restricted access 7 The Ethnographic Frontier in German Postcolonial Visions
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CHAPTER 7 The Ethnographic Frontier in German Postcolonial Visions T he onset of Europe’s Great War and the postwar era presented German anthropologists with a number of predicaments. Few practitioners doubted their nation’s legitimate defensive struggle, which compelled them to accept the ensuing hardships.The initial optimism about further colonial annexations resulting from the conflict was quelled by the end of the hostilities. Not only was colonial expansion in Africa and Oceania halted, but the Treaty of Versailles eliminated the existing German colonial empire. This situation propelled German anthropologists to support a national attempt to regain lost territory. Colonial enthusiasts offered arguments for Germany’s qualification to rule its territories. Likewise, anthropologists realized that the ethnographic descriptions and material culture collected along the ethnographic frontier in German New Guinea represented a didactic tool supporting postcolonial imaginations. Anthropologists thus worked in tandem with colonial apologists to illustrate German imperial accomplishments. The crafting of ethnographic monographs thus allowed anthropologists to whitewash potential German administrative wrongdoings , shifting potentially explosive issues to subsequent administrations of German New Guinea. ETHNOGRAPHIC BURGFRIEDEN AND FAILED HOPES FOR ANNEXATION The First World War deeply affected the German anthropological museum community. Most museum officials contended that their nation was fighting a just defensive war, for which they soon endured dire consequences. Museum personnel were drafted into uniform and sent to the military front, many never to return.1 Museum officials endured the consequences of the “home front” following the British blockade of German ports. Official communications reflected increasing shortage of heating material, affecting both the personnel’s health and the preservation of artifacts.2 Moreover, selected museum buildings supported the war efforts.The Linden Museum in Stutt137 gart, for instance, was turned into a makeshift hospital because of its relative proximity to the Western Front.3 Despite such adverse circumstances, anthropologists remained cautiously optimistic about the future of their research. Those interested in physical anthropology turned to prisoner-of-war camps to update their studies on captured colonial and Eastern European troops.4 By and large German museum anthropologists submitted to the doctrine of Burgfrieden (fortress under siege or civic truce) issued by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Michael Burleigh provides an apt definition of this term: “Domestic confessional, social, and political conflicts were to be put in suspended animation, to be miraculously resolved through a German victory, which was to preserve the authoritarian domestic social status quo from widespread demands for liberalization .”5 For museum anthropologists this meant a grudging acceptance of the distribution following the Sepik Expedition (1912–1913) according to Federal Council representation. Consequently the lion’s share of the expedition reached the state museums located in Bavaria, Prussia, and Württemberg . Yet museum officials vowed to readdress this issue at the end of hostilities with an expected German victory.6 The hope for victory also resulted in the temporary illusion of German colonial expansion. Museum anthropology went so far as to demand the “annexation” of artifacts from European territory under German military occupation. Karl Weule in Leipzig, for instance, quickly appreciated that the German occupation of Belgium placed a number of important artifacts within the reach of his museum. The most important of these were the ethnographic collections housed in the Terveuren Museum located near the Belgian capital of Brussels. This museum’s artifacts originated largely from the Belgian Congo, a colony with one of the most sinister imperial histories in Africa.7 The importance of the Terveuren ethnographic treasures did not escape Weule’s watchful eye. Still heading the German Ethnological Museum Association, he devised an ingenious plan. With the help of fellow museum officials belonging to his association, he appealed to the German military administration in Belgium in an attempt to secure the Terveuren collection as a rightful spoil of war. Deeply convinced of the ensuing German victory, Weule foresaw a logical expansion of the German empire in Africa and Oceania. Rather than patiently waiting for a favorable postwar settlement, however, he decided to be proactive. There was more at stake than artifacts from the Belgian Congo. Weule hoped that a diplomatic distribution of Terveuren ethnographica among German museums would provide a template for future artifact acquisition. In theory, the Terveuren distribution was to pave the way for future ethnographic exploration of colonial territory after peace negotiations. Weule’s 138 Chapter 7 grand plan, however, failed to materialize. Although most museum directors agreed in principle to his acquisition, they quickly predicted opposition to its execution. Indeed, when Weule forwarded his proposal to the...


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