Publications and Writings


Collecting while Converting: Missionaries and Ethnographics

Journal of Art Historiography. Number 12, June  2015

Abstract: This paper concerns an understudied yet germane aspect of western receptions and interpretations of indigenous ritual art around 1900: the role of Christian missionaries, who furnished countless indigenous art objects, and that of missionary propaganda. The latter used to stress the heroic agency of misionaries in the field combating superstition and confiscating or burning idols. However, what happened in the field often turns out to have been different and more richly checkered than the crude image usually projected on the home front by the boards of missionary organisations and periodicals. We analyze three case studies which show a consideable role for native agency and autonomous local developments, with missionaries as relatively passive bystanders.


Re-Collecting Father Viegen’s Asmat Objects (Eng.)

Évocation des objets asmat du père Viegen (Fr.)

Tribal Art Magazine No. 73 (Autumn 2014): 112 – 129

It’s the end of April 2014 and it’s unseasonably warm. I’m driving over a small road surrounded by pasture and orchards. Through the open car window, the warm wind brings in the smell of freshly cut grass. Every now and then I have to steer my car into the shoulder of the road, so as to make way for the big agricultural vehicles loaded with hay. After passing through the village of Sint Agatha, I drive down a road lined with trees and turn into the parking area of the Kruisherenklooster (Monastery of the Crosiers). This is the oldest monastery in the Netherlands and the Crosiers have been living here since 1371. Since 2006, the old walls have also harbored the Erfgoedcentrum voor Nederlands Kloosterleven (Centre for the Heritage of Dutch Religious Life). The goal of this foundation is to preserve the heritage of Dutch monastic life within the Netherlands and to make it publicly accessible. So far, around 100 Dutch monastic communities have housed their archives, books, and objects here.

I am here to do research in the archives of the Missionarii Sacratissimi Cordis Jesu (Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, hereafter MSC) and for the last few days have been frantically looking for three photographs showing a group of Asmat shields collected by an early Dutch missionary. I know that years ago the photographs were in the monastery in Tilburg, which is no longer in use. Part of their archive was brought here to the Kruisherenklooster, but did it include the original pictures of the Asmat shields?


The korwar Collection of Henry Blekkink

Tribal Art Magazine No. 63 (2012): 89-97

As a researcher of ethnographic art, concentrating on the documentation of missionary collections, I was asked to have a closer look into the history of a recently surfaced korwar collection. I did not know what to expect. It was hard to imagine a collection of korwars outside a museum to begin with. Yet, now I was gazing at korwar figures lined up before me, which dominated the entire room. Their expressive faces stared at me defiantly. On the ground lay some wrinkled newspapers in which these ancestral effigies had been wrapped: The Haagsche Courant, Monday, August 24, 1953. My puzzled look did not go unnoticed:

“All I know is that these korwars have been in the possession of a teacher whose family name was Blekkink. He taught geography at a Christian High School in The Hague. He died in 1953.”


Volkenkundige missiecollecties

Bulletin Konferentie Nederlandse Religieuzen, maart 2010: 18-19

Alle volkenkundige musea in Nederland bezitten collecties die afkomstig zijn van Nederlandse missionerende orden en congregaties. Het Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal en het Afrikacentrum in Cadier en Keer zijn voorbeelden van musea waarvan de basiscollectie zelfs gevormd wordt door etnografica die door missionarissen werden verzameld. Ook nu nog bevinden zich in kloosters verspreid over Nederland volkenkundige verzamelingen. Nederlandse volkenkundige musea steken weinig tijd en energie in deze overgebleven collecties, en hoewel uiteenlopende organisaties zich dagelijks inzetten voor het behoud van religieus erfgoed, is er onder deze geen die zich actief bezig houdt met de inventarisatie en documentatie van deze, veelal bijzondere, voorwerpen. Wanneer een klooster haar deuren sluit, is er in het nieuwe onderkomen van de paters, broeders en zusters veelal geen plaats meer voor dergelijke collecties. Doordat men vaak niet weet wat met deze missiecollecties te doen en het eventuele belang ervan ook niet altijd wordt ingezien, zijn er de afgelopen 20 jaar al veel verzamelingen verloren gegaan. Dit lot mag de nog overgebleven etnografische missiecollecties in Nederlandse kloosters niet treffen.


Tongan club iconography: An attempt to unravel visual metaphors through myth

Journal of the Polynesian Society 116 (2007): 451-61

Many Tongan clubs are covered with incised geometric patterns, as well as carvings of animals, plants and humans figures. Small inlaid circles, stars, crescents and stylised birds carved from whale ivory were sometimes set into the shafts and heads of these weapons, displaying excellent craftsmanship. Although Tongan clubs were most frequently collected during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, information about their intricate iconography is scarce. While early explorers, missionaries and adventurers commented on their decorations and use (e.g., Forster 2000:238, Martin 1981:359), information concerning the meaning of the geometrical or figurative designs on the clubs, regrettably, was not gathered. To shed some light on these carved, wooden pieces of Tongan visual history, analogies have been suggested between the carved patterns of the clubs and other forms of Tongan surface marking, such as tattoos or barkcloth designs (e.g., Kaeppler 1978:273, 1999:33). However, the meanings of Tongan club designs as signs and symbols remain obscure. In this article I attempt to unravel some naturalistic design motifs used on Tongan clubs.

Marists and Missionary Exhibitions in the Netherlands

On entering ‘Huize Loreto’, the monastery of the Marist Fathers in Lievelde the Netherlands, one couldn’t miss the display cases filled with objects from Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. It is a small collection consisting mainly of everyday objects such as necklaces, belts, armlets, clubs, combs, bowls and tapa beaters etc. Many pieces within this collection are either damaged or incomplete. Even though there is a card- tray in which information can be found about most artefacts, the collection as a whole is marginally documented. What is one to make of this miscellaneous collection of curios, brought together over a long period of time by missionaries unknown to us?


Missionary Exhibitions in the Netherlands

When browsing through the catalogue of objects from the Nijmegen Ethnographical Museum searching for the provenances of ethnographical objects, one encounters such religious orders as the Franciscans (Woerden), the Redemptorists (Nijmegen), the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (Arnhem) and the Salesians of Don Bosco (’s-Heerenberg) The objects from these Catholic congregations pursued by the Nijmegen Ethnographical Museum during the early 1960s are marginally documented. Nevertheless, their biographies are interwoven with (large-scale) historical events and ecclesiastical developments dating back to the 19th century. The aim of this paper is to shed some light on the historical background of these objects, collected at one time by missionaries. Focusing on missionary exhibitions, which were organized in the Netherlands mainly during the first half of the 20th century (1919-1968), these objects acquire some of the rich historical patina they deserve.