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Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha completes project to establish the provenance of 41 skulls from Indonesia

Date 2022.07.29

The foun­da­tion Stiftung Schloss Frieden­stein Gotha has in­ves­ti­gat­ed the prove­nance of a to­tal of 41 hu­man skulls that were added to the ducal col­lec­tion dur­ing the colo­nial pe­ri­od. The project Prove­nance and His­to­ry of the Col­lec­tion of In­done­sian Skulls at Stiftung Schloss Frieden­stein Gotha was fund­ed by the Ger­man Lost Art Foun­da­tion. On the In­done­sian side, the re­search was spon­sored by the In­sti­tute for Dayak Stud­ies-21 in Palang­ka Raya, south­ern Bor­neo.

The col­lec­tion still con­tains 33 skulls which it was pos­si­ble to ex­am­ine more close­ly. The where­abouts of eight skulls has not been clar­i­fied, nor was it pos­si­ble to ver­i­fy some of the in­for­ma­tion in the mu­se­um records or re­con­struct some iden­ti­ties. How­ev­er, names were suc­cess­ful­ly as­signed to 19 in­di­vid­u­als whose skulls are in Gotha: Frobo­lo, Ab­dul Rah­man, Tjia Ah-Su, Ka Ap­at, Bi Ah-Boie, Yi Seng, Djë­na­gan Ah­san, Simien, In­di­an or En­dang, Au­gust, Thing Ho, Anang, In­t­je Don­gar, Tji­mat, Goesti Koesin, Be­sie, Jo­hannes Lumeke, Bo', Matahé. Most of them were young men aged be­tween 18 and 35. One skull is of a wom­an who died when she was no more than 30 years old.

Duke Ernest II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1818-1893) re­ceived the skulls as a gift be­tween 1862 and 1880. They can un­doubt­ed­ly be at­tribut­ed to Dutch In­dia and can be at­tribut­ed to a colo­nial con­text. In the course of the project, it be­came ap­par­ent how close­ly a sup­pos­ed­ly pe­riph­er­al ducal col­lec­tion was in­ter­twined with the con­quest of colo­nial ter­ri­to­ries.

Sev­er­al skulls show traces of vi­o­lence around the time of death. In two cas­es of per­sons who were prob­a­bly ex­e­cut­ed, an­thro­po­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions al­so in­di­cate prac­tices of ex­hibit­ing the corpses af­ter death. The prob­a­ble rea­son es­tab­lished for oth­er in­juries is that they were the re­sult of fights. Many of the skulls show traces of chron­ic de­fi­cien­cies or in­fec­tious dis­eases. Since many of the men were cap­tured free­dom fight­ers, these find­ings sug­gest length­i­er pe­ri­ods spent in pris­ons or prison hos­pi­tals.
Stiftung Schloss Frieden­stein Gotha is seek­ing to repa­tri­ate the skulls and sug­gests that an in­ter­na­tion­al work­ing group be set up to take all the next steps in co­or­di­na­tion with the In­done­sian Repa­tri­a­tion Com­mis­sion. The foun­da­tion says that it is not pos­si­ble for it to repa­tri­ate the items on its own, how­ev­er, with­out an ex­plic­it de­mand or re­quest from In­done­sia.

For short films, in­ter­views, lec­tures, dis­cus­sion for­mats and in­for­ma­tion films on the project, see www.frieden­stein.eu/hu­man-re­mains. The foun­da­tion has al­so pub­lished the mag­a­zine Men­schen – Hu­man Re­mains in der Stiftung Schloss Frieden­stein Gotha, which can be down­load­ed free of charge.

Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha completes project to establish the provenance of 41 skulls from Indonesia Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha completes project to establish the provenance of 41 skulls from Indonesia The foundation Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha has decided not to show the skulls themselves but rather focus on the empty spaces they leave behind. Source:  Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, photo: Robert Niemz