Walking among the usual Monday morning rush of commuters in central London emerged the less typical colours and sounds of the Pacific and New Zealand.

The early morning display publicly marked the opening of Oceania - the first major exhibition of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The 200-piece exhibition is a celebration of art and artists, spanning 500 years, from Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

In celebration of these treasures a procession of about 80 people, many dressed in traditional clothing, wound along Piccadilly, from Green Park, to the Royal Academy of Arts in central London.

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As they walked they sung, beat drums and danced, drawing the attention of commuters and stopping traffic.

Organisers of the event described it as a symbolic voyage of people from all nations represented in the exhibition.

The procession was formally welcomed into the academy courtyard by members of Ngāti Rānana, the London Māori Club.

A haka marked the official opening ceremony, songs were sung and cultural representatives went inside the academy to bestow their blessings on the treasures that had journeyed to London from their respective countries.

An early morning ceremony at the Royal Academy in central London marks the launch of the Oceania exhibition. Photo / Corazon Miller
An early morning ceremony at the Royal Academy in central London marks the launch of the Oceania exhibition. Photo / Corazon Miller

Speaking to those gathered outside, in the courtyard, Martin Wikaira, director Māori policy unit, Mfat, said they were blessing the gifts of each culture about to be shared with the world.

It was his hope that people coming to the exhibition would be reminded of the historic links the UK had with the lands and people of the Pacific and New Zealand, and see a "culture that has been enduring for centuries".

The ceremonies will continue on Tuesday in London with the Duchess of Sussex being given a royal tour of Oceania in the evening.

Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Pacific Peoples Carmel Sepuloni will be one of those representing New Zealand at the ceremony on Tuesday.

She said it was a privilege to share with the royal family a bit of the New Zealand and Pacific culture.

"It's an honour to have the Duchess of Sussex at the opening of Oceania. The exhibition is a stunning display of the Pacific region's art and culture and will provide rich insights before the Duke and Duchess' Royal tour of New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Tonga next month."

 Oceania is the first major exhibition of its kind in the United Kingdom. Photo / Corazon Miller
Oceania is the first major exhibition of its kind in the United Kingdom. Photo / Corazon Miller

Oceania also marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Arts founded in 1768, the same year Captain James Cook set sail on his first expedition to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

Sepuloni said this sense of voyage and discovery was reflected across the artworks.

"The themes of the exhibition include journeying and encounters as well as contemporary issues for Pacific nations such as climate change, regional security and sustainable development."

To close the official ceremony a hymn was sung in Māori to "acknowledge the circle of life that brings us all together as one people".

Focus on Oceania

• Oceania will run at the Royal Academy of Arts from September 29 to December 10.

• New Zealanders in London can see the exhibition free of charge by presenting their passports.