Birger Mörner - Diplomat, Travel Writer, and Ethnographic Collector Birger Mörner Diplomat, Travel Writer, and Ethnographic Collector By Rainer F. Buschmann Karl Birger Mörner (1867–1930) was a diplomat and writer who traveled to German New Guinea shortly before the First World War. Supported by business tycoon Heinrich Rudolf Wahlen, Mörner would collect 1,400 artifacts, mainly from the Bismarck Archipelago and the Ramu Sepik rivers, for Swedish museums. It would become the last great ethnographic collection to leave the German colony before the outbreak of hostilities. Karl Birger Mörner Mörner studied at the universites in Uppsala and Lund. In 1893, he graduated with a law degree. He opted for a career as a civil servant, and by 1899 he joined the Swedish-Norwegian Consulate General in Helsinki, then still part of Russia. A year later, he transferred to the consulate in Genoa, Italy. By 1906, Mörner was appointed Swedish consult in Sydney, Australia. He gained notoriety by opposing Scandinavian emigration to the continent, an attitude that soon triggered animosity from Australian authorities. Rising tensions would result in his recall in 1910. Following his return from Sydney, Mörner dedicated himself full-time to writing, which was his true passion as he had already published two novels and several collections of poems. The Swedish writer always entertained like-minded spirits in his homes around Europe and the world. From 1912 to 1918, he purchased Mauritzberg Castle to serve as an essential literary meeting point. During this time, he acquired the title of count, although the circumstances leading to this noble appointment remain murky at best. By the time Mörner had moved to Australia, he had shifted his emphasis to travel writing, which brought him both renown and economic success. Mörner (far right) in his element. He is accompanied by fellow Swedish cultural figures in 1914. From left to right, future Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (1916) Verner von Heidenstam, Central Asian explorer Sven Hedin, sculptor Carl Milles, feminist writer Ellen Key. Världkultur Museerna, Carlotta Database, 1028X001. Success also triggered setbacks. Besides Mörner's three marriages, the writer also took liberties as a translator for prominent authors. Jack London, for instance, was very particular when it came to having his works translated into other languages. When Mörner was selected to translate London's writing, a great deal of expectation came with the difficult task. Critics soon attacked his translations, pointing out the apparent discrepancies between London's original and Mörner's translation. Humiliated, the publisher canceled all further work with Mörner and hired another Swedish writer instead. In Sydney, he would meet many prominent European residents in German New Guinea, including H. R. Wahlen, who would become the Swedish consul for the German colony. Wahlen would invite Mörner to visit the territory for exploration and ethnographic collection. By 1913, the Swedish would arrive in the colony and stay for several months, hosted by Heinrich Rudolph Wahlen and his Swedish wife Thyra (nee Erdfass). In addition to a rich ethnographic collection for Swedish museums, Mörner would also author a travelogue about his stay: Aráfis tropiska år, Stockholm 1914 (Arafis' Tropical Year). The Swedish author adopted the pseudonym Arafis following his stay in the German colony, and derived from the Wuvuluan version of the German word of count (Graf). Employing Wahlen's networks of connections and transportation throughout the colony, Mörner traveled to the vital ethnographic points. Between July 1913 and January 1914, the Swedish traveler visited the Sepik and the Ramu rivers, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Wuvulu and Aua, two islands that figured as part of Wahlen's business empire. In his travelogue, the author lamented how the tropical conditions ruined many of his photographic images, with the few that survived ending up adoring his book. Likewise, the Swedish traveler deeply regretted not taking along a phonograph to record the songs and dances of the Wuvulan people, which the count along many other visitors to the island considered as a vanishing culture. Boat construction on Wuvulu from Mörner, 1914 Mörner also provides one of the best accounts of collecting spectacle in all of its tragicomic aspects that emerged along the Sepik River that the ethnographic trade had just discovered: A thirst for iron and zealous passion gripped them, and then their almost anxious cries of 'Kurra, Kurra," Iron, Iron, emerge… Now all eyes are on me while I open my trade box, the coffin of barter. When, in the light of the ship's lanterns and the fires crackling in the stems of the canoes, we hold out our knives, plane iron, and tomahawks before their eyes, they are seized as if by rage – resulting in a scream, a gesturing and increasing pushing. One or two of those men standing in the canoes lose their balance and tumble into the water. We collected several magnificent ethnographica after only half an hour of uninterrupted exchange! My cabin is so complete that I can hardly get in, and outside on the deck is a pile of many cubic meters of volume. Along the stairs down to the water, the doctor [Richard Thurnwald, see Provenance Biography] and I had formed a human chain with the crew [to transport the artifacts on board]. The Sepik has occurred!" The Sepik River from Mörner, 1914 Sepik slit drum collected by Mörner Världkultur Museerna, Carlotta Database, 1915.02.0524. Although this episode reveals much about the artifacts Mörner acquired while traveling on the Sepik, it is less clear how he obtained objects from other regions in German New Guinea. It is safe to assume that local European traders with whom the Swedish author stood in close contact probably procured the Wuvulan and Auan material culture. Wahlen's connections throughout the colony may have paved the way to other gains, as suggested by the colonial officers he thanks in the introduction of his book. As already alluded to in the Provenance biography on H. R. Wahlen, Mörner's large-scale ethnographic collection activity stirred with Expressionist artists Emil Nolde (1867-1956) using his example to prevent non-German citizens from extracting valuable art from the colonies. Besides their apparent scientific value, ethnographic objects also had inherent aesthetic value. For Nolde, the inhabitants of the German colonies, which he considered people of nature, also stood for a primitive antecedent of the cultured European individuals. This supposedly primitive culture, or Urkultur," also possessed an understanding of primitive art (Urkunst) that Nolde and other artists sought to appropriate and recover through their art. Mörner stood at the end of a large influx of foreign nationals, especially American collectors, that took authentic ethnographic and artistic pieces which Nolde and others attempted to preserve for the German artistic and ethnographic community. Nolde's appeal to colonial authorities in 1914 to prevent foreigners from exporting indigenous cultural heritage from the German colonies fell short with the outbreak of the First World War. In his travelogue, Mörner was also no stranger to criticizing the German government for their colonial intervention in the Pacific. He regretted the loss of life and culture on the islands of Wuvulu and Aua. He even suggested measures that the German colonial administration should adopt to prevent further population decline in this region. Visiting the Sepik River twice in five months, Mörner described two very different spectacles. In the first encounter, vividly depicted above, the local inhabitants were flooding his steamer with artifacts in exchange for iron. The second, less than a half year later, following massive recruiting and opening of a German police outpost, his ship encountered frequently abandoned villages and a population that chose to avoid rather than welcome his boat. The Swedish traveler was "gripped by distress" as he witnessed "a great tragedy of the dark man." While he sympathized with the future fate of so-called natural peoples, the count was careful not to be overly critical and bite the hand that supported him on his travels. Similarly, his nostalgia for uncontacted natural people emanated from a romantic, aristocratic concern for modernity. As much as colonialism eroded the "noble savage's" last vestiges, so the other evils emerging from modernity, especially rapid industrialization, consumed his newfound aristocratic entitlements. The salvage paradigm emanating through the pages of his tropical year was thus not only directed at the indigenous people he encountered in German New Guinea. It was more of a longing for an older world, where nobility's privileges remained untouched. Mörner returned to Sweden with a significant collection of close to 1,500 objects. In 1917, these artifacts were exhibited at the Stockholm's Riksmuset, with several rooms dedicated to the count's returned trove. Often hailed as the last significant collection returned from German New Guinea before the fall of the colony during the First World War, Mörner's mission gained much notoriety in the press. Newspaper clipping talking about the opening of the Mörner collection. The count is depicted in the third image standing in front of the artifacts he acquired from the Sepik River. Världkultur Museerna, Carlotta Database Tklipp 152.050 Two uli figures collected by Mörner Världkultur Museerna, Carlotta Database, 1915.02.0764 and 1915.02.0765.