To the newly founded Missionary Benedictines, a mission area in the southern part of former German East Africa was assigned by the Vatican. In 1887, the first monks started their journey from St. Ottilien to Dar es Salaam. In the hinterland, they founded several mission stations; however, the German protectorate’s rigid administration understandably caused conflicts with the local population, which led to the Maji-Maji Rebellion (1905-1907) and other uprisings. In the course of these riots, mission stations were destroyed, several missionaries lost their lives.

After World War I, Germans were interned in camps or were expelled from Africa. From 1921, the Missionary Benedictines took over a new mission area in South African Zululand. Today’s current state of the Mission Benedictine’s monasteries in Africa and other parts of the world is outlined on a global map in the museum.

Most objects of the museum’s Africa collection show everyday culture. While installing the teaching collection which later became the Mission Museum, it was particularly important for the Missionary Benedictines to get to know the lifestyle of the local people.

There is only little information about the circumstances of acquisition of our objects. There are fragmentary registers and index cards; however, rarely is the buyer known, additional details are only scarce.

Aspects of everyday culture in East Africa between 1890 and 1930

The house door is an example of the cosmopolitan Swahili culture; characterized by Arabic, Indian and Asian influence, this culture shaped East African trade for many centuries.

One showcase exhibits typical household objects. Storage and water containers were placed outside the house or cabin in a sheltered spot. In many regions, a bamboo mat served as sleeping accommodation. Household appliances were e.g. earthenware vessels, calabashes, woven baskets, wooden spoons and plates for arranging the corn mash, the winnowing fan and a mortar.

Another showcase is dedicated to farming, cattle breeding and hunting. The ground was cleared with crescent machetes; for weeding and harvesting, hoes and sickles were used. The herd animals carried bells as they grazed widely scattered on the savannah during the day to find the scarce grass. Fish and bird traps were used to supplement the food supply from hunting. Often a dovecot and beehive were part of the stock.

On the window side of the Africa Hall, various handicrafts are on display. At the village smith’s workshop, iron was heated with the help of bellows and brought to the proper form with a hammer on an anvil. Needles, knives, nails, spearheads and other items of daily use were forged.

Earthenware vessels for transport, drinking and cooking and even pipe heads were crafted from clay, then decorated and fired. Weaving was, except for sleeping mats, a women’s task. Besides containers and household items, woven beer filters served for clearing the local beer. Elaborately decorated calabashes (bottle gourds) served as vessels. Traditional crafts included leather works and woodcarving.

In some regions bark cloth was used instead of fabric. The bark of the African Natal Fig was peeled off, soaked in water and pounded soft with wooden mallets. Bark cloth was used for clothing but also for transportation bags.

A small showcase exhibition collected by Br. Baptist Krimbacher OSB, who stayed 1912-14 with the Gogo tribe in Tanzania, displays in three cases everyday culture and jewellery of this ethnic group.

Presentation of different regions and ethnic groups

The first showcases of the basement’s Africa corridor focus on the East African coastal region with its Swahili culture, and the still living traditions around initiation (unyago) with its mask dances. Participation in initiation ceremonies was banned by the Vatican in 1936 with the threat of excommunication. However, Abbot Bishop Joachim Ammann OSB understood the initiation ceremonies’ high social value and encouraged their continuation in connection to Christian traditions.

Another cabinet presents objects from the area around Peramiho Abbey in Tanzania, where mission turned towards the heads of the ethnic groups.

The display case dedicated to the Zulu tribe in South Africa shows women’s everyday life (clothes, attributes of a female healer, milking pail) and men (utensils of the traditional stick fights). The forms and colours of the bead jewellery contain a language code that transfers messages.

A text plate in the “nomad and semi-nomad lifestyles” case presents the mission for mobile ethnic groups. The wealth of these cattle breeders lies in their herds. Vegetation is not sufficient for a sedentary life; therefore, children cannot attend school. Fr. Florian Prince of Bavaria OSB (1957 – 2022) established mobile schools at Illeret near Lake Turkana (Kenya), which accompany the Dassanach who live in this area. At Handeni (Tanzania), Fr. Odilo Hüppi (1918 – 1998) established mission at the Massai tribe together with Sr. Karin Kraus, a German religious sister and veterinarian.

The Makonde tribe, whose expert woodcarvings are famous, live in Southern Tanzania and Northern Mozambique. Many of the exhibited newer woodcarvings cover typical topics: everyday scenes, animals, clan columns and so-called shetani, spirits of African mythology. Christian motives are still commissioned from local woodcarvers by the missionaries and sold via the Münsterschwarzach Abbey fair trade.

One case is dedicated to bead jewellery work on leather with Christian scenes made by the Massai of Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya.

In Swahili, the term mganga is used for the herbalist of traditional African medicine, who also carries out social, religious and judicial roles in his community. The utensils of a healer provide insight into the beliefs of origin and healing of illness and the ethnic group’s legal system.

Musical instruments and jewellery

In the Small Africa Hall, different types of musical instruments are presented, among them string, wind and percussion instruments. Drums played an eminent role in the life of the East African local population as a means for messaging and important accompanying instrument for festivals and religious ceremonies. Therefore, drums were used from the start at Christian church services.

The small showcases on the window side hold jewellery made of metal, natural materials or beads. Further adornments are wooden combs that were fixed in the hair or the Makonde pegs for nose and ears.

Arms and memorial room

The Africa collection’s last room presents shields and weapons for representation, hunting and war from different ethnic groups. The provenance of most spears, arrows and throwing clubs (knobkerries) is unknown. Archabbot Norbert Weber wrote in his diaries that single weapons were brought as collecting items to the mission stations. However, this does not explain the great number of arms. It is not clear if they came from the de-arming campaigns of the colonial government at the end of the Maji-Maji War or from other sources, as our archives give no information.

The spear barrage at the ceiling of this room is dedicated to the memory of the East African resistance against colonial rule in German East Africa where the local population in vain defended their rights against exploitation, foreign domination and violence.