For over a century,The Field Museum of Natural History has amassed a world-class permanent collection of over 55,000 objects that represent the varied cultures of the Pacific. The Field Museum's Pacific Musical Instrument Collection includes over 1,000 specimens from a number of different localities, the majority of which (4/5 of the collection) come from Papua New Guinea. Also represented in the collection are musical instruments from Vanuatu, Irian Jaya / West Papua, Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Palau, Micronesia, and the Austral Islands.
The musical instruments in the Pacific collection represent all 4 classifications of musical instruments: Aerophones (wind instruments),
Chordophones (string instruments), Idiophones (percussion instruments), and Membranophones (drums with membranes). The 384 aerophones in the collection include a number of bamboo flutes, panpipes, whistles, shell and wooden trumpets, and a variety of wooden bullroarers. The 11 chordophones in the collection include a few musical bows and tube zithers. The 249 idiophones in the collection include large wooden slit drums, friction blocks, rattles made from shells and nutshells, and a number of bamboo mouth harps. The 381 membranophones in the collection include an impressive number of 330 kundu, or hourglass-shaped drums, usually topped with a reptile-skin head, from Papua New Guinea.
As with many of The Field Museum's collections, the first musical instruments in the Pacific Collection, 21 in number, were acquired in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. The largest addition to the Pacific Musical Instrument Collection (approximately 335 specimens) came to the Museum in 1913 when curator A.B. Lewis returned from the South Pacific. Having joined The Field Museum's Department of Anthropology in 1908 as Assistant Curator of African and Melanesian Ethnology, Albert B. Lewis immediately went to Melanesia to lead the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition. The four-year long expedition netted some 12,000 objects of Pacific material culture that Lewis spent most of the rest of his career cataloguing. A complete analysis of the expedition was recently published by The Field Museum's Adjunct Curator Robert Welsch (1998; An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A.B. Lewis and the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition, 1909-1913. University of Hawai'i Press). An early proponent of systematic anthropological research, A. B. Lewis left behind a richly documented ethnographic collection. The most recent additions to the Pacific Musical Instrument collection include the donation by Eugene Giles of a rare pottery drum with reptile-skin head from Morobe, Papua New Guinea and an impressive collection of instruments, 55 in total, donated by ethnomusicologist Dr. Vida Chenoweth, who between the years of 1959 and 1975 amassed a collection of 700 artifacts in the Usarufa community in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.