The African Collections

Our image of Africa is very European. White traders, missionaries, explorers, soldiers and farmers were the first to describe the inland of Africa. Western anthropologists reported from villages and cattle camps and the archaeologists and historians who took upon themselves to write about the history of Africa were also of European origin. African researchers and authors have made contributions since the mid 1900's but still today, the work is largely carried out on Western terms and conditions.

At the beginning of the last century, Western travellers did not only take with them everyday objects that could easily be replaced but also sacred objects and even human bones. They were convinced that such study materials were needed in order to gain a scientific understanding of the African continent and human evolution. In colonial times, villagers were often persuaded or coerced into selling their personal belongings.

Today's scientists are more interested in overcoming unequal power relations and instead, work together with villagers and museums to document contemporary life. Local teachers and researchers are now in charge at the museums and universities throughout Africa. A more comprehensive understanding of Africa is emerging.

Amulett. Nkisi Mbumba, Kongo. Foto: Rose-Marie Westling
Today, the Museum of Ethnography has over 30,000 objects from the African continent, spread across more than 900 collections. As many as 47 of Africa's current 54 states are represented. The first collections came to Sweden in the 18th century – like those objects which the Linnaeus disciple Anders Sparrman brought home from his travels in South Africa. However, the oldest objects are Palaeolithic finds from the Sahara desert. Further collections arrived in Sweden throughout the 19th century.

In the early 20th century, Swedish missionaries brought back a large number of objects from the Congo, Ethiopia and South Africa. Particularly important are the well-documented collections from the Lower Congo, which tells of everyday life and religious beliefs. Renowned are also the museum collections from the Kingdom of Benin, Gerhard Lindblom's ethnographic collections from East Africa as well as the extensive collections of the travellers and researchers Gustaf Bolinder and Gösta Moberg from the northern, western and southern parts of Africa.

In the mid 1900's, the arrival of new objects began to subside. Some larger collections were still made in conjunction with ethnographic fieldwork and hence, carefully documented. These include collections from Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Morocco and Burkina Faso.