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Sensitive objects in museums and university collections: Case studies

Provenance research: Entangled histories of objects from Asia and Oceania in the missionary museum “Forum der Völker”

Investigación de procedencia: Historias entrelazadas de objetos de Asia y Oceanía en el museo misionero “Forum der Völker”
Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz
p. 89-102

Résumés

In the missionary museum “Forum der Völker”, founded by the Franciscan religious order, ethnographic objects – in particular ritual implements or religious art – were transferred to a Christian context by reinterpreting them as counter-images for the missionary task. Missionaries commodified devices of local worship and showed an ambivalence towards human remains and weapons. The museum’s collection was extended in the past thirty years by private collections, including objects obtained by the military from the colonial period or of antiquities theft by art lovers. The initial provenance research in the museum used archive material, gathered information by studying the objects and conducted interviews with relevant actors. The implication of the findings revealed unclear changes of ownership and various potentially sensitive acquisition contexts that offers an orientation in how to deal with objects of problematic provenance in a missionary context.

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1The “Forum der Völker” in Werl, Germany was founded by the Franciscan order. It hosts the largest ethnological museum in Westphalia and at the same time the largest ethnological collection of a missionary society in Germany, with substantial colonial and postcolonial holdings from Asia and Oceania. After the Franciscans left their convent in Werl, the museum has been closed since 2019. In 2023, I pursued initial provenance research funded by the German Lost Art Foundation DZK (Deutsches Zentrum für Kulturgutverluste) that allowed paradigmatic insights into the collection strategies of a proselytizing order and into the entanglement histories of the collected objects. This article focuses on the provenance of artefacts from China assembled between 1903 and 1953 and objects from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea of the early post-colonial period. I aim to reveal the acquisition circumstances of objects and the associated strategies of appropriation of a Christian mission.

  • 1 Erstcheck im ‘‘Forum der Völker“ Werl, project-ID: KK_KU03_2022. DZK, 2023 https://www.proveana.de/ (...)
  • 2 The photos reveal complex power dynamics and ambiguities with regard to property issues, the legal (...)

2During provenance research at the “Forum der Völker“, I examined whether there was or could be a violent or sensitive acquisition context for objects or groups of objects originating from the colonial or early post-colonial time.1 I have collected provenance information on more than 1,945 objects. In addition, I pursued a preselection of potentially sensitive photos in the large image collection of probably up to 10,000 visuals from the late 19th century to the 1950s, which are not yet inventoried and thus wait for a more comprehensive documentation.2

3My provenance research was carried out using an interdisciplinary approach. I examined the museum’s documentation material and visual sources. In addition to this archival and source-critical historic approach, I pursued an ethnologically oriented methodology through surveys and interviews in order to generate information about the various actors involved. Likewise, an art-historical approach using iconological and stylistic methods helped to collect object-related provenance characteristics. Labels, inventory numbers or price tags provided information on auctions, market value or former ownership whereas signatures, marks, material, working techniques or other stylistic characteristics allude to the producer and add regional or chronological information. This initial provenance research (Erstcheck) in a missionary museum lays the foundation for possible more in-depth provenance research and offers an orientation in how to deal with objects of problematic provenance in a missionary context.

  • 3 The concept of a museum arose in 1909. Four cupboards at the entrance of the cloister could not tak (...)
  • 4 The bark cloth (tapa) (inv. no. 1375) inscribed with letters “XAUMA AUT” was wrongly categorized to (...)
  • 5 “Habe vor einem Monat meinen Zopf abschneiden lassen. Es ist ein wahres Prachtexemplar. Könnten Sie (...)

4The history of the collection is marked by three temporal cornerstones: 1913, 1962 and 1983. In 1962, the museum in Werl took over the collection of the Missionary Museum in Dorsten, Germany, which was founded in 19133 but was closed during World War II. The regional focus addressed the non-European missionary areas of the Franciscans in Palestine, Egypt, East Asia (mainly China), North America and Brazil (Balthasar, 1921). Around 1935, an object from Samoa documents the total outreach of the collection extending as far as Polynesia.4 The museum in Dorsten goes back to a study collection of the Franciscan college St. Ludwig in Dalheim-Vlodrop and its predecessor in Harreveld in the Netherlands, gathered by missionary brothers and students in the mission fields since 1902. The concept of the Missionary Museum in Dorsten focused on ethnographic material to visualize their proselytizing efforts. Exhibits were commissioned from the mission field. Crafts from the missionary schools as “examples of Christian culture”, awards and everyday goods of the missionaries were shown in contrast to “objects of moral barbarization”, “images of idolatry” or “devices of superstition” (Missionsmuseum, 1915, pp. 3–4). This fostered ideas of how to generate financial resources for the mission by commodifying artefacts or human remains, as reported by Catholic missionaries from South Shandon in 1912. One proposed to sell his braid, cut off a month before, for a few thousand that “would be a deal for the Church!” Several braids from China are found in the museum of Werl, thus esteemed worth collecting. Another sent “deposed bronze idols” which “silently mourn in a corner” to Europe to get them “silvered” due to financial hardship for the construction of a church.5 According to him, if religious images of valuable material were not worshipped by Buddhists, he took the right to commercialize and send them off, which reflects the missionary’s autocratic behaviour and dismissive attitude towards local worship.

5In 1983, with the reopening and extension of the museum building in Werl, various collections of Franciscan monasteries of the Netherlands and Germany as well as donations from private collectors were incorporated, aided by new acquisitions. The regional scope of the museum expanded and countries from four continents were represented with a new didactic concept. Today, the ethnographic collection consists of around 15,200 objects, in addition to a collection of 3,186 coins and early currency as well as more than 47,000 visual sources, mainly assembled in the mission territories of the German and Dutch Franciscan order. Between 1983 and 2019, the museum director Fr Reinhard Kellerhoff (1924–2022) expanded the collection while creating a centre for intercultural encounter (Reinking, 1989; Kellerhoff, 1999, 2012).

  • 6 The concept of an itinerant exhibition as “means of agitation” for the missionary work was born in (...)

6Among the collectors are 103 Franciscan clerics and 13 different religious institutions to which more than 4,000 objects can be attributed, probably about 300 of them from the colonial period. From Germany, Chinese objects were gathered mainly by three Franciscan monasteries in Dingelstädt, Munich, by the provincial mission Prokurat in Düsseldorf and by the Fransciscan missionary society in Munich, which had established an itinerant museum in Landshut.6 Artefacts from Oceania, respectively Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, were donated by the Steyler Missionary Sisters in Witten, the convents of the Franciscans in Vossenack and Cologne. The Franciscans in Fulda contributed Japanese objects. In 1986, the Kommissie Monumentenzorg Minderbroeders Nederland in Tilburg sent 13 big boxes with more than 1,100 objects to Werl from another congregation, probably the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

Figure 1. Drum (inv. no. 2642, 102 cm, diameter 12 cm), Sibil-region/ Indonesia, probably 20th century, kept by former friars Beiy de Gier and Erik van der Bone.

Figure 1. Drum (inv. no. 2642, 102 cm, diameter 12 cm), Sibil-region/ Indonesia, probably 20th century, kept by former friars Beiy de Gier and Erik van der Bone.

© ‘‘Forum der Völker“, Werl.

  • 7 The handwriting reads as follows: “Tifa uit Sibilgebied. Door een vriend van Beiy De Gier aan Erik (...)

7Objects from the Dutch Franciscans are especially numerous and date back to the colonial time. The Franciscan collection in the Netherlands originates from the mission seminar in Sittard, which had been moved to Katwijk before World War II. Katwijk was closed in the 1960s so that the collection went to the mission Prokurat office in Woerden (personal communication Fr Piet Bots, Jan. 1, 2024). Among this stock is a wooden hand drum (inv. no. 2642) of slender hourglass shape with an incised geometric pattern from the Sibil area in the western highlands of Irian Jaya/ Indonesia (Figure 1). The music instrument (tifa) is covered by a thick layer of soot. This patina may indicate its old age. This single-headed goblet drum was used throughout the Eastern region of the Indonesian archipelago. A label describes that the drum was given to a friend of the Dutch missionaries Beiy de Gier (1939–) and Erik van der Bone (1938–2020) in the Sibil area, but only for temporary storage. It is added that if the original owner of the drum will claim it, it has to be returned.7 The ownership was transferred in the 1950s–60s. The question arises as to whether this was a mutually agreed-upon change of ownership or whether there had been a breach of custody. I suggest investigating the circumstances and establishing contacts with the region of origin. In case the owner is found and claims it, this would be a good example, in a missionary context, for which a voluntary restitution is strongly recommended.

Materiality as a sensitive object category

  • 8 Joop Sierat’s (1937–?, Franciscan in the order until 1974), letter to Fr Reinhard Kellerhoff of Dec (...)

8Human remains are among objects in museums that are addressed as sensitive due to their materiality. The German Association of Museums critiques the display of human remains in museum collections because this violates ethical standards (Turnbull, et al., 2020; Deutscher Museumsbund e. V., 2021). In 1988, four human skulls of the Asmat region from Irian Jaya/ Indonesia were donated to the museum by Dutch collectors: the missionary Carel Kruitwagen (1897–1956) and the pilot Robert Jacques Jansens (1936–?), who worked for the Franciscan mission in Papua in 1961–1964.8 Neither the place of origin, dating nor the purpose of the four skulls is known. It is unclear which ethnic group among the many districts in the Asmat region they originate from. One skull (inv. no. 2210) called ndambirkus is polished and richly decorated with a nose ring made of shell and seeds of different colours (probably coix und abrus) set in the orbit (Reinking, 1989, p. 174; Bernhardt & Scheffler 2001, pp. 86–87). A braided vegetal fibre (probably sago) connects the lower jaw with the noise. Woven plaits made of fibre form a band around the forehead, in which white feathers and seeds are added. Molars of the upper jaw are kept. Three skulls (inv. no. 7739, 7741, 2240) are sparingly fashioned by white, red or beige seeds, bands of woven fibre and white feathers.

  • 9 The collection hosts a wooden panel of around 1910 from Irian Jaya donated by Zegwaard probably in (...)

9According to missionary collector Gerard Zegwaard (1955–1994), in the Asmat region prepared skulls underwent ritual treatments and were part of ceremonies such as rite of passage or head hunting practices that he said were connected to cannibalism.9 Spirits of the deceased play an important part in the society of this region. Today the Asmat fully integrate the skulls into their daily lives; however, historian Fenneke Sysling (2017, pp. 42–46) points to the problematic acquisition of such skulls in the former colonial territory of the Netherlands for anthropological racial studies. The collection of anthropological data such as age, sex, diseases, possible traces of violence are important, assert foreign researchers, to clarify the context of these skulls. These data allow foreign provenance researchers to gain clues about the possible origins of the individuals as well as to distinguish whether they are ancestral skulls or trophies obtained by head hunting, which makes the allocation to their original owners more difficult. A chronological classification and examination of their authenticity on the basis of certain parameters, such as workmanship or decoration, could also be carried out within the framework of further provenance research with the help of an expert in forensic cultural anthropology. As these skulls were collected by a missionary and were displayed in a missionary museum until 2023, it is particularly important to examine the ambivalence as to why missionaries whose faith actually demanded a burial collected human remains while denigrating the Asmat ancestral beliefs.

  • 10 Dr. Alfons Buhl (1952–) bought one skull bowl (inv. no. 7920) for a relatively high amount ($80US) (...)

10Other objects in the museum contain human remains such as hair, skull scalps or bone, used in bracelets or musical instruments from Papua New Guinea and as head decoration in China, as well as five artefacts made of skull or bone from Nepal and Tibet.10 The MP and art lover Ernst Majonica (1920–1997) donated his large collection to the museum, including two skull bowls and a bone flute probably made of a thighbone from Tibet (inv. no. 5475, 5503, 5504; Kükenshöner, 2023). The tripartite vessel called nan-mchod-thod-pa (Nangchö Thöpa) (inv. no. 5504) dated to the 19th century in the inventory of the museum, consists of a triangular basis on which a skull bowl is raised on a baluster with a cover crowned by a trident (vajra). Skulls, lotus with flames and the eight Buddhist symbols (astamangala) are made of fine silver work. This device uses human remains as “work material” and it is not spiritually charged in Tibetan Buddhism. These are distinguished from human remains of highly ranked religious leaders (lamas) and reincarnation, which are esteemed sacred, and thus used as reliquaries in sacred buildings (stupa) or used in amulets. As the ethnologist Henriette Lavaux-Vrécourt of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin has observed in her field research, exile Tibetan societies in India exhibit objects with human remains from their country in their museums (personal communication August 14, 2023). I want to express that the acceptability of showing human remains depends on various grounds and is not always connected to ancestor display.

  • 11 The exhibition “Schrecklich schön” (“Terribly Beautiful”) at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin proposed (...)

11Another group of artefacts made of potentially sensitive material concerns at least 35 items made of elephant tusks. Museum experts question whether objects made of this raw material should be displayed, because they are made of an animal species worthy of protection and whose acquisition circumstances would have to be examined in detail.11 Some of the ivory art objects in the “Forum der Völker” that have not yet been inventoried in 2023 come from India, China or Africa.

Contexts of appropriation in China, 1903–1953

  • 12 In 1948, the archdiocese of Jinan counted 98 Catholic priests, including 53 German Franciscan pries (...)

12In the large East Asian collection of the museum in Werl, a big part of the objects and pictures were acquired in the Franciscan missionary area of Quangdung in South China, where Franciscan brothers and sisters were stationed from 1903 until their expulsion in 1953.12 There are about 300 objects, about 7,000 pictures and 2,964 coins or early currency.

  • 13 “An der Wand. Chinesische Waffen. Das “große Messer”. Starksehnige Bogen. Die Waffen wurden noch 19 (...)
  • 14 “Eine Lanzenspitze, die Fr. Korbinian beim Boxerkrieg erbeutete, vervollständigt die kirchliche Sam (...)
  • 15 Lange (1928, fig. on p. 261); see the armed European soldiers to secure the catholic missionary sta (...)

13A photograph of the main hall in the Missionary Museum Dorsten shows “China: Boxer weapons” (Franziskanerkloster Dorsten, ca. 1935, n. p.; Figure 2) and the museum’s guide explains that “[O]n the wall, Chinese weapon. The large ‘knife’. A strong stringed bow. The weapons were still used in the anti-European movement in 1900.”13 A newspaper article adds that with these weapons the Belgian Franciscan Viktorin Delbrouk (life date unknown) was murdered (van Bevern, 1935). One of the exhibits in the Austrian Missionary Museum and Archive in Hall, Austria is a lance “looted” by Franciscan Korbinian Pangger (?–1951) during the Boxer Rebellion.14 In both museums, the Franciscan friars use the same narrative and refer to foreign oppression and anti-European attitudes as the reason for the Boxer War, brought about as a military confrontation by the “United Fists for Justice”, known as “Boxers”. The narrative of a warlike acquisition context was considered to promote the idea of proselyting. The missionaries were subjected to raids, life-threatening attacks and looting (Lange, 1928). However, their way of perceiving this historical conflict as solely anti-European neglects the fact that this movement had much broader reasons. Not only were there changes in values due to the introduction of Western standards and modernity, and economic and political influence by foreign powers, there were also inter-Chinese tension, political discontent and poverty acting as triggers for the military confrontation in 1900-1901 (Leutner & Mühlhahn, 2007, p. 9). The Franciscans lived in an extra-legal space. Until 1919, the mission houses were entitled to bear arms, which were stamped by the Chinese military board. Due to their consular immunity, they were protected by European soldiers, the military or militia.15 It is not clear if the weapons in the “Forum der Völker“ were confiscated, expropriated or were part of the missionary’s property for their protection.

  • 16 I am thankful for the expert opinion of Sabine Hesemann (personal communication April 19, 2023).
  • 17 Balthasar (1921, p. 34) mentions “Arabic guns” which were hung together with the Chinese arms. Comp (...)

14As shown in Figure 2, various kinds of weapons were hung together in the China section in the main hall of the Dorsten museum. This arrangement was kept unchanged in Werl in 2023, but it is misleading. The contexts of use of each of these arms are diverse and – more intriguing – one gun does not even originate from China. Due to the blade shape and length of the weapons, there are sabre (dao) of half-moon or oxtail shape, pistol, bows (gong), a spear and a trident (ji). Some were used by the army, such as the sword or a Manchu war and hunting bow, whereas a less forceful hunting or war bow was also used by peasants and militias.16 A single-barrelled steel tube rifle is wrongly attributed to the Chinese collection. It originates from Albania, as indicated by the museum’s inventory as well as by the method of manufacture with an “A 5” stamp and the floral chasing with crescents.17 Various stories about the order’s possession of weapons must thus be disentangled in order to clarify why these arms entered a missionary collection whose theological and ethical position demands pacifism and non-violence. Knowing more about the circumstances of the acquisition could also clear up whether there could be a context of violence at all.

Figure 2. “China: Boxer Weapons” including armory from China but also guns from Albania displayed in the Missionary Museum in Dorsten around 1935, Chinese weapons probably of the 18/19th c.

Figure 2. “China: Boxer Weapons” including armory from China but also guns from Albania displayed in the Missionary Museum in Dorsten around 1935, Chinese weapons probably of the 18/19th c.

© Franziskanerkloster Dorsten ca. 1935, ‘‘Forum der Völker“, Werl.

  • 18 The first inscription reads: Sheng-miao-yueqi, the second: Qianlong xinxi nian Dongchangfu tongzhi (...)
  • 19 Album with 193 photos (“Bilder aus dem Franziskaner Vicariat”, ca. 1913): no. 150 “Missionsglöckche (...)
  • 20 “Die Eigenartigkeit der Instrumente zeigt schon, wie fern sie die Musik unserem Empfinden steht” (F (...)

15In the early 1950s, the Chinese press strongly criticised the collecting of art-historical antiquities and the export of cultural goods by Catholic clergymen (Schütte, 1956, pp. 237, 239). With this background, some art works in the Missionary Museum in Dorsten should be further investigated, such as a small hand bell (zhong) of beehive shape without a clapper from the Shandong province (inv. no. 0354). Two inscriptions explain that it is intended as a “musical instrument for the sacred temple”, made in 1741 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (gov. 1736–1795) under the supervision of the district official Pan Long of Dongchangfu.18 Two dragons decorate the suspension. The bell is portioned in six panels with a yin-yang symbol, ba-gua-trigrams and eight knops. Does the transfer from its dedicated Buddhist site to a Catholic institution indicate a devotional appropriation? Has it been re-used in a Franciscan church? Locally made church bells were commissioned by the missionaries, as is documented by undated photos of a Franciscan brother in North Shandong who rings a large church bell with a string. The bell’s suspension is also decorated by dragons but the bell is of sugar loaf shape and furnished with a clapper – an object of transculturality.19 By contrast, Chinese bells represented “noise instruments” among other music devices such as drums, cymbal, trombone.20 The derogatory interpretation alludes to the fact that missionaries brought objects from afar in order to highlight the counter-culture and differences they were facing in their missionary fields. A Franciscan brother reveals his ignorance towards cultural differences and explains: “The strangeness of the instruments shows how distant it [the music] is from our sensibilities” (Franziskaner-Missions-Ausstellung, n. d., p. 4). The Chinese instrument may have sounded different to European ears and therefore created this strong counter-image.

  • 21 The cover reads “ancestor tablet for the deceased mother, first wife of the distinguished gentleman (...)

16The museum holds 14 Chinese ancestor tablets (called shén-zhu) which date from the late 18th century to the middle of the 20th century. The ink inscriptions on the wooden plates clearly assign them to certain persons on the basis of the death dates, genealogical relations and names, including honouring titles or auspicious dates. One of them dated to 1772 is dedicated to the mother Li (1739–1772). Both the tablet and the white cover are inserted in a rectangular socket decorated by three scarves (inv. no. 0505). The cover holds the dedication of the son to his mother who was the first wife of his father and held the title ru-ren.21 A red stain draws attention to the fact that it was part of commemorative rituals, maybe a blood stain of an animal. The museum’s guide in Dorsten explains that two of these tablets with a red dot on display symbolise the soul of deceased (Borgolte, 1929, p. 4). The tablets were placed in the house. Religious respect was required; the assistance of the deceased was asked. It is not known and therefore has to be examined how these ritual instruments, which were highly important for the Confucian ancestral belief, came into the possession of the Franciscan mission collections in Sittard, Dorsten, Munich or Hürtgenwald. For the missionaries they served as devices for ancestor veneration, thus as a notion of idolatry that is condemned by biblical faith. Ancestor tablets remained of high importance for the Chinese. Only in 1963 was the dispute in the Catholic missions settled by the Taiwanese bishops. In Catholicism, it was determined, ancestor tablets, offerings of fruits or food in remembrance of the deceased, stating his or her name, were permitted. However, neither the reference to the “seat of the soul” (lingwei) nor bowing, prostration or the burning of paper money was allowed (K. M, 1963, p. 150). Thus, more questions arise: Did a religious appropriation take place? Were the ancestor tablets given to the Franciscans voluntarily because the family converted to Christianity? Were they pressured by missionaries who took the tablets as devices of their conversion? Or did the family agree to give them away?

17In order for provenance researchers to critically illuminate the background behind the missionaries’ collecting activities of China objects, more archival work would be needed in order to evaluate the contexts of acquisitions case by case, such as an in-depth study of the order’s publications, the missionaries’ personal letters, a review of the image archives in Paderborn, where the Franciscan archive is located, and in the large visual collection in the museum of Werl as well as consulting the recording of the museum.

Private collections endowed to the missionaries

  • 22 It says: “Old panel, carved from private apt. of Empress Tzu Hsi-Hu Empress Do-Wager, at Wan Shou S (...)
  • 23 The fact that warlike acquisition stories promoted art sales was pointed out by the speaker of

18In the debate about collecting practices of art works obtained in the art trade or from private collectors, some practices have been recognised as unethical and some have also been proven to be illegal. A wooden and gilded panel (inv. no. 5930) from Beijing, bequeathed by Majonica in 1997, supposedly originates from the private apartments of Empress Cixi (1835–1908) in the new summer palace in Beijing (Figure 3). The finely carved relief may date to the 19th century or refer to an art work of 1735 of Emperor Qianlong. The motif might represent an arbitration scene, and shows a dance performance in a rich man’s house. Musician and dancer perform in front of a pavilion where a bearded honorary is seated while a lady holds a fan next to him. The provenance information is given on a handwritten tag on the reverse of the panel and indicates that it either reproduces an art work or actually came from the Beijing palace and was thus looted during the Boxer War.22 Who made this attribution? Is this information reliable or was it made to promote a better sale in the antiquities trade?23 The attribution can therefore not be uncritically adopted as a provenance statement without doing more research on the iconography and art history of the object itself.

Fig. 3: Gilded wooden relief with music performance (inv. no. 5930, 21.5 x 28.5 cm), probably Beijing/ China, 18th or 19th century, donated by Ernst Majonica.

Fig. 3: Gilded wooden relief with music performance (inv. no. 5930, 21.5 x 28.5 cm), probably Beijing/ China, 18th or 19th century, donated by Ernst Majonica.

© “Forum der Völker”, Werl.

  • 24 His statement of “keeping his noses clean” (“Ich bin immer sauber durch’s Leben gegangen”) is the t (...)

19The “Forum der Völker” holds archaeological artefacts from West, Central and Southeast Asia which have to be examined in more detail as to their authenticity and acquisition background. According to Majonica, as representative of the embassy council on his trip to Afghanistan he exchanged 12 religious stone images, reliefs and sculpture from the 2nd–5th centuries for whisky (“Forum der Völker”, 2000, p. 842). The Buddhist images are fragments which might have been broken or damaged deliberately. They represent Ghandara art, connected to the kingdom of Kushan, which is located in Afghanistan und partly in Pakistan today, of high quality in terms of art history and style. The exchange of highly priced archaeological art works for alcohol seems extremely unequal. Or does this payment reflect a market-oriented price at that time? Were the objects looted, violated or stolen? Did he take profit of his official position to avoid taxes and other export restrictions? If so, Majonica supported the illegal export of antiquities and his clean reputation might fade.24 He definitely supported the commodification of heritage goods.

20The same collector also donated several religious statues from Thailand and Cambodia to the museum. If proven authentic, this cultural heritage of Southeast Asia also holds significant cultural and religious value for the countries of origin. During the political instability between the 1970s and 1990s in Cambodia, many of these artefacts were looted and transferred to other countries (Phalravy, 2024). More investigations on this stock of Buddhist images might reveal critical provenance backgrounds.

21The museum in Werl served as a heritage keeper for non-European objects in the Westphalian region. Most often the provenance of bequests from private collectors, among them colonial-period administrators and military, is not known. Three examples from problematic contexts may demonstrate. In 1990, the museum director accessed a bow from Oceania owned by Adalbert Heppner (?–1917), an admiral of the Hohenzollern shipyard. In 2001, the director also acquired the bequest of photos and art works of the naval ship machinist Hermann Stilcke (1882–1962), including an ink pen with lion carving, silk, statuettes, clothing accessories, jewellery, paintings, and vessels made of porcelain or metal. In 1911, Stilcke was on board of the German gunboat Iltis II to China and he took a picture of the vivid art trafficking on the ship (Geilich, 2006, pp. 206–210). He obtained artefacts from China as souvenirs; the context of others such as a “sacred water vessel” seems sensitive. The image collection of the museum also consists of the sensitive holding of a photo album from around 1900–1905 compiled by prison chief guard Curt Arthur Tzschabran (1877–1936) who probably joined the Boxer War. The album shows German military personnel in China, the building of the German railway line and an execution. Four men are being beheaded, guarded by British and Japanese soldiers. Either Fr Kellerhoff did not know about the circumstances of these holdings or took these collectables without critical investigations.

Summary: Missionary collections and restitution initiatives

22In the article, I have addressed objects, in particular ritual implements or religious arts, which were transferred to a Christian context by reinterpreting them as counter-images for the missionary task in terms of their so-called civilizing mission. Examples in the article reveal that Catholic missionaries commodified devices of local worship and showed an ambivalence towards human remains and weapons. I have referred to unclear changes of ownership, power relations and potentially sensitive contexts that demonstrate an extremely complex and ambivalent relationship between proselytizing actors and the proselytized societies. Some objects, partly donated by private collectors, were taken via looting, art and antiquities theft or just without permission.

23Ethnographic missionary collections would pave the way to initiate collaborative museum work with the communities of origin in order to initiate dialogue and communication on their material culture (cf. Scholz, 2021). The renewed understanding of mission in the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965 makes partnership-based cooperation likely today. First, it has to be clarified whether objects were obtained in sensitive contexts, were looted or taken without permission. Second, it has to be investigated if some objects stored in the mission collection have any significance for the communities of origin. Processes of reassessment and the search for tradition must also be taken into account, which often form the basis for negotiations in restitution processes. I therefore argue that direct contact with the communities of origin should be established proactively, arranged through the local Catholic churches in this region that emerged from the missions.

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Notes

1 Erstcheck im ‘‘Forum der Völker“ Werl, project-ID: KK_KU03_2022. DZK, 2023 https://www.proveana.de/de/link/pro00000175 (Retrieved January 26, 2024).

2 The photos reveal complex power dynamics and ambiguities with regard to property issues, the legal system and their ambiguous relation towards violence and poverty.

3 The concept of a museum arose in 1909. Four cupboards at the entrance of the cloister could not take up all the objects from the missionary fields anymore, so 200 m² were prepared for hosting a museum furnished by display cases and museum didactics (Missionsmuseum, 1915, p. 2).

4 The bark cloth (tapa) (inv. no. 1375) inscribed with letters “XAUMA AUT” was wrongly categorized to South America in the display case “Brazil: about jungle and Indian life“ (Brasilien: Aus Urwald und Indianerleben) (Franziskanerkloster Dorsten, ca. 1935, n. p.; Reinking, 1989, p. 179).

5 “Habe vor einem Monat meinen Zopf abschneiden lassen. Es ist ein wahres Prachtexemplar. Könnten Sie den nicht für einige Tausend verkaufen. Das wäre ein Handel für die Kirche!” and “nur einige abgesetzte Götzen aus Bronze trauern still in einem Winkel; werde sie Ihnen nächstens zusenden, vielleicht gelingt es, sie in Europa zu ‘versilbern’” (Schlichte Werbegedanken, 1913, p. 61).

6 The concept of an itinerant exhibition as “means of agitation” for the missionary work was born in 1915 (Missionsmuseum, 1915). See the archive of ‘‘Forum der Völker“ in Werl: Undated inventories of objects of the itinerant exhibition in Bad Tölz, a visitor’s book of 1927–1939 in Landshut; in the archive of the Franciscan in Paderborn, Germany: PAB 01 – Bavaria, 1921–1934.

7 The handwriting reads as follows: “Tifa uit Sibilgebied. Door een vriend van Beiy De Gier aan Erik v. d. Borne gegeven ter Bewaring. Wanner Hy de Tifa terug vraagt, wordt hy teruggegeven.” De Gier left the order in 1985 and van den Borne in 1989. His name is incorrectly written in the database of the museum’s inventory.

8 Joop Sierat’s (1937–?, Franciscan in the order until 1974), letter to Fr Reinhard Kellerhoff of Dec. 12, 2001 (Archive of the ‘‘Forum der Völker“).

9 The collection hosts a wooden panel of around 1910 from Irian Jaya donated by Zegwaard probably in 2020 (inv. no. 14491).

10 Dr. Alfons Buhl (1952–) bought one skull bowl (inv. no. 7920) for a relatively high amount ($80US) at the market of Lahan, Nepal. At the airport he was not permitted to take it out of the country so a local association sent it to Germany by mail (personal communication, January 8, 2024). In 2001, he donated the object to the museum. In 2002, a skull bowl (inv. no. 8104) from Tibet was donated to the museum by Hans-Jürgen Kalbers (?–2002), a pastor from Menden, Germany.

11 The exhibition “Schrecklich schön” (“Terribly Beautiful”) at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin proposed an International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) recommendation for the protection of this coveted material at the expert conference on January 17, 2022 (Humboldt Forum, 2022).

12 In 1948, the archdiocese of Jinan counted 98 Catholic priests, including 53 German Franciscan priests (Westemeyer, 1961–62, p. 329). About the missionary history of the Franciscans and other congregations in China see Herpich, et al., 2023, and von Collani, 2013; about the China collection in Werl see Wilms-Reinking, 2001, and Geilich, 2006; and about the appropriation of works of local worship in the missionary context in Asia see Tjoa-Bonatz, 2009, 2016, and Konrad, 2020.

13 “An der Wand. Chinesische Waffen. Das “große Messer”. Starksehnige Bogen. Die Waffen wurden noch 1900 in der Antieuropäerbewegung gebraucht. Arabische Flinten.” (Balthasar, 1921, p. 34).

14 “Eine Lanzenspitze, die Fr. Korbinian beim Boxerkrieg erbeutete, vervollständigt die kirchliche Sammlung” (Crepaz, 1935, p. 44).

15 Lange (1928, fig. on p. 261); see the armed European soldiers to secure the catholic missionary station of Shanxi on two textile images (inv. no. 2921, 2923): one upon the arrival of the missionaries and the other upon the coming of a music group. The images of 1908 were collected by Dutch Franciscan of Sittard.

16 I am thankful for the expert opinion of Sabine Hesemann (personal communication April 19, 2023).

17 Balthasar (1921, p. 34) mentions “Arabic guns” which were hung together with the Chinese arms. Compare a photo of two rifle-bearing “Albanese” in the Franciscan journal (Harm, 1930, fig. p. 196).

18 The first inscription reads: Sheng-miao-yueqi, the second: Qianlong xinxi nian Dongchangfu tongzhi Pan Long jianzhi (Reinking, 1989, p. 122).

19 Album with 193 photos (“Bilder aus dem Franziskaner Vicariat”, ca. 1913): no. 150 “Missionsglöckchen” (Small mission bell) and 160 “Glocke an der Wand eines Gebetshauses“ (Bell at the wall of a prayer house).

20 “Die Eigenartigkeit der Instrumente zeigt schon, wie fern sie die Musik unserem Empfinden steht” (Franziskaner-Missions-Ausstellung, n.d., p. 4).

21 The cover reads “ancestor tablet for the deceased mother, first wife of the distinguished gentleman. The son sacrifies respectfully” (Xian bi dai zeng ru-ren yüan-pei yü tai-jün shen-zhu. Nan ko-heng feng-se). The tablet says that “The imperial house of the Manchu confers the title ru-ren to the mother Li, the first wife of the distinguished gentleman, official of the 7th grade, ancestor tablet of the first generation. Passed away on 28.12.1772 between 5–9 pm, born on 25.11.1739 in a golden hour (Reinking, 1989, p. 119).

22 It says: “Old panel, carved from private apt. of Empress Tzu Hsi-Hu Empress Do-Wager, at Wan Shou Shan (New Summer Palace) started by Emperor Ch’ien Lung A.D. 1735”.

23 The fact that warlike acquisition stories promoted art sales was pointed out by the speaker of

the opening lecture Prof. Cord Eberspächer at the workshop held on March 2–3, 2023 (SMB, 2023).

24 His statement of “keeping his noses clean” (“Ich bin immer sauber durch’s Leben gegangen”) is the title of Kükenshöner, 2023.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Drum (inv. no. 2642, 102 cm, diameter 12 cm), Sibil-region/ Indonesia, probably 20th century, kept by former friars Beiy de Gier and Erik van der Bone.
Crédits © ‘‘Forum der Völker“, Werl.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/iss/docannexe/image/5512/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Titre Figure 2. “China: Boxer Weapons” including armory from China but also guns from Albania displayed in the Missionary Museum in Dorsten around 1935, Chinese weapons probably of the 18/19th c.
Crédits © Franziskanerkloster Dorsten ca. 1935, ‘‘Forum der Völker“, Werl.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/iss/docannexe/image/5512/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 396k
Titre Fig. 3: Gilded wooden relief with music performance (inv. no. 5930, 21.5 x 28.5 cm), probably Beijing/ China, 18th or 19th century, donated by Ernst Majonica.
Crédits © “Forum der Völker”, Werl.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/iss/docannexe/image/5512/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 771k
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Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz, « Provenance research: Entangled histories of objects from Asia and Oceania in the missionary museum “Forum der Völker” »ICOFOM Study Series, 52-1 | 2024, 89-102.

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Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz, « Provenance research: Entangled histories of objects from Asia and Oceania in the missionary museum “Forum der Völker” »ICOFOM Study Series [En ligne], 52-1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 03 juillet 2024, consulté le 13 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/iss/5512 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11zlv

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Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz

Independent researcher – Berlin, Germany
Email: tjoabonatz[at]gmail.com

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