Black and white photograph on cardboard of a seated Louis Joseph Goddefroy (1843-1921) surrounded by objects he collected in Angola, between September 1884 – June 1885. The photograph was made by Louis Robert Werner (1834-1896) after Goddefroy’s return to the Netherlands, between September and December 1885. Parts of the collection were auctioned in 1887 and 1902. The name of auctioneer Frederik Muller & Cie. is printed on the lower right corner of the cardboard. The firm added the French caption in 1902: ‘Collection ethnologique réunie par m. L.J. Goddefroy à Angola (Afrique) pendant l’expédition scientifique ayant eu pour chef feu m. Daniël Veth.’ (Ethnological collection brought together by mister L.J. Goddefroy in Angola (Africa), during the scientific expedition led by mister Daniël Veth).
In 1882 the Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap (Royal Dutch Geographical Society) allotted funds for the first Dutch scientific expedition to Africa. Two years later, civil engineer Daniël Veth (1850-1885) received permission to explore Angola, more specifically the surroundings of southern cities like Benguella and Quillenges (Wentholt 2004). Veth would concentrate on geological research, two other members were to collect: P. Van der Kellen gathered natural specimens, and L.J Goddefroy accumulated man-made objects such as religious carvings, amulets, weapons, and utensils for everyday use (Veth and Snelleman 1887: 124-125). In September 1885 Goddefroy returned to the Netherlands with an estimated 1300 objects (De locomotief 1885).
One of the aims of the expedition was to visit the so-called Trekboeren in the remote settlement Humpata. These were white South Africans of Dutch and German descent who had left the Transvaal in 1874 to escape British rule. The expedition remained six weeks in the settlement, an opportunity for Goddefroy to expand his collection with axes, maces, and arrows (De Locomotief 1885). In the photograph, these can be seen hanging against the wall behind Goddefroy.
The most precious items Goddefroy acquired are grouped in the centre of the photograph. Immediately next to his left elbow, there are two conical dark figures, ornamented with white seashells. According to the Dutchman, these were ‘idols’ made of woven plant fiber and were believed to enhance female fertility. He traded these on his way from Benguela to Humpata, for cotton, beads, a dagger, bracelets, and several mirrors (Veth and Snelleman 1887: 355, 352).
In between the two dark figures sits, elevated on a stool, a wooden statue we now know as a nkisi phemba : a kneeling maternity figure (RV-1354-47) with a child in her lap and another child on her shoulder. Another striking nkisi (‘power figure’) is standing near Goddefroy’s knee( RV-1354-46). A white male with a cocked hat and frack coat, presumably modeled after a European sea captain.
The Dutch expedition coincided with the Conference of Berlin (November 1884 – February 1885), where the African continent was divided between European nations. Although the Netherlands did not lay claim to an African colony, the country did have considerable commercial interests along the west coast of Africa. From 1857 onwards, the Afrikaansche Handels Vereeniging (African Trading Company) and its successor Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels-Vennootschap (NAHV) (New African Trading Association), had opened trading posts along the coastline of Congo and Angola. In the course of the 1880s, the NAHV came to dominate the Congo trade.
The business of the NAHV was barter trade: European textiles, weapons, and spirits were exchanged for African produce, notably palm oil, gum, copal, and ivory (Wesseling 1981: 496).
The NAHV provided practical support for Veth and his two associates. They could use the vessels of the company and stay at several trading posts, known as ‘factories’. During a sojourn of almost eight weeks in the main NAHV-factory in the port Banana, Goddefroy bartered European textiles, beads, red coral, and mirrors for an array of ethnographic objects (Veth and Snelleman 1887: 120, 151).
To journalists visiting the collection in his home in Amsterdam, Goddefroy explained the power figures were gifts from Portuguese and Dutch employees of the NAHV, who had seized them during punitive expeditions to rebellious villages (De Locomotief 1885) In the newspaper report, Goddefroy did not mention the names of the villages where the NAHV carried out the punishment.
Wijs (2014) identified the villages as Futila and M’Buco-M’Bule in Cabinda, north of the NAHV head factory in Banana. Representatives of the NAHV, together with the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Zeemacht (Royal Dutch Navy) arrived in Futila on February 10, 1885. The Dutch indicated a villager was suspected of a plot to kill the Portuguese head agent of the NAHV in Cabinda. Although this suspicion dated from several years earlier, the NAHV demanded an immediate fine of 300 gallons of palm oil and rendition of the suspect. As villagers couldn’t meet these demands, their houses were set on fire two days after the arrival of the NAHV and Dutch navy (Wijs 2014: 16-17).
In her research, Wijs has brought to light other objects in Dutch ethnological museums that were seized from the houses in Futila (Wijs 2014: 12-13). Since Goddefroy’s reference to a punitive expedition is limited to a fleeting remark made to a journalist, it cannot be ascertained with certainty that he acquired the power figures from NAHV-staff who were involved in the penal actions.
Hundreds of Goddefroy’s objects were sold to the foremost ethnographic institutions of the Netherlands: Artis Natura Magistra in Amsterdam and the Rijks Ethnologisch Museum in Leiden. Initially, he kept the most precious items in his private collection. However, a dire lack of resources compelled him to auction these in 1887. The two power figures remained unsold due to their high price. Consequently, the auction house contacted the ethnological museum in Leiden, which was then able to acquire the nkisi phemba and the power figure in the form of a European captain. Other parts of Goddefroys private collection were bought by a Dutch collector. This unnamed Dutchman sold the objects in 1902; once again it was the Leiden museum that bought the majority of the objects that were collected in Angola, more than seventeen years earlier (Willink 2006: 233).
As a result of fusions of several Dutch ethnological museums between 2014-2017, almost all objects of Goddefroy are now part of one collection that belongs to the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (National Museum of World Cultures).
A selection of objects that are discernible in the image:
Bracelet, 19th century, Angola, iron, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-594-59.
Sculpture of a European man, presumably a sea captain, 19th century, Lower Congo River, wood, 35,8 x 11,2 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-1354-46.
Power figure nkisi phemba, 19th century Cabinda (Angola), wood, pigment, glass, textile, resin, 44 × 14,5 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-1354-47.
Seat with a male figure, 19th century, Angola, wood, 64 x 38,5 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-1354-48.
Stool, 19th century, Angola, 25 x 22, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen , RV-1354-49.
Sceptre, 19th century, Chokwe, Angola, 57,7 x 5,8 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-1354-65.
Ceremonial vessel, 19th century, Chokwe, Angola, 7,5 x 22 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-1354-103.
Pair of leather sandals, Quillenges, Angola, 24 cm, collected by L.J. Goddefroy, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, RV-2668-241 and RV-2668-242.
‘De Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Expeditie’, De locomotief : Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad. November 12, 1885. Retrieved from Delpher on 13-08-2020, http://resolver.kb.nl/resolve?urn=ddd:010291530:mpeg21:p001
Wentholt, A. 2004. ‘Een Nederlandse expeditie naar Angola 1884-1885’, Nieuwsbrief Vereniging Vrienden van Etnografica 86, 29-42.
Wesseling, H.L. 1981. ‘The Netherlands and the partition of Africa’, The Journal of African history 22/4, 495-509.
Wijs, S. 2014. ‘De collectie Hanken – een bewogen geschiedenis’, Jaarboek van de Vereniging Vrienden Etnografica, 7-32.
Willink, R.J. 2006. De bewogen verzamelgeschiedenis van de West-Centraal-Afrikaanse collecties in Nederland (1856-1889) Ridderkerk: Ridderprint. 222-234.
Veth, P.J. and Snelleman, J.F. 1887. Daniël Veth’s reizen in Angola: voorafgegaan door eene schets van zijn leven. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink.