Provenance Research and Beyond

Dealing with a Collection from Hiva Oa (French Polynesia) from the 1930s

  • Beatrice Voirol (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


As far back as the 1930s, a collection of the Museum der Kulturen Basel (MKB) became the subject of an official investigation: the collectors Lucas Staehelin and Theo Meier were accused of ‘dese-crating graves’. The two young men from Basel travelled to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia where they compiled a collection of artifacts. In addition, they took objects and human remains from ceremonial sites and burial caves, upon which the French colonial authorities stepped in: the men were placed under observation in Hiva Oa and, after travelling to Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, the crates containing the objects were seized. It was only after the MKB intervened officially, that the collection was cleared and shipped to Basel. This article sheds light on the provenance of the respective objects and human remains from different angles, namely actors, landscapes, collections, institutions, and conflicts. Including local voices, the article raises questions as to how provenance research on an ethnographic collection can be conducted and to where this can lead.

Keywords: Museum der Kulturen Basel; French Polynesia; Lucas Staehelin; Theo Meier; provenance research


Museum der Kulturen Basel, French Polynesia, Lucas Staehelin, Theo Meier, provenance research