History of the collection
Due to its history, the Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut stands in the tradition of missionary museums. Founded in 1878, the Herrnhut museum was preceded by the cabinet of naturalia of the Moravian Brotherhood in Barby, later Niesky, which dates back to 1758. In this way, it is considered one of the oldest missionary collections in the German-speaking world. With its aim of being an "ethnographic cultural and natural-historic scientific museum" - as expressed in its original name - it is highly exceptional as a missionary museum, most of which were founded with the overt purpose of "missionary propaganda".
The missionary activity of the Protestant Moravian Church began in 1732, and evidence shows that the first ethnographical objects were collected by their missionaries in 1740. The first collecting instructions were set down in 1774 in Bossart's Kurze Anweisung Naturalien zu samlen (A Brief Guide to Collecting Naturalia). In 1781, objects from James Cook's third voyage found their way into the cabinet of naturalia in Barby and thus into today's museum holdings.
It was only in 1878 that a museum association was founded in Herrnhut on the initiative of the apothecary Bernhard Kinne. Two years later, the missionaries were officially charged with the task of collecting for the museum. In 1901, the museum opened in its own building for the first time, after having presented the objects in different places up to that point.