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  • 9. A Swedish Ethnographer in SulawesiWalter Kaudern
  • Christer Lindberg (bio)

Walter Kaudern was born near Stockholm on March 24, 1881, and died of heart failure the 16th of July 1942 at the age of 61. He was academically educated at the University of Stockholm, where he took his Ph.D. in zoology in 1910. Thus from the beginning he was active in the field of natural science, having a well-documented training and knowledge not only in zoology, but in geology, botany, and geography as well. In 1928 Kaudern was made curator of the geological and mineralology department of the Gothenburg Museum. When the director, Erland Nordenskiöld, died in 1932, Kaudern became the new director. On April 1, 1934, this appointment was made official, and he held the position until his death in 1943.

Kaudern's career in ethnography had developed contemporaneously with his expeditions in natural science. His interest had been awakened early, that is, as early as his first expedition to Madagascar in 1906–7, and increased during the second expedition to the same island in 1911–12. In addition to writing numerous zoological papers, he described these expeditions, chiefly the second, in the Swedish work På Madagaskar(Stockholm 1913). The ethnographical collections he made in the first expedition counted about 50 items, including several musical instruments. A much larger collection was made during his second expedition—several hundred objects, including weapons, ceramics, cloth, and musical instruments (EMS 1907.58, 1913.6). All objects are housed at the Ethnographical Museum in Stockholm.

Less than four years after his return from Madagascar, he and his wife, Teres, and their two children started out for yet another long expedition in December 1916. Their destination was Celebes/Sulawesi, and the expedition lasted four years. Their aim was to make zoological-geographical and ethnographical studies of the interior and for the most part unknown sections of central Sulawesi. Due to circumstances following his return home in 1921, Kaudern devoted himself increasingly to ethnography. His [End Page 264] series Ethnographical Studies in Celebes, published in five volumes from 1925 to 1938, is known by all who are concerned with Indonesia. Volume 6 of the series, on Celebes art, was published posthumously. For Swedish readers he has compiled the experiences and results from this more extensive expedition in a book rich in information, I Celebes Obygder, which was published in two volumes in Stockholm in 1921.

Of his large collection of ethnographical items from Sulawesi, over 3,000 in number, a fourth were taken over by the Gothenburg Museum in 1926. It was also during the Sulawesi expedition that Kaudern executed the series of large oil paintings of the natives, of which several color reproductions have been made.

Walter Kaudern as an Ethnographer—Aims of the Present Study

Being an Americanist specializing in Native American religions and cultures, I am not at all trained in Southeast Asian Studies; thus I am not able to evaluate Kaudern's work in the light of more recent studies of Sulawesi. On the other hand I have done considerable research in the history of anthropology and have written extensively on such Scandinavian scholars as Erland Nordenskiöld, Kaj Birket-Smith, Knud Rasmusson, Gunnar Landtman, Hjalmar Stolpe, and Rafael Karsten as well as on Bronislaw Malinowski, Franz Boas, Paul Radin, Marcel Mauss, and Claude Lévi Strauss.

Hence the goal of this paper is to consider the works of Walter Kaudern in the context of the "Swedish School" of ethnography, that is, the comparative ethnographical studies initiated by Baron Erland Nordenskiöld in Gothenburg. Nordenskiöld was the teacher of Kaudern, and volume 2 of his series was dedicated "to my friend Erland Nordenskiöld with gratitude and esteem" (Kaudern 1925b). It was not easy for pioneers such as Nordenskiöld and Kaudern to gain financial support for their research and publications. Again, in connection with his series, Kaudern wrote: "The reason that so many years have gone by since Volume IV was published is mainly that my activities at the Gothenburg Museum have claimed all my time. But there have also been economic factors which have lain in the way" (Kaudern 1938:v).

Kaudern's initiative...


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