Through two exhibitions, Traveling the Pacific and Pacific Spirits, visitors to The Field Museum will feel as if they’ve travelled thousands of miles to the Pacific Islands. These exhibitions offer a complete immersion into the culture, climate, history, and natural history of the region. Traveling the Pacific focuses on how islands rose from the sea and how their climates and cultures developed while Pacific Spirits covers the spiritual lives of indigenous populations.
Traveling the Pacific features many interactive displays with an array of artifacts and dramatic recreations of Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti. The exhibition introduces visitors to the powerful geologic and environmental forces of the Pacific region – forces that led to the creation of exotically beautiful island environments. Visitors can trace the journeys of plants, animals, and humans as they travelled vast distances across the ocean to populate these far-flung ocean lands. Entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a large recreated volcano with glowing lava flow recreated in fiberglass from actual lava on the Big Island of Hawaii. The centerpiece of Traveling the Pacific is a remarkable full-scale recreation of a Pacific coral island. This environment allows visitors to wander and explore the island from its windswept ocean front, through a mid-island forest, to a quiet ocean beach. Throughout the exhibition visitors can hear the sounds of surf, birds, rustling palm leaves, and feel the warm ocean breezes as they learn about the natural forces that shape small Pacific Islands.
Complementing Traveling the Pacific is Pacific Spirits: Life, Death and the Supernatural, an exhibition that engages visitors in the spiritual lives of indigenous Pacific Islanders. More than 600 magnificent ceremonial, ritual, and artistic objects from New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, Vanuatu, and the islands of Polynesia combine to guide visitors in an exploration of Pacific spiritual life. Many of the objects are monumental in scale and some incorporate unusual and delicate materials such as bark cloth, feathers, or spiderweb. There are large and elaborate masks as well as detailed shields and deadly spears imbued with tribal magic. The exhibition provides the cultural context of the objects and answers such questions as how they were made and used. In addition to the objects, there are interactive and hands-on displays, such as a full-size recreation of a slit drum that visitors can play and a black sandbox where visitors can try their hand at the sand-drawing techniques of male tribesmen. Artifacts for the exhibition are drawn from The Field Museum’s Oceanic anthropological collections.
Combined, Traveling the Pacific and Pacific Spirits tell the complete story of the Pacific Islands from their emergence from the sea to the people who live there today. Visitors are completely immersed in the culture and climate of a place on the other side of the world.