by Barry Craig
Figure 1. Mask (sissaun) worn with a cloak of plant fibre over bark cloth shirt and trousers to harass youths during their initiation. Nr. 0360, Church House Collection. Image by Kevin Hamdorf. Reproduced with the permission of the Wantok Place Museum, Adelaide.
In 1998, Christel Metzner set up a small Lutheran missionary museum in an old Lutheran church hall at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Most of the exhibits were of traditional, and some contemporary, artefacts from the areas of Papua New Guinea in which the Lutheran missionaries worked. A small section was devoted to cultural material from Southeast Asian partner churches. It was named the Louise Flierl Mission Museum in honour of the wife of Johann Flierl, the first Lutheran missionary in New Guinea.
The old church building was to be sold in 2018 and the museum had to be relocated. Timothy Pietsch was engaged to find a new location for the museum, to organise the packing up of the exhibits and to set up new displays. An existing Lutheran Church office space in North Adelaide was refurbished to museum display standards and opened to the public as ‘Wantok Place’ in June 2019.
I was engaged as a consultant to provide a narrative structure for the displays and to assist in the identification of the many artefacts that had little or no provenance. My advice was to set up the exhibits based on the history of the initial founding and expansion of the Lutheran missions in New Guinea. This would have the benefit also of presenting artefacts from particular cultures together and showing the differences between coastal/island cultures and those of the highlands.
The first Lutheran missionary, Johann Flierl, came to then-German New Guinea in 1886. Previously, he had been working for several years among Aboriginal people at Killalpaninna Mission Station at Cooper Creek. He chose Simbang just north of Finschhafen to establish the New Guinea mission. He was subsequently joined by colleagues from the Neuendettelsau Mission in Bavaria but it wasn’t until 1899 that they had their first convert. They developed a technique of training indigenous evangelists to live in the villages, teaching the people about the Christian faith and preparing them for baptism.
The Rhenish Mission Society in Barmen (now part of Wuppertal) sent two missionaries to Astrolabe Bay in 1887 where they set up their base at Bogadjim.
The expatriate missionaries learnt the local languages and translated parts of the Bible into those languages. Inevitably they came to understand something of the cultures of the people to whom they were preaching; some of them collected artefacts to illustrate to their home churches while on furlough, the cultural context of their labours.
Germany administered the protectorate (Kaiser-Wilhelmsland) through the offices and staff of the Neuguinea-Kompagnie, setting up their first base at Finschhafen in 1885. But that location proved to be a death trap for many Europeans and in 1891 the administration moved to Stephansort (Bogadjim). That location proved even unhealthier than Finschhafen and the administration moved to Friedrich-Wilhelmshafen (Madang).
The missionaries at Simbang quickly established bases on the Tami Islands, at Sattelberg and on the east coast of the Huon Peninsula. From 1906 to 1911, mission stations were established on the Siassi and Rooke islands, the south coast of the Huon Peninsula, at Malalo and near Morobe on the east coast of the Huon Gulf – and at Gabmazung on the Markham to work among the Laewomba. In 1918, a base was established at Kaiapit on the upper Markham to reach the Adzera and Wantoat peoples.
The Rhenish Mission slowly expanded from Bogadjim to other coastal and inland areas. During the 1920s the Eastern Highlands were penetrated via Kaiapit and Kambaidam by the missionaries from both the Markham and Madang sides. By the late 1930s, the mission had pushed west as far as Mt Hagen.
It wasn’t until 1948 that a Lutheran mission station was established at Yaramanda near Wabag in Enga country by A.P.H Freund; in 1951 he and fellow-missionary Georg Horrolt founded the mission station at Menyamya in Kukukuku (Anga) territory (Fitzpatrick 1999). There was a later expansion into the Southern Highlands.
Before Christel Metzner set up the Louise Flierl Mission Museum, artefacts were accumulated at Church House and at the Lutheran Archives in Adelaide, and some were received directly by Christel from retired missionaries and their families. As in all museums, many objects had little or no documentation. If collectors’ names were known, the origins of the artifacts could be inferred by the places where the collectors served. However, an Abelam ngwalndu, a New Ireland malagan carving, a Goaribari (Papuan Gulf) drum and all the Sepik objects were obtained outside the Lutheran mission field.
While many pieces in the collection were made for sale, there are several significant old items that any Australian or overseas museum would be pleased to have, and several cultures are represented by traditional things such as tools, weapons and personal adornment – for example, the Kukukuku (Anga) of Menyamya, the Chimbu and Enga. About a thousand pieces are on display with many more held in storage.
The most significant items are a sissaun mask from Umboi (Rooke) Island (Fig.1), better than the one in the Met in New York (see Kjellgren 2007, Plate 69); a little painted prehistoric stone figure (Fig.2) similar in form to four published by Newton in 1979 originating from Manam Island, the middle Ramu, the [lower?] Sepik and ‘the highlands’. A linear pattern of red bands outlined in white on the top of the head of both mask and stone figure suggests the latter may have been found and painted by someone on Umboi.
There is a three-legged headrest/stool of the Adzera in the upper Markham (Fig.3 – see Gunn 1985, Schmitz 1959); and a male dance figure called jawik by the Pasum of the upper Markham (Fig.4 – cf. Schmitz 1963:148-150 & plates 44-46).
From the Madang region are a large heart-shaped shoulder shield (cf. Beran & Craig 2005, Fig. 3.28) and a blooded spear from Wanuma; a Karkar shield (cf. Beran & Craig 2005, Fig.3.21); and a set of over two dozen bullroarers and circumcision tools (cf. Biro 1901, Tafeln XXI, XXII) and a men’s house ornament – a carved bird, probably a sea eagle, holding a fish (Fig.5a & 5b on the front cover of this issue – cf. Biro 1901, Fig.5, 5) – from Bongu and Bogadjim, Astrolabe Bay. A traditional white timbu wara from Pangia, Southern Highlands is displayed alongside a colourful tourist version (cf. Stewart & Strathern 2001).
What puzzled me most was a collection of roughly-struck bronze coins, at first sight like Roman coins unearthed in Britain (Fig.6). These were of three sizes and on close inspection I discerned the figures of elephants and lions, and Islamic script. It seemed likely that these coins were from India and more than a few centuries old, perhaps mid- to late- Moghul. They are currently being examined by a numismatic specialist, Peter Lane.
But how could these coins have come to New Guinea? I put the question to my colleague Matthew Flinders Fellow, Associate Professor Christine Winter at Flinders University and she discovered that in 1894 the Neuguinea-Kompagnie employed 64 Sikhs at its four stations in Kaiser-Wilhelmsland – ex-soldiers of the British East India Army – to guarantee the protection of the tobacco plantations. In 1891, 313 Chinese and 58 Malays were transported to work in the tobacco plantation at Jomba, near Madang; there were already ten Bengalis there. Closer examination of the coins may resolve the issue of whether it was a Sikh or a Bengali who brought the coins to New Guinea but how they came to be in the possession of a Madang person and later obtained by a Lutheran missionary is a matter of conjecture. There is a slight possibility that a search of mission archives here or in Germany may provide answers.
The museum has been named ‘Wantok Place’ and is located at 175A Archer Street, North Adelaide. It opened in June 2019 and is available to the public on Wednesdays from 10am to 4pm. It has been closed until the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. There is a website www.lca.org.au/wantok-place and appointments can be made to visit at other times by contacting Timothy Pietsch ([email protected]).
Beran, H. & B. Craig. 2005. Shields of Melanesia. Adelaide: Crawford House.
Biro, L. 1901. Beschreibender Catalog der Ethnographischen Sammlung Ludwig Birós aus Deutsch-Neu-Guinea (Astrolabe-Bai). Budapest: Ethnographische Sammlungen des Ung. Nationalmuseums III.
Fitzpatrick, P. 1999. The APH Freund Collection of New Guinea Artefacts held by the South Australian Museum. Records of the South Australian Museum 31,2:181-214.
Gunn, M. 1985. A Headrest from the Adzera, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. The Beagle, Occasional Papers of the Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 2,1:139-141.
Kjellgren, E. 2007. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press.
Newton, D. 1979. Prehistoric and Recent Art Styles in Papua New Guinea. Pp. 32-57 in Sidney Mead, ed. Exploring the Visual Art of Oceania. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.
Schmitz, C. A. 1959. Die Nackenstützen und Zeremonialstühle der Azera in Nordost-Neuguinea. Baessler-Archiv 7:149-163.
Schmitz, C. A. 1963. Wantoat. Art and Religion of the Northeast New Guinea Papuans. The Hague: Mouton &Co.
Stewart, P.J. & A. Strathern. 2001. Timbu Wara figures from Pangia, Papua New Guinea. Records of the South Australian Museum 34,2:65-77.
Dr Barry Craig is former Senior Curator of Foreign Ethnology at the South Australian Museum and currently Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, History and Archaeology, College of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University.