N.N. Miklouho-Maclay has gone down in the world and national history as an outstanding humanist, scientist, traveler and public figure who always followed the humanistic principles of respect for the culture and traditions of the peoples of the world, and fought for the rights of residents of Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania.

The future world-famous explorer and traveler was born in Yazykovo-Rozhdestvenskoye village of Novgorod Governorate in 1846. As a student, he was looking for his place in the world: he studied in Saint-Petersburg and Germany at various faculties. Subsequently, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay chose the medical faculty at the University of Jena, as the scientist was well aware that his further research would require knowledge in several fields. The Russian scientist can rightfully be called a multiskilled naturalist (or a specialist in various natural sciences).

In 1866-1869, Miklouho-Maclay went on expeditions to North Africa, mainly to study marine fauna. During the trip along the Red Sea сoast, the traits that determined the future life of the Russian scientist became apparent – a penchant for difficult and dangerous adventures, a deep interest in the way of living and culture of the peoples of the world. In 1869 Miklouho-Maclay returned to Saint-Petersburg and a year later the scientist presented his project of a multi-year expedition to the Pacific Ocean to the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (IRGS). In the course of the expedition he planned to study the ocean’s northern part and conduct zoological, anthropological and ethnographic research. IRGS accepted the project and promised to assist.

While preparing for the expedition, the scientist’s plans changed a lot. Scientific literature, conversations and correspondence with leading Russian and world scientists gave N.N.Miklouho-Maclay an idea to start this long-term research in New Guinea  —  a huge island in Oceania, a place still unknown for Europeans.

With an extraordinary talent and passion for scientific knowledge N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was conducting ethnographic and anthropological research in Southeast Asia, as well as in all cultural areas of Oceania (Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia) for more than 15 years. Most of the works of the Russian humanist scientist are about the inhabitants of the northeastern coast of New Guinea (the Maclay Coast), among whom lived for two and a half years. He visited those places three times (1871-1872, 1876-1877 and 1883). Miklouho-Maclay managed to establish friendly contact and good relations with the residents of the Maclay Coast, as well as to learn some of their languages. With his patience, kindness, compassion and courage N.N. Miklouho-Maclay won the trust, love and loyalty of the local residents. In fact, he “discovered” New Guineans to the outside world. It was the place where Miklouho-Maclay lived most of the time spent in New Guinea, he named it “The Maclay Coast” “by the right of the first European settled there, who explored the coast and got scientific results”.

During his expeditions to Southeast Asia and Oceania, the Russian scientist described in detail the economy, everyday life, material culture, customs and traditions of local residents, paying special attention to their original art. N.N.Miklouho-Maclay’s diary records still remain a valuable source on the ethnography of New Guinea.

The scientist’s drawings made during the expeditions are also of a high value as an ethnographic and anthropological source, because they “are characterized by the accuracy of proportions, elaborate details, and vividly reflect both the anthropological type and the individual features”. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay is an author of more than 700 drawings.

It was during the N.N.Miklouho-Maclay’s time that human races and their features were ardently debated. Many Western scientists tried to prove that human races are not equal. These theories were later used either by slave owners or in order to justify colonial expansion. The danger of such ideas was obvious to Miklouho-Maclay. A number of European scientists considered Papuans an intermediate link between apes and humans, and relied on rather absurd arguments about the “tuft-like” growth of hair and the “roughness” of skin of New Guineans. During his expeditions to the northeastern coast of New Guinea, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay found irrefutable evidence that the local people in their physical and mental properties do not differ from Europeans, which confirmed the inconsistency of racist views. With the example of the Papuans of the North-East of the island of New Guinea Miklouho-Maclay proved to the whole world that there were no superior or inferior races and all people are equal by nature. Moreover, Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay throughout his whole life fought for the rights of the peoples of the Pacific Ocean, protecting them from the despotism of European slave traders and colonizers.

Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay is an author of more than 160 scientific works in the fields of ethnology, anthropology, meteorology, oceanology etc. that were published in Russian, English, German and other European languages. Moreover, the results of his explorations became the basis for a number of publications about the life of the great humanistic scientist and traveler, including the fullest to this day, six-volume collected works which is soon to be republished.

Almost a century and a half has passed since the first expeditions of Miklouho-Maclay to Southeast Asia, as well as to the distant island of New Guinea. In this time, the world has undergone huge changes, but the scientific and social feat of the Russian scientist and his rich heritage still serve for the benefit of friendship and cooperation around the world. The material collected by Miklouho-Maclay is still relevant to science and everyday life, and the Russian traveler’s accurate data on the inhabitants of Southeast Asia and Oceania has become the first reliable evidence of the population of this region. Moreover, the works and humanistic principles of N.N.Miklouho-Maclay make modern people believe in the necessity to preserve and respect traditions and the culture of the peoples of the world.

It is noteworthy that N.N. Miklouho-Maclay always considered himself a zoologist, but was later recognized by the world and Russian science as an ethnographer. It is no coincidence that his humanistic ideas are the embodiment of the ethnographer’s commandments:

  1. Ethnography is the crown of all the humanities because it makes a comprehensive study of all peoples and all mankind, past and present;


  1. You shall not make for yourself an idol of your ethnicity, your religion, or your culture. You should know that all people are created equal: there is no Greek or Jew, no white or coloured. He who knows one ethnos knows none; he who knows one religion knows none;


  1. You shall not profane science, or defile ethnography by career-seeking – a true ethnographer nourishes enthusiasm for science and bears love for humankind and the human being;


  1. Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall draw conclusions. Remember your duty to the public and science;


  1. Honour your great predecessors and teachers in academic and public life, and you will be duly honoured;


  1. You shall not kill science with forged facts, superficial observations, and hasty conclusions.


  1. You shall not change your once chosen profession of an ethnographer. He who has entered upon the path of ethnography, shall not wander from it;


  1. You shall not plagiarise;


  1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, other peoples, their spirit and rites, customs and mores, etc. Love your neighbour more than yourself;


  1. You shall not impose your culture on the ethnos you explore. Treat this ethnos with care and alertness, love and attention, whatever the stage of their cultural development – and they will strive to rise to the level of higher cultures.


In addition, N.N.Miklouho-Maclay lived in Australia for about seven years, where he received a warm welcome: the traveler quickly became close to Australian scientists and soon became a member of the Linnean Society, the leading scientific organization in Australia. At the same time, Miklouho-Maclay traveled deep into the Australian continent, where he conducted zoological and anthropological research, as well as paleontological excavations. In Australia, Nikolay met his future wife, Margaret Robertson, the daughter of the head of New South Wales. Later they had two sons, Alexander and Vladimir (Nils and Allan).

In 1886, after more than 20 years of expeditions to Southeast Asia and Oceania, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay returned to Russia, where he became a living legend, and then brought his wife and sons to Saint-Petersburg. After a long struggle with an illness caused by complications from malaria, dengue fever, and rheumatism, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay died suddenly on April 14, 1888, at the age of 41.

After Nikolay Nikolaevich’s death, his widow and children returned to Sydney. Until 1917, she received a pension from the Russian Government to support her children. She donated her husband’s works and collections to the Russian Geographical Society and they are now kept at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg (Kunstkamera).

For his contribution to world and national science, as well as humanistic ideas that were long ahead of their time, in 1996, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was acknowledged by UNESCO as a “Global citizen” in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Undoubtedly, Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay is one of the most outstanding scientists and travelers of the second half of the XIX century, who made an invaluable contribution to world science, and his humanistic ideas are still relevant today. In the context of aggravation of interethnic problems in almost all regions of the world, the progressive ideological heritage of Miklouho-Maclay on equality of races and peoples, on the unacceptability of violent suppression of cultures, imposition of alien stereotypes, implementation of colonial or violent cultural expansion takes on special significance. The scientific research and published books are a solid and scientifically impeccable support, a foundation in resisting reactionary great-power and nationalistic tendencies, and, very importantly, will also be a powerful weapon in fostering tolerance among the current generation.