Participation in the current discussion about colonial art and cultural assets

Details from the India cupboard of the Wunderkammer: a richly decorated idol box next to an Indian shoe and a doll

In their baroque Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities , the Francke Foundations present 92 objects from southeastern India. The archive also contains 318 Palm leaf manuscripts iin the South Indian languages Tamil and Telugu. All these objects reached Halle via the Danish-English-Halle Mission in the 18th century. There are also 52 ethnographic objects from Borneo that two missionaries donated to the Francke Foundations in the 1840s. These are displayed in a separate cabinet in the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities.

From 1706 Halle theologians worked in the Danish commercial branch Tranquebar, which is today's Tharangambadi in the Indian state Tamil Nadu. In the course of time, their field of work also expanded beyond the English-controlled areas of southeastern India. A total of 56 missionaries worked in India between 1706 and 1845, the end of Halle's mission. In the course of the transfer of knowledge from India to Halle, these missionaries also sent objects for the Chamber of Art and Natural History there, both ethnological and everyday objects as well as religious objects from the Hindu context, which are presented in the so-called »Indienschrank« as well as natural history objects which are located in the natural history cabinets (minerals, conchylia, animal preparations). From the correspondence between India and Halle, which is extensively stored in the Foundation's own mission archive and is scientifically accessible and open to the public, we know how most of the objects came to the missionaries, namely through purchase or donation. Some objects, e.g. animal specimens or palm leaf manuscripts, were made at the instigation of the missionaries or by themselves (animal specimens). Some objects and their fate were even documented in Hallescher Berichte, the first Protestant missionary journal, published by the Francke Foundations from 1710. Since this magazine not only reported on the mission, but also represents a unique source of information on the culture and society as well as flora and fauna of Southeast India in the 18th century, all editions about us can be viewed until today.

In a ceremonial lecture on the occasion of the opening of the cabinet exhibition »Missionsauftrag und Forscherdrang. Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, erster lutherischer Missionar in Indien« at the Francke Foundations on 10 May 2019, Prof. (em.) Dr. Rekha V. Rajan (Hyderabad, India), a German scholar and renowned expert on the early reports of the Danish-Hallesch Mission, focused on the perspective of the Indian interlocutors of the missionary Ziegenbalg, which she extracted from his reports for the European supporters of the mission. The lecture text provides an insight into the contemporary perception of the mission among the Indian population. This insight is particularly important because the reports of the 18th century missionaries usually reproduce the European views of India and the »Indian voices« do not have their say in them.

After their re-establishment in 1991, the Francke Foundations have again established connections to Tamil Nadu and above all to the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC), which was founded in 1919 out of mission as an independent church. This led to a diverse cooperation in research and exhibition projects. For example, the Francke Foundations, in partnership with TELC and other partners in Germany, set up  a Museum on the history of intercultural dialogue between India and Europe in the home of the first Hallic missionary in Tranquebar, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, which opened in 2017. This museum project will continue to be supported by the foundations and their partners.

These collections are set in the specific colonial context of the 18th century. However, this is not the same as the imperial colonialism of the (late) 19th and early 20th centuries. This type of collection from the 18th century is not dealt with in more detail in the guide to dealing with collection material from colonial contexts of the Deutscher Museumsbund. There is a need for research and Discussion here. The Francke Foundations plan to play an active role in this emerging field.