Station: [48] The NHG‘s Department of Ethnology

Welkam, Ahlan wa Sahlan, Akwaaba!

Welcome to the Natural History Museum‘s ethnology exhibition!

In this department, you’ll discover how people in countries all over the world lived at particular times, how they coped with their environment, what their homes were like, what they believed in, what they lived on, what they produced. Some of these things still exist today – many are already in the past.

In recent years, museum collections have become the focus of public attention. That’s especially true of ethnological collections.

Many questions arise. How were they put together? How did the exhibits become part of the collection? Was there a colonial context? Are we actually dealing with looted art, or should we expect restitution claims for individual objects or entire collections?

Where masks, tents, travel bags or clothing are concerned, the following applies: it is essential to investigate not only their geographical origin, but also the background to the circumstances of acquisition. That’s the job of provenance research and an important task for any museum.

The Natural History Society’s ethnological collections were acquired in a range of very different ways. Some objects were purchased by individuals in the 1980s – at markets, for example. That applies to the vast majority of exhibits in the subject areas "Sahara" and “West Africa".

Other objects are clearly linked to colonialism. They arrived at the museum via colonial officials, soldiers, traders, missionaries and settlers, but also came from collectors. So they’re not only part of the history of the regions where they originated; their history is also European and German colonial history.

And how do we want to deal with objects from the Americas, where Europe's former colonial background and questionable treatment of indigenous people seems long forgotten?

Discussions are ongoing; staff members are researching the exact origin of the objects, but of course, more needs to be done. Feel free to ask at any time! But now: set sail, cross the desert, stop off in West Africa, discover Central America and the people of eastern Siberia!