At the time of the German Empire romantic images of Samoa were influenced to a great extent by so-called ethnic shows (Völkerschauen) which were visited by millions of people. The images of foreign cultures popular in Germany at that time – and to this day – date back to this era.
Groups of Samoans, high-ranking title holders among them, travelled to Germany with ethnic shows between 1895 and 1911. As a rule more women than men were recruited for months and sometimes even for years. Until now, little was known about the motives of these Samoan travellers, their experiences in Germany and what subsequently became of them.
The exhibition in Munich will change this. It presents results of a detective-like search for clues while at the same time taking visitors to the exhibition back in time from the days of the German Empire to the eve of World War I and present-day Samoa. The descendants of the Samoan travellers were sought out and interviewed in preparation for the exhibition. These testimonies produced some surprising results. Members of the ensembles often confidently and independently pursued political goals, while some of the audience – particularly the men – marvelled at the "little marzipan dolls covered with chocolate." Huge crowds of people from all social classes, from Hanseatic workers to the Bavarian Prince Regent, treated themselves to dances, songs and warrior games of their “new compatriots.” The audience sought diversion and the opportunity to satisfy a longing for a "return to nature" and the “simple life” which were just becoming popular. Poets and artists received sensual impressions and produced rhapsodic creations accordingly. Joachim Ringelnatz had one of his heroes exclaim with envy "O, the people from Samoa!" in his search to break out of stuffy, everyday life in Germany.
With original historic photographs, posters and artistically designed ethnographica from the collections of the Museum of Ethnology, the exhibition looks back in time to the atmosphere of the famous Samoa shows in the German Empire, while also reflecting the thoughts of contemporary Samoans about this chapter of their history. The result is a multicoloured picture which also focuses on the living conditions, motives and the aims and strategies of the Samoan travellers who took part in the shows.
With the Siamani-Samoa series by the renowned artist Michel Tuffery, the exhibition brings us up to the current world of art. Some of the artist’s works were inspired by the stories of the Samoan travellers to Germany and by ethnographic artefacts from the collection of the Five Continents Museum in Munich.
The English-language version of the accompanying book will be available in September 2014.
Contact: Dr. Robert Fin Steinle Press Spokesman Five Continents Museum