Collection History

Collecting during the colonial era

Schmeltz, Johann and Rudolf Krause: Die ethnographisch-anthropologische Abtheilung des Museum Godeffroy in Hamburg. Hamburg 1881, plate XXX

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Carolines were sold by the Spanish to the German Empire in the 1899 German-Spanish Treaty, making them part of 'German New Guinea' up until 1919. 

The majority of dinonga eidu sculptures were appropriated within a rather short period (mid 19th century - early 20th century). This period can be paralleled with the preliminary phases and the establishment of formal colonial rule in the Pacific.  

The carved wooden figures of Nukuoro were first mentioned in western sources by the American protestant missionary Edward Topping Doane in 1874. 

In the following years, the Polish collector Johann Stanislaus Kubary described and collected at least nine dinonga eidu for the Hanseatic trading company Godeffroy and its private museum in Hamburg (1873 / 1877) as well as for the Berliner Museum für Völkerkunde (1884). 

In 1904, German Captain Carl Jeschke first came to Nukuoro and settled there temporarily with his Nukuoro wife between 1910 and 1913. During this time he collected three dinonga eidu, which he sold to the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum Cologne in 1920.

How were the carvings appropriated?

Finsch, Otto: Südseearbeiten. Gewerbe- und Kunstfleiß, Tauschmittel und „Geld“ der Eingeborenen auf Grundlage der Rohstoffe und der geographischen Verbreitung. Hamburg 1914.

In 1878 and 1879 several mission periodicals stated that Nukuoro residents were throwing away their so-called ‘idols’. This indicates that in the context of Christian missionization old religious beliefs and practices were gradually abandoned. According to Oral History as well as written sources Nukuoro people were already aquainted with Christianity through a Nukuoran woman named Siakwe who had lived on Pohnpei before missionaries first came to the island. In the early 20th century when king Leka converted to Christianity during his visit to Kosrae and subsequently became chief of Nukuoro he banned the rituals associated with the dinonga eidu and demanded that the knowledge about them should no longer passed along.  

There is currently no evidence that the dinonga eidu were purchased by collectors. It is possible that the objects were found on site or handed over to Europeans. However, the following colonial accounts provide evidence that cultural assets from Nukuoro were partially destroyed and looted by Westerners:

The god "Te ariki tu te natoake", had his image in a black volcanic stone, which Ko-Wawe brought with him from the former homeland. It was located in the main temple, Amalau, at the east end of the marae and was destroyed one day by a white man.” 

(source: Schmeltz / Krause 1881, p. 334)

Unique to Nukuoro (Monteverde) are crudely carved wooden human figures that originated with the inhabitants from Polynesia and were worshipped as "ancestors" under personal names. The museum Godeffroy possessed a whole series of 6 pieces (1300-1720 mm high), also a fragment of the stone god "te ariki".” 

(source: Finsch 1914, p. 561)

Oral History as well as Provenance research in archives and depots can contribute to reconstructing the circumstances of appropriation.