Franz Boluminski, Prominent Collector of malagan and uli Carvings Franz BoluminskiProminent Collector of Malagan and Uli Carvings By Rainer Buschmann Franz Boluminski (1863-1913) was a colonial district official stationed in Kavieng, northern New Ireland. Born near Grudziadz (Graudenz) in today's Poland, then Prussia, Boluminski joined the colonial army in German East Africa at a young age. In the 1890s, he signed up with the New Guinea Company and worked for its subsidiary venture, the Astrolabe Bay Company, while stationed at Erima Harbor near Madang. When the German state took over the administrative duties from the New Guinea Company around the turn of the century, Boluminski assumed the newly established colonial station at Kavieng to further the colonial pacification project on New Ireland. One of Boluminski's greatest legacies remains the commissioning of a road connecting northern with central New Ireland, which, initially named after the German Kaiser, carries his name today. His historical evaluation remains controversial, with some accounts hailing him as the quintessential German administrator whose tough but fair practices endeared him to the colonized population. Other historical accounts are less flattering, identifying Boluminski as ruthless and callous in accepting high indigenous casualties to further his colonial projects. Few evaluations, however, take into consideration the colonial official's ethnographic collection activity. Boluminski donated more than 1,000 artifacts to the museums located in Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Mecklenburg, and Stuttgart. In return for his donations, he became one of the most decorated individuals in German New Guinea. Franz Boluminski and his decorations, courtesy of Karl Baumann It is hard to determine when Boluminski became an ethnographic collector. Nevertheless, his transfer to Kavieng landed him close to the malangan and uli carvings that the German ethnographic community craved. Governor Albert Hahl, for instance, put Boluminski in contact with Karl von Linden, the person in charge of the Stuttgart ethnographic collection, and alerted the colonial officer to the potential of state decorations. His desire for state decorations may not have been exclusively his own. His wife Frida (nee Hopfelt) hailed from a prominent Hamburg family whose members were less than impressed with her choice of husband. Boluminski's "heavy chest" was partially meant to convince Frida's relatives that her husband was indeed a worthy partner. Additionally, Boluminski felt overlooked at his peripheral station in German New Guinea. In his correspondence with Linden, he callously complained that in Africa, “every lieutenant of the Protective Forces [Schutztruppe] who fights a little [receives] the [Prussian Order of the] Red Eagle”. By diminishing the bloody protracted German reprisals against the African population of German East and Southwest Africa, Boluminski attempted to highlight the public neglect felt by the German colonial officials in the Pacific. What genocidal campaigns accomplished for colonial officials in Africa, Boluminski hoped to obtain through ethnographic collection. Frida and Franz Boluminski (right and middle) on the verandah of their house in 1902, with permission of Michael Duttge Boluminski was an astute negotiator who excelled in stirring the competition among different German ethnographic museums. For instance, when Felix von Luschan, the director of the Africa and Oceania Division of the Berlin Royal Museum of Ethnography, could not secure him the desired Order of the Red Eagle but only the lower-ranking Order of Crown, Boluminski ceased collecting for the German capital. When the Berlin-sponsored German Naval Expedition (1907-1909) came to New Ireland, Luschan instructed the expedition's leader, Emil Stephan, to reach a satisfactory agreement with the colonial official. Boluminski assured Stephan that “if this time I am not disappointed in my expectation of an equivalent [Prussian decoration], then I will forsake all foreign gods and dedicate myself exclusively to the Berlin Museum”. His cunning strategies landed him a total of six state decorations: One from Mecklenburg, two from Prussian, one from Saxony, and two from Wurttemberg. A last Bavarian decoration did not land on Boluminski's chest because his ethnographic donations reached Munich only after his death. Uli figure on the deck of the Sumatra—donation from Franz Boluminski to the Munich Museum, courtesy of Ingrid Weiss, Obergünzburg. In his extensive correspondence with ethnographic museum curators, Boluminski rarely spoke about his collection strategies. Traces of his activity, however, can be gleaned from Edgar Walden, a member of the Naval Expedition stationed in northern New Ireland. Walden was generally negative in his evaluation of Boluminski since they were competing over ethnographic objects. According to the expedition's member, the colonial official rarely ventured out to collect but had the artifacts brought to his station. Moreover, Boluminski never asked questions about the cultural practices associated with the malagan and uli carvings. His lack of interest in local cultural manifestations contrasts strongly with Wilhelm Wostrack, the colonial official stationed in Namatanai (central New Ireland), who frequently inquired local individuals about the significance of the artifacts he collected. For Boluminski, local carvings were a means to state decorations is also corroborated by the fact that the colonial official kept New Ireland material culture locked away in a shack rather than prominently displaying the figures in his house. Malagan carving collected by Boluminski with permission © Ethnologische Sammlung der Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Oz 1865). Photographer: Harry Haase Besides the vital entanglement with state decorations, Boluminski's collecting activity in northern New Ireland also became involved in his imposition of a head tax in 1906. This attempt to levy additional income for the colonial state and forcefully integrate the indigenous population into the colonial economy saw its first implementation in New Ireland. Unfortunately, from a colonial perspective, the introduction of the head tax also afforded the colonized population a chance to monetize their material culture. By the end of 1906, Boluminski proudly proclaimed to have collected 20,000 marks in his district of northern New Ireland. Nevertheless, he soon had to realize that the success in head tax collection had a negative impact on his ethnographic acquisition activity. In 1906, he wrote to Linden in Stuttgart: “[o]f course, one has to allow the natives to make money,” which he understood as integrating the local population into the expanding colonial economy. Two years later, Boluminski changed his tune when he wrote to Leipzig museum director Karl Weule: "The native turned greedy through the head tax. For old pieces, we are now paying comparable prices that are nowhere near those paid in anterior years”. Naval Expedition member Walden also noticed that the acquisition of ethnographic objects was only possible with cash: “The prices here are exorbitant for provisions and ethnographic objects. Everyone wants money for the taxes”. The increasing prices for ethnographic objects forced Boluminski to sell some of his ethnographic objects to passing collectors. In 1908 Field Museum ethnographer George Dorsey offered him 400 marks for two uli figures. A few months later, Boluminski sold four carvings, among them uli carvings, for 600 marks to the Hamburg South Sea Expedition participants, even if some of the members of this venture thought the price to be excessive. Lastly, Boluminski claimed about the last significant cache of uli figures to leave New Ireland for Munich shortly before his death that he had been offered 800 marks for each carving. An uli sold to the Hamburg South Sea Expedition 503 I, courtesy Museum am Rothenbaum Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) Financial improprieties also emerged in connection with the head tax. When Franz and his wife Frida Boluminki left for Germany in 1909, several residents approached his deputy Zwanzger to start legal proceedings concerning the embezzlement of head tax funds. Through his good standing in the colony and the German Colonial Office, Boluminski managed to escape legal proceedings and returned to his post in Kavieng. Another episode is even more telling. A year following Boluminski's death, the German administration called upon all colonial stations in German New Guinea to compile a report on the head tax’s financial successes. The report reflected large regional fluctuations, partially due to the uneven tax levied ranging from five to ten marks. The Kavieng district, however, illustrated the most significant oscillation. The year 1907, for instance, showed that Boluminski collected close to 30 percent more money than the amount delivered to the German government. The impending outbreak of the First World War made Boluminski’s accounting errors a moot point. The colonial official’s repeated financial impropriates suggest that part of that money may have supported ethnographic collection in his quest for German state decorations. We can only speculate on the impact such stressful transactions had on Boluminski's health. Nevertheless, in early April of 1913, the district official suffered a debilitating stroke and died a few weeks later, surrounded by his wife and governor Hahl. Buried in Kavieng’s Bagail cemetery, Boluminski's gravesite continues to be a tourist attraction.