Völkerschauen, or human ethnological displays, promised to take visitors “around the world for fifty pennies”, providing a form of popular entertainment in late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany while also satisfying deepening European curiosities about exotic peoples and places. For the Samoans – many of high social status – who traveled to Germany to take part in Völkerschauen, the displays were seen as an opportunity to establish political ties with the colonial power.

In her talk at the Herrenhausen Symposium "Positioning Ethnological Museums in the 21st Century", Hilke Thode-Arora, describes how she traced the history of these displays of “typically” Samoan forms of music, dance, and weapons performance that could be found in amusement parks, zoos, and even at Oktoberfest.

Hilke Thode-Arora is a social and cultural anthropologist specialised on Oceania. Having done research projects on behalf of most German ethnological museums, her specialization lies in material culture and the history of museum collections, interethnic relations and ethnic identities as well as images and stereotypes. From 2002 to 2005, while doing her fieldwork on Niuean weaving under the auspices of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, she held an Honorary Fellowship at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She currently is a Research Fellow at the Five Continents Museum in Munich.

Based on a three-year research project funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, she curated the exhibition “From Samoa with Love? Samoan Travellers in Germany. Retracing the Footsteps”, which contextualized the history of the Samoan collection in Munich and was based on in-depth communication with Samoan descendants.

Photo: Philip Bartz for Volkswagen Foundation

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