Nias Art and Culture in Museums worldwide

One of the main reasons for the existence of the Nias Heritage Museum is to stop the islands cultural treasures from disappearing. However many international museums have also done important work in preserving Nias cultural artefacts for future generations. These museums are good places to learn about Nias culture. Even if the Nias objects are not on display, there are often significant collections available for researchers. Holland in particular has many artefacts and documents from the colonial era. In Germany there are also several important collections originating from the German missionaries who worked on Nias. Most of the Nias artefacts were originally collected by colonial administrators, explorers and missionaries. In some cases museums from Europe sent staff to Nias specifically to collect unique and interesting objects. Since removing antiques from Indonesia became illegal most museums acquire their collections from private donations, barter with other museums and acquisitions from private collectors.


In the museum and art world Nias is famous for producing some of the best examples of so-called “primitive” or “tribal” art. Particularly popular are the Adu Zatua wooden ancestor worship  sculptures, gold jewelry and weapons.

Here is a list of the most important Museums for anyone interested in Nias culture:

Indonesian Museums



The National Museum of Indonesia is an archaeological, historical, ethnological, and geographical museum located in Central Jakarta. It is also known as Museum Gajah. Its broad collections cover all of Indonesia's territory and almost all of its history. The museum has endeavoured to preserve Indonesia's heritage for two centuries. There are 23 Nias objects on display. This museum is one of the few museums that are still allowed to remove artefacts from Nias Island.


logo-provinsi-sumatera-utaraMUSEUM NEGERI SUMATERA UTARA Medan

The North Sumatra State Museum is located in Medan city. There are many exhibitions and artefacts displayed from different areas of North Sumatra. Nias Island and its culture is prominently displayed in several exhibitions. It is a good place to compare the similarities and differences with Nias and other cultures in the Sumatra region. The museum has hundreds of objects from Nias in its collection with around 80 on display.


Museums Worldwide

museum_lain_nias_tropenmuseum2TROPENMUSEUM Amsterdam


Tropenmuseum is an ethnographic museum located in Amsterdam, Netherlands, founded in 1864. It is one of the largest museums in the Netherlands. The Tropenmuseum is part of the Dutch Museum of World Cultures, a combination of three ethnographic museums in the Netherlands (including Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden). Previously the museum was owned and operated by the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsored the study of tropical cultures around the world. The Dutch Museum of World Cultures has 1486 Nias related objects in its collection, 19 of them on display. It also has one of the most important historical photo collections from Nias. The collection is available on the museums online database.


museum_lain_nias_leidenMUSEUM VOLKENKUNDE Leiden

Museum Volkenkunde is a museum about ethnology in the Netherlands located in the university city of Leiden. It was founded in 1837 and was one of the first museums in Europe to focus on collecting, scientific research, presentation to the public, and education. The Museum Volkenkunde is part of the Dutch Museum of World Cultures, a combination of three ethnographic museums in the Netherlands (including Tropen Museum in Amsterdam). The Dutch Museum of World Cultures has 1486 Nias related objects in its collection. The majority of the Leiden collection was collected by Palmer van den Broek who lived in Indonesia during the 19th century.     


museum_lain_nias_pragueNÁPRSTEK - NÁRODNI MUSEUM Prague


Náprstek Museum is a museum of Asian, African and American art. It is one of several permanent exhibitions of National Narodni Muzeum in Prague, Czech Republic. Náprstek Museum was founded in 1862 and has 1100 Nias related objects in its collection. The collection was donated to the museum by Pavel Durdik who spent two years on the island working as a doctor in the service of the Dutch East Indian Army (1880-1882).


museum_lain_nias_nationalmuseetNATIONAL MUSEUM OF DENMARK Copenhagen

The National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet), in Copenhagen was founded in 1819. It is Denmark’s largest museum of cultural history, comprising the histories of Danish and foreign cultures alike. Nationalmuseet has over a thousand Nias related objects in its collection.


museum_lain_nias_smithsonianTHE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY Washington D.C

The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 and is the world’s largest group of museums and research centre’s, administered by the United States Government. The Smithsonian’s department of Anthropology collection contains 578 objects from Nias. Most of the Nias collection was collected by American explorer William Louis Abbot who travelled around Nias by ship between 1902 to 1905.


museum_lain_musee_quai_branly1MUSEE DU QUAI BRANLY Paris

The Musée du quai Branly in Paris, France, features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The Museum opened in 2006, and is one of the most modern museums in Europe. The museum has 458 Nias related objects in its collection, some 20 of them on display. The Nias collection previously belonged to the Musée de l’Homme. A large part of that collection was donated by Dutch anthropologist J.P. Kleiweg de Zwaan who visited Nias in the early 20th century.





This museum is also known as the Ethnographic Museum of VEM (Vereinten Evangelischen Mission). The collection contains objects collected over many decades from areas where German Missionaries worked. The museum has 400 Nias related objects brought home by German missionaries working on Nias.


museum_lain_nias_kolnRAUTENSTRAUCH – JOEST MUSEUM Köln

The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (Kulturen der Welt) is an ethnographic museum in Cologne, Germany, founded in 1901. It is one of the most important anthropological museums in Germany. It has around 200 objects from Nias in its collection, a few of them on display. The museum also has a large collection of historical images from Indonesia. The Nias collection mainly comes from acquisitions from dealers, barter with other museums and donations from collectors.


MUSEUM DER KULTUREN Baselmuseum_lain_nias_basel


The Museum of Cultures in Basel is a Swiss museum of ethnography. It was founded in 1849 and has a huge collection of artefacts. It was one of the first ethnological collections in Europe that was open to the public. Today the focus is on preserving, researching and communicating the collections. The museum has 302 Objects from Nias and also many historical Nias photographs. In 2008 the Museum der Kulturen lent photos to a photographic exhibition that was held on Nias and in Jakarta.



The National Gallery in Berlin, Germany, is a museum for art of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It is part of the Berlin State Museums. Founded in 1876, its exhibition space has expanded to include five other locations. The museums are part of the Berlin State Museums, owned by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The museum has a collection of over 100 objects from Nias.     


museum_lain_nias_wienWELTMUSEUM WIEN

The Museum of Ethnology (Museum für Völkerkunde) in Vienna is the largest anthropological museum in Austria, established in 1876. The museum has a collection of 95 objects from Nias, most of them bought from Italian sea captain Giovanni Battista Cerruti who joined Italian anthropologist Elio Modigliani on his famous trip to Nias Island in 1886.


museum_lain_nias_asian-civilisations-museumASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM Singapore

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore has a large collection of Asian cultural artefacts. Since its opening in 1997 it has been one of the pioneering museums in the region to specialise in pan-Asian cultures and civilisations. The ACM has 50 objects from Nias in their collection. Most of the Nias artefacts were inherited from the Raffles Library and originally collected by Italian Giovanni Battista Cerruti in 1886. The Nias collection is available on the museums online database.


museum_lain_nias_british_museumTHE BRITISH MUSEUM London

The British Museum in London, established in 1753 is dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some 8 million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in the world. The ethnographic department of the museum has 39 objects from Nias in its collection. Most of these objects were collected by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, who established a base on Nias in 1820.


MUSEUM FÜR VÖLKERKUNDE DRESDENmuseum_lain_nias_dresden

The Dresden ethnographical museum, (Völkerkundemuseum) was founded in 1875. It holds an important collection of non-European works of art which is of international importance. The museum has around 70 objects from Nias in its collection.


MUSEO DI STORIA NATURALE DI FIRENZE Florencemuseum_lain_nias_firenze


Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze is a natural history museum that includes six major collections, located in Florence, Italy. It is part of the University of Florence and was established in 1775. The Ethnographic museum has around 30 objects from Nias in its collection, several of them on display. Most of the artefacts comes from the Italian explorer Elio Modigliani famous journey to Nias in 1886.


museum_lain_nias_groningenUNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF GRONINGEN

The University Museum has been at the academic heart of the city of Groningen, Netherlands, since 1934.There are 35 Nias objects in its collection. 


museum_lain_nias_asianartmuseumASIAN ART MUSEUM San Fransisco


The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world, with more than 18,000 works of art in its permanent collection, some as much as 6,000 years old. The museum opened in 1966 and has 7 objects from Nias in its collection.



Many Nias objects now found in Museums around the world were collected by explorers, colonial officials, missionaries and scientists. Some of the most important collectors were:

museum_museum_lain_7wJohannes Pieter Kleiweg de Zwaan (1875 - 1971). Dutch anthropologist who came to Nias in 1910. museum_museum_lain_6wHis famous plaster casts of Nias people can be seen at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Museum_pusaka_nias_palmer_van_der_broekPalmer Van Den Broek (1862 - 1937). Dutch colonial ‘Controleur’ of Nias from 1891 to 1894. He collected thousands of Nias artefacts that can now be found in Dutch museums.

Museum_pusaka_nias_kolektor_rafflesThomas Stamford Raffles (1781 - 1826). British statesman most famous for founding Singapore. He visited Nias in 1820 and his collection can now be found at the British Museum and in Singapore.

Museum_pusaka_nias_kolektor_TaylorWilliam Louis Abbott (1860 - 1936). American explorer and field naturalist. He compiled huge collections of artefacts from around the world, especially Southeast Asia. Ca. 1900 he visited Nias with his ship "Terrapin" and gathered objects for the Smithsonian Institute.

Museum_pusaka_nias_pavel_durdikPavel Durdik (1843 - 1903). Czech medical doctor who served for tow years on Nias with the Dutch Army. While there he gathered a large collection that can now be found in several museums in Europe.

Museum_pusaka_nias_modiglianiElio Modigliani (1860 - 1932). Italian anthropologist and explorer who made a famous journey to the south of Nias in 1886. His collection can be found at the Museum in Firenze.

Museum_pusaka_nias_kolektor_cerrutiGiovanni Battista Cerruti (1850-1914). Italian sea captain who accompanied anthropologist Elio Modigliani on a trip to Nias Island in 1886, where he collected many artefacts.


museum-museum_pusaka_nias_1wGallery poster: Paintings by Man Ray and objects from Nias Islands. Paris 1926.

museum-museum_pusaka_nias_2wPoster for Nias exhibition arranged by Basel Museum of World Cultures. Jakarta 2008.

museum-museum_pusaka_nias_5wGallery Catalogue: Pierre Nachbaur – Indonesian & Oceanic Tribal Art.

museum-museum_pusaka_nias_3wArt book: Living with Indonesian Art: The Frits Liefkes Collection. 2015.

Museum-museum_pusaka_nias_8wExhibition catalogue: Pavel Durdik: Life and Work on Nias Island. Narodni Museum 2010.

Museum-museum_pusaka_nias_9wArt book: Art of the Ancestors; Nias - Batak - Dayak. Alliance française de Singapour 2009.

Museum-museum_pusaka_nias_7wOnline Museum: Wilwatikta (Majapahit): Cultural artefacts from Nias.

Museum-museum_pusaka_nias_6wPoster: Nias Island – The Living Megalith Culture. UNESCO Jakarta.

© Yayasan Pusaka Nias 2017. Designed & Edited by Björn Svensson & Shanti Fowler