Research Project: The Objects from Borneo in the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities


View into the Borneo Collection display cabinet in the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities, including objects made of wood and woven artefacts.

110 objects from the Francke Foundations' Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities are to be researched in more detail in a three-year project funded by the German Centre for Lost Cultural Property and based at the Research Department. The artefacts originate from Borneo and were sent to Halle in the 1840s for the collection in the Historical Orphanage. They are still on display there today in a specially made collection cabinet and on the walls of the chamber.

The Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities was conceived and designed in the years 1736-41. Today it is considered to be the only completely preserved cabinet of curiosities of bourgeois origin from the early modern period. The naturalia and artefacts can now be viewed in the original collection cabinets in their authentic location during opening hours.

In the 18th century, the collection comprised almost 5,000 objects that came to Halle from the worldwide Pietist network. An important place of origin was the first Protestant mission (since 1706) in Tharangambadi in southern India. Hermann Agathon Niemeyer (1802-1851) built on the collecting activities and sent Heinrich Julius Berger (1800-1845) and Johann Michael Carl Hupe (1818-1861) as missionaries to Borneo via the Rhenish Missionary Organisation. Like the missionaries in India before them, they were tasked with sending objects to Halle for the Kunst- und Naturalienkammer.

As part of the research project, the provenances and acquisition circumstances of the objects will be analysed, their original purposes in the society of origin will be determined and existing information on them will be examined and, if necessary, expanded. The people on Borneo from whom the objects originate will also be analysed: Do they have their say, were they involved in the collection practice? How was their voice heard? What conclusions can be drawn about the legality of the acquisitions? The project will ask these and other questions about the 110 objects. What is special here is that the missionary collecting practice of the 18th century - the Danish-Halle Mission - was taken up again in the 19th century via an institutional continuity and is now being scrutinised. Only this linking of different periods of the Kunst- und Naturalienkammer and its public presentation makes it possible to understand why the objects were acquired in Borneo in the first place. This perspective is therefore indispensable for understanding the biographies of the objects. »Overall, the project makes a contribution to the in-depth historical structure of the collecting practices of German missionaries under colonial rule and thus to the discussion about the connection between knowledge, mission, museum and colonialism,« explains project leader Prof Dr Holger Zaunstöck.

In preparation for the application, contact was established with the Friends of Sarawak Museum in Kuching (Malaysia) thanks to the specialist Jutta Kelling (Hagen), who will support the project. The organisation was founded at the end of the 19th century and is considered to be the oldest museum in South East Asia. Giulia Speciale, who is working on her doctorate on the mission to Borneo in the 19th century and will be working on the project at the Francke Foundations from December, will expand the contact over the course of the project. The aim of the project is to create a digital exhibition that makes the research findings transparent, comprehensible, multilingual and freely accessible.