The complete museum collection numbers around 6000 artifacts, of which some 800 are on display. The management and preservation of the collection is at the core of the activities of the Nias Heritage Museum. It was for this reason that the Nias Heritage Foundation was formed in 1991.
Most of the artefacts in the collection are objects of cultural, historical or artistic significance which help museum visitors understand the past life of Nias people and culture. Highlights of the collection include weapons and battle armor, jewelry and clothing, religious and ceremonial objects, musical instruments and everyday household items. The collection also includes objects related to the biology and environment on Nias.
Gathering of the Collection
The collection was started by Pastor Johannes Hämmerle, a German Catholic priest who arrived to Nias in 1971 as a missionary. During his first months on the island he was often approached by locals asking him to buy cultural artefacts. Nias people knew that some foreigners were willing to pay for local art and antiques. At the time Nias was one of the least developed and poor areas of Indonesia, and people sold their family heirlooms to be able to feed and clothe their families. Initially Pastor Johannes was reluctant to buy anything, but soon discovered that there were agents for antique dealers in the towns where locals could sell their heirlooms anyway. Many sculptures and other artefacts had already been sold off the island, including magnificent megaliths and religious sculptures. At this time in the 1970's Nias stood on the brink of losing its cultural heritage through poverty and neglect.
Pastor Johannes reasoned that if Nias lost its cultural heritage, its people would not be able to learn from the history and culture of their ancestors. Without this knowledge Nias people would be confused about their own identity. Without their own identity Nias people would be less confident in assimilating socially and culturally with the outside world. For now, they needed money to survive, but one day they would regret having lost their unique cultural heritage. He decided to start collecting artefacts to protect the cultural heritage of Nias for future generations.
As word got out about his collection Pastor Johannes was often approached by local people offering to sell various things and he managed to rescue many unique artefacts from disappearing from the island. During the years of collecting privately pastor Johannes painstakingly recorded the information and history behind each object. After a few years the size of collection started to become unmanageable for one person and he started planning for an organisation that could manage the collection in a way that would benefit all of Nias.
In 1990 the Catholic Church Capuchin Order of Sibolga agreed to sponsor the first Museum. The Nias Heritage Foundation (Yayasan Pusaka Nias) was established in 1991 and the first building of the Museum was completed 1995. At the same time the first temporary exhibition opened to the public. Since then the museum complex has gradually grown and improved step by step into what it is today. The current exhibition rooms were built in 2005. Just after opening the new exhibition building a powerful earthquake struck Nias on March 28, 2005 and many displays and artefacts were damaged.
Today four large pavilions house the selected pieces of the collection on display for the public. Next to the exhibition rooms is a modern storage facility where the remaining collection is kept. Vulnerable artefacts are secured to avoid damage during earthquakes which are frequent on Nias Island. The inauguration for the current exhibition was held on 18 November 2008. The funding for the permanent exhibitions buildings and collection storage was generously provided by The Prince Claus Fund (Netherlands). The exhibition was designed by Museum staff assisted by volunteers Gabby Rupanner and Amelie Gottier from the German ASA program.
Museum and Collection management
Preserving the collection for future generations presents many challenges, especially in a tropical environment such as Nias. The collection is handled by staff who has gained knowledge and experience in the field of collection and museum management, both domestically and abroad. The first staff training in collection management was held in 2003 by Dr. Chirstina Kreps along with two student of museology from the University of Denver, US. After this training the museum collection were handled in a more professional way.
In 2004 the current Director of the Museum Mr Nata'alui Duha attended museum and collections management training for four months with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Denver. This training was sponsored by The Ford Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. In addition to studying at the university, Mr Duha also completed an internship and was able to observe the management of several museums in Denver. Through the support of the Ford Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund, Mr Duha has also been able to take part in museum management training the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The experiences and knowledge from these training programs have been shared with the Nias Museum staff through internal training.
After the 2005 earthquake Italian volunteer Jan Carlo Pocky assisted the Museum in the restoration of the collection which had been damaged. He also conducted informal training for the museum staff in collection management and preservation.
In 2010 the exhibition and collection manager Mr Faozisökhi Laia attended a three month training program to learn about conservation and administration of Museum collections at the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden – Germany.
To further increase the capacity and skills at the museum Mr Duha went to Thailand in 2010 to attend "Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums" training which was supported by The Princes Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Center and UNESCO Bangkok .
To increase expertise in collection conservation Mr Duha and Mr Laia attended training in 2014 at the German - Cambodian Conservation School in Phnom Penh and Siam Reap, assisted by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia,the German Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Memot Center For Archaeology and the German Apsara Conservation Project.
Maintenance of the collection and training for museum staff is an ongoing task and one of the priorities of the Nias Heritage Foundation.
Stone sculpture resembling a mythical animal combining the deer (böhö) and dragon head (lasara)
Wood carving of Ancestral Mother "Sarambia" and her children
Necklace worn by Nias Warriors made from coconut shells
Metal vest worn by South Nias warriors
Toho: Si sara Ndrami ba Bulusa
Spears with different shapes for hunting and war fighting
Shield with unique shape used by Nias Warriors
A "Tolögo" sword with magical amulets worn by Nias Noblemen
Statue of ancestors used in ancestor worship
Jewelry box made from weaved fibers
Burial coffin with "Lasara" head from South Nias
Dear shaped seat for noble men, used during “owasa” feasts.
Wooden comb with ornaments