Herero and Fang Objects in the Lübecker Völkerkundesammlung
The Ethnographic Collection of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck conducts proactive provenance research, which is not a response to existing restitution claims but part of a self-set agenda to critically investigate all problematic holdings. Since December 1st 2019, two prominent holdings of the Völkerkundesammlung are subjects of a 12-month provenance project, which is mainly financed by the German Lost Art Foundation.
One of these holdings are 72 objects of the Herero from what is today Namibia, which were collected by two officers, two staff surgeons of the colonial German Schutztruppe, and a nurse. These objects were entered the Collection between 1906 and 1945, partly as donations and partly as an estate. It will be investigated whether these clothings, jewellery, tools and weapons are related to the genocide of the Herero and Nama (1904-1908). The identification of the human remains, which are part of this holding, is of particular importance.
However, at the heart of this project is the collection of the Lübecker Pangwe-Expedition to Central Africa (1907-1909) that is considered the most valuable and culturally as well as historically important collection of the Völkerkundesammlung. The diaries of this expedition prove that the collected objects changed hands mainly as purchases and gifts, but in some cases also in exchange for hostages or by raids on non-cooperative villages. Only 158 of the originally around 1,200 objects survived the bombing of the Museum during World War II. One of the main questions of this project is whether it is still possible to identify looted goods in the remaining collection.
In addition to the preparation of possible restitutions, this project focuses on cooperation with the source communities and the return of knowledge. Experts from the countries of origin will be involved and catalogues of the examined objects in the respective national language will be accessible online and shared to all interested parties.In addition to the historian Michael Schütte, who is responsible for archival research, Drossilia Dikegue Igouwe, a researcher from Central Africa, is working on this project. She will carry out ethnographic fieldwork in the summer of 2020 in order to gather new information about the objects and to initiate a dialogue with the source communities. With a scholarship from the Zentrum für Kulturwissenschaftliche Forschung Lübeck, she is also preparing a dissertation on the entire holdings from Central Africa in Lübeck.