitors, but that they would also learn about how museums were formed.

“I hope that people can find some affinity with some of these personalities,” he said.

“Hunters and Collectors: The Origins of the Southeast Asian Collection” runs until September 24.

Asian Civilisations Museum (www.acm.org.sg)

Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Sugita Katyal

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