Miklukho-Maklai, Nikolai Nikolaevich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Miklukho-Maklai, Nikolai Nikolaevich


Born July 5 (17), 1846, in the village of Rozhdestvenskoe in presentday Borovichi Raion, Novgorod Oblast; died Apr. 2 (14), 1888, in St. Petersburg. Russian scholar, explorer, and public figure.

Miklukho-Maklai was the son of an engineer. In 1863 he enrolled at the University of St. Petersburg, but he was expelled in 1864 for participating in the student movement and forbidden to enter any higher educational institution in Russia. He continued his studies of the natural sciences at the universities of Heidelberg (1864), Leipzig (1865), and Jena (1866–68). Miklukho-Maklai’s world view was formed under the influence of the Russian democratic movement of the 1860’s. In 1866–67 he traveled to the Canary Islands and Morocco, and after traveling along the Red Sea coast from March to May 1869, he returned to Russia.

Miklukho-Maklai’s first scientific research projects were on the comparative anatomy of sea sponges, the shark’s brain, and other zoological problems. On subsequent travels to the islands of the Malay Archipelago, the Malay Peninsula, Oceania, and Australia he made valuable geographic and meteorological observations. He described the terrain and measured the depth of the sea. Many of his observations are still considered important.

From the very beginning of his career Miklukho-Maklai showed a keen interest in the culture and customs of various countries. In his later years he devoted all his time to the anthropological and ethnologic study of the native population of Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands. He lived for 2½ years (1871–72, 1876–77, 1883) on the northeastern coast of New Guinea (now called the Miklukho-Maklai coast), where he earned the love and confidence of the people. He visited the southwestern coast of New Guinea in 1874 and traveled twice to the southeastern coast (1880 and 1881). He also made two extremely difficult trips to the interior regions of the Malay Peninsula (1874, 1875), spent some time in the Philippines and Indonesia (1873), and visited many islands in Micronesia and Melanesia (1876, 1879). From 1878 to 1882 and again from 1884 to 1886, Miklukho-Maklai lived in Australia, where he founded a biology station near Sydney.

On the basis of his anthropological and ethnologic research, Miklukho-Maklai argued that all human races belong to one species and are interrelated. He refuted the views, common at that time, that the Negroid people of New Guinea (the Papuans) are a separate species distinct from other human races. Miklukho-Maklai gave the first detailed description of the Melanesian anthropological type of western Oceania and the islands of Southeast Asia. He demonstrated that the Papuans and other people of Oceania and Southeast Asia were backward for several historical reasons and not because they were less well endowed than the Europeans. Unmasking racism and colonialism, he advocated the freedom and independence of the peoples he studied. Thus, in 1881 he drew up a plan for an independent state in New Guinea, the Papuan Union. Later, in 1886, he unsuccessfully petitioned the tsarist government for permission to organize a free Russian colony in New Guinea.

Privation, repeated failure, and illness undermined Miklukho-Maklai’s health. In 1886 he returned from Australia to St. Petersburg, where he died two years later. His travel diaries were published only in 1923 under the editorship of D. N. Anuchin. The enormous anthropological and ethnologic collections that Miklukho-Maklai brought back from his expeditions are kept in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in Leningrad. The Institute of Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was named after Miklukho-Maklai in 1947.



Tumarkin, D. D. “Velikii russkii uchenyi-gumanist.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1963, no. 6.
Val’skaia, B. A. “Bor’ba N. N. Miklukho-Maklaia za prava papuasov berega Maklaia.” In the collection Strany i narody Vostoka, issue 1. Moscow, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.