Making Museum Collections: Missionary Hilja Heiskanen’s Himalayan artefacts

  • Pilvi Vainonen


One hundred years ago, missionary Hilja Heiskanen brought the first Tibetan
and Bhutanese museum collections to Finland.1 The first collection was acquired
by the National Museum in 1908, the second in 1912. At the beginning of the
20th century, Miss Heiskanen worked in the Baxa Duar and Darjeeling districts
in India for nine years in all as a member of the Scandinavian Alliance Mission,
whose original initiative was to convert Tibetans. This interest can be seen in the
contents of the two collections. Heiskanen grouped the 65 items included in the
first collection as Religious items from Tibet, with additions of Bhutanese, Tibetan
and Hindu items.2 The second collection is larger, 121 numbers, and, according to
the description given by Heiskanen, it consists mainly of various Tibetan items.3
Some of these objects are presented in this paper. According to the theme of
the workshop Himalayan Nature: Representations and Reality held in Helsinki in
March 2008, items made of organic material, mostly of plant parts, are examined
more closely. This means a group of various objects and samples from ritual
items, such as incense, to the non-sacral utility goods, like sheep fat and samples
of foodstuffs. The main effort has been in identifying the natural materials as far
as possible, and, secondly, to give a short description of the customary use of the
chosen items. Thus the purpose has been to contextualize particular items into
particular cultural environments. Natural materials and the items made of them
can and do draw connecting links into wider cultural contexts concerning many
layers of life.
Jul 15, 2015
How to Cite
Vainonen, P. (2015). Making Museum Collections: Missionary Hilja Heiskanen’s Himalayan artefacts. Studia Orientalia Electronica, 109, 163-182. Retrieved from