8103 - From Brazil to Africa: the path of ethnographic objects, the problem of keeping, and the anthropological work in museums

My objective is twofold: first, to discuss the different approaches to material culture and the act of collecting provided by two anthropologists from distinctive traditions – Curt Nimuendaju, who did his fieldwork in the first half of last century’s Brazil, and William Fagg, who travelled through various African territories not much latter. Then I shall turn to the question of repatriation of ethnographic objects, the possibility of exchange between the groups that made these and the institutions that hold them. If the depositaries of objects, from America or Africa, were mainly U.S. and European museums, there’s an unbalance reflected on the prestige that both Nimuendaju and Fagg obtained working with them, that orientated their collecting, and also their studies of traditional societies. At the same time, it appears to be a similar approach towards the keeping of these objects by “Western” institutions, regardless its region of origin. And though there is increasingly higher pressure to repatriate entire collections, or to promote ways of making them accessible to the people that are using them to re-assess their identities, neither African or American groups seem to obtain much success in bringing ethnographic objects back. What is on discussion is the existence of a circuit of hierarchical positions in a global market, where knowledge is embedded in political assertiveness. This is only more apparent when other examples of successful ownership of material and immaterial culture are displayed, as in some Melanesian and North African societies. I shall attempt to think on the possibility of comparing Nimuendaju and Fagg’s attitudes toward collecting, and the establishment of the ethnographic collections they helped create, with the problems of sharing them with the groups they visited.

Keywords: Material Culture, Museums, History of Anthropology, Curt Nimuendaju, William Fagg

Author: Tambascia, Christiano (UNICAMP, Brazil / Brasilien)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575