In the recent past, many museums, galleries, foundations and private collections increasingly address topics around provenance research. In the narrow sense, this term describes scientific research of origin, acquisition and history of ownership of cultural goods. 

The objective of this relatively new area of research is to answer as many circumstances of acquisition (e.g. present, exchange, purchase or unlawful appropriation like theft) as complete as possible. In case a suspected case of illegal acquisition comes up during research, the result must be published; descendants of the formerly harmed party are contacted to negotiate about a fair compensation.

Especially in the current discussion about restitution claims of cultural goods from colonial contexts by nations or individual ethnic groups, provenance research is of great importance. 

Key contact partner for all questions is the German Lost Art Foundation; our museum is part of a working group in this foundation by the German Federal Government, federal states and municipal authorities.

With this special exhibition, we want to share an insight into the Mission Museum's provenance research. This project ran for 11 years and was completed in 2018.

Experts of Museum 5 Kontinente Munich (East Africa, South Africa) and the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation (Korea) carried out scientific research. 

Voluntary workers and members of St. Ottilien Archabbey executed the transfer of all available information into the museum's object database.

For one thing, we present available sources that were the basis of research. Secondly, we want to demonstrate the challenges of provenance research in our collection. Due to incomplete textualisation, the search for records concerning the history of possession is after this long time difficult to impossible.

From museums, the German Museum Association demands a proof about the lawful acquisition of all objects. This proof we cannot provide in most cases; all available sources are already evaluated.

However, we communicate these gaps openly; moreover, we are open for restitution of objects on request. Detailed information on returns, our mission statement, restitution concept etc. can be found on the museum's homepage.



For provenance research, we used all available sources: books of arrivals, three index card systems and object labels from the former permanent exhibition. We evaluated a small box with letters, documents, invoices and other papers concerning the museum from St. Ottilien's archive.

Additionally, we analyzed literature and media

Archabbot Norbert Weber (1870-1956), who travelled twice for a longer time to Korea in 1912 and 1924/25, published his impressions in a travel journal, “Im Lande der Morgenstille” (In the Land of the Morning Calm). In the eponymous silent film from 1925, he filmed scenes from everyday culture in Korea; there we could also find references, as many of the requisites used in the film are today in the museum's inventory. Several thousand photos were taken during St. Ottilien Missionary Benedictines' Korea mission.

Two examples of well documented sources are presented in detail in the special exhibition. However, multiple references in different sources are absolute exceptions. 



Pfeil runter282 / E116 / A0282 Wooden food bowl

Wooden bowl, carved triangular pattern
North-West Tanzania, region between the lakes, southeastern part of Lake Victoria
Ethnic group: Kerewe or Shashi

For setting aside these most valued objects crafted by special artisans, there were separate platforms in the left back of the cabin up to the 1950ies. For the locals, cattle play an important role for reasons of prestige. The milk is drunk only in form of curd or is used to apply it on the body.

Pfeil runter274 / E115 / A0274 Tulip-shaped drinking cup

Tulip-shaped drinking cup with a stem and narrow cylindrical middle part, made out of one piece. The cup is slightly oval, smoothed out on the inside and outside and probably lubricated with fat.

Northwestern Tanzania, region between the lakes, southeastern part of Lake Victoria. 
Ethnic group: Kerewe or Shashi

Origin and use of both vessels were determined during provenance research. These vessels were crafted by specialised artisans. The woodcarvers used a special axe, iron knives of different sizes, and an iron spoon bit for making the hollow.

Pfeil runterIndex card of the tulip-shaped drinking cup

Index card that additionally verifies object identification by a drawing. 

The information presented is typical for all index card systems of the museum. Specified is the object number (in this case even a former number), the former location in the permanent exhibition, region (East Africa) and area (Madibira mission station in Mbarali dictrict, Mbeya, Tanzania). Dimensional details, as seen here, are not always available.

In some cases the collector's name or the year of purchase is written on the card. Details concerning the context of acquisition are usually missing.

Pfeil runterBook of arrivals Africa collection

Book of arrivals, opened on the page that contains wooden food bowl and tulip-shaped drinking cup with their original consecutive numbers 282 and 274 and a brief description.




Pfeil runterBook of arrivals Korea collection

The book of arrivals for the Korea collection is not very extensive. Part of the Korean objects was catalogued in the Africa collection's book of arrivals.

Pfeil runterStraw sandals K2417

Typical Korean sandals made of twisted rice straw.

The straw sandals are a rare object example from the collection that is well documented in several sources. 

Pfeil runterFilm scene from "Im Lande der Morgenstille" (In the Land of the Morning Calm)

A scene from the film produced by Archabbot Norbert Weber in 1925, lasting several minutes, 
subheaded “Apart from shoes made of wood and sneakers…in particular straw sandals are worn”;
shows the work stages of making a straw sandal worn by farmers but also by travellers - from twisting the rice straw to weaving and stretching of the completed shoe, as far as fitting by a customer.
(film minutes 21:00 to 24:00)

Many of the objects used as requisites in the film found their way into the museum's Korea collection. Film as a medium was used on purpose to document the objects' purpose, use and partly even their production in everyday life.

Pfeil runterDrawing and text from book "Im Lande der Morgenstille"

The open book page from “Im Lande der Morgenstille” (1915 edition) shows a sketched pen drawing of the straw sandals by Archabbot Norbert Weber (p. 144).

Additionally, there is a detailed pen drawing of a straw sandal maker in the book (p. 430).

In a text passage, Archabbot Norbert Weber mentions he also wears straw sandals:
…the common straw sandal, usually worn in good weather became a personal need after a few days; it fits lightly and comfortably and is so suitable to the foot for walking, especially on a mountain tour on gravel. You can walk easily, slipping is almost impossible.” (p. 78)

The book “Im Lande der Morgenstille” contains references to the context of acquisition of some Korean objects. A text passage describes Archabbot Weber's visit of a "junk dealer" in Seoul and the purchase of several articles for the museum:
The situation was similar at a junk dealer whom we visited directly after the Tiger Palace. The items hung there in a chaotic jumble, covered by a “venerable patina” of long use or high age or an accidental dust layer […]
A series of old Korean coins with punctured square hole in the middle and the inscription around it fill the gaps between travel cutlery. […]
Between them roll brass soldier's buttons and cigarette holders etc. For some German mark you can buy a silken Mandarin costume, together with the winged hat made of woven horse hair, and even the once solemnly worn stiff wooden belt and the bulky felt boots belonging to the Mandarin's costume. […] - 
I buy a number of ethnologically interesting things for our museum at home." (p. 85f.)



Besides the schedule of provenance research in our museum, the special exhibition wants to demonstrate some reasons for the gaps concerning contexts of acquisition:

- rudimentary and fragmentary documentation

- missing objects without a proof of whereabouts (sale, donation, exchange, theft)

- no possible allocation because of lost object numbers

- multiple assignment of numbers not correlated with any source. 


Pfeil runterSource example missing objects: slip box with object labels

The object labels describe a number of objects that cannot be found anymore in the collection, their whereabouts is unknown. This has different reasons:

For one thing, small objects like dried exotic fruit, marine gastropods, ostrich eggs, snake skins etc. from the collection were time and again sold at the museum; in the archive storage box we could find a hectographed list of prices. Secondly, in some documents a donation respectively an exchange with other monasteries and museums without an exact specification ot these objects is mentioned.

During the decades at least 4 thefts occurred; until the last robbery (2015) none of them is documented.

The examples of fishing utensils are related to the food supply and household goods.

Pfeil runterSource example object without number: object with index card

The object descriptions in the arrival books are only rudimentary.

An object assignment without a number ist only possible if the description comes with a sketch or drawing like in this wooden knife sheath.

Pfeil runterSource example unknown contexts of acquisition: index cards

A number of index cards contain information about the collector, the region and ethnic group but, with only a few exceptions, no references to the context of acquisition.

Provenance research in our museum brought only few concrete results, as is typical for missionary collections. We did not find references to unlawful or violent acquisition; however, collecting took place in colonial settings, therefore we assume at least an inequality context. The museum's positioning in a number of questions concerning decolonisation are specified in the Dialog on our website.

Pfeil runterSource example multiple numbering of an object

During the decades, different museum directors repeatedly introduced new numbering systems.

In some cases, none of these numbers can be found in the sources; in other cases like in this example of a lamellophone (termed earlier as “finger piano” oder “n… piano”) an assignment is possible.

Pfeil runterSource example commissioned work: A2733 hourglass drum

The hourglass drum carved out of a tree trunk with cow hide drumskin is hollow on the inside. The membrane was fixed on the sides with wooden pegs, between leather straps inserted into the wood.

The cylindrical middle part of the necking area shows 2 rows of notches in triangular form.


There are rarely references to commissioned work executed by the local ommunity or students of the mission schools.
An excerpt from the book of arrivals:
"The Zulu collection No. 1535 - 1598 brought Fr. Pankratius Pfaffel on his return journey from Zululand in January, 1925. […]
The bead jewellery like belts etc. was partially worn.
Other things were exclusively crafted for Fr. Pankraz by a woman: Fr. Pankraz had bought a number of beads & gave it to the woman for this purpose. However, the woman set aside immediately a number of beads she could not use because of their color.
The other things, like the fur loincloths, the fur shields for which the sticks are missing, are bought new by Fr. Pankraz.