Provenances of Tjurunga at the Landesmuseum Hanover and the Collection Hermannsburg

This subproject primarily deals with Tjurunga, the secret-sacred ceremonial Objects of the Australian Aboriginal People, which are housed in the collections at the Landesmuseum Hanover and at Lutheran Mission society at Hermannsburg, and which were likely collected in Australia and brought to the state of Lower Saxony in the late 19th and early 20th century.
This project is important for three key reasons: firstly, it concerns ceremonial objects of a secret-sacred nature which the museums are required to handle with the utmost culturally appropriate sensitivity. Exactly how museums should deal with these objects will be explored through dialogue with the originating societies. Here, research into their precise provenance in Australia is crucial to identify the traditional custodians of the objects. Secondly, the role of missionaries in the collection and transfer of colonial objects will be explored within the context of colonial provenance research. And thirdly, the Tjurunga and related observations by the Lutheran missionaries evoked the attention of anthropology, sociology, and psychoanalysis at the time, whereby they became entangled in the production of a shared history of knowledge.
The ongoing importance of Tjurunga to their cultures of origin is generally recognized and accepted. To this day they are objects of a secret-sacred nature, which can only be seen, handled, and discussed by senior Aboriginal men who were ceremonially initiated into the secret aspects of their respective mythologies. Thus, these objects are to be treated as sensitive objects by the museums.
With the advent of Aboriginal Land Rights in 1976, research into Aboriginal traditions gained in importance. Since Tjurunga can provide proof of connection between a landholding group and their land, they also attained legal and political significance. Since the 1990s Aboriginal representatives have repeatedly sought to gain access to the objects in the museums, and to have Tjurungas repatriated into their care. Since then, a debate ensued on how museums should deal with these sensitive objects, which remain significant to Aboriginal identity today.




The project "Provenances of Tjurunga" came to an end in December 2021. Please direct project-related enquiries to the head of the sub-project Rebekka Habermas.


Researcher: Olaf Geerken (Georg-August-University Göttingen)

Collection: Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionswerk in Hermannsburg and State Museum Hannover

Head of the Subproject: Prof. Dr. Rebekka Habermas (Georg-August-University Göttingen)