Missionary Wilhelm Diehl as Photographer in Girawa Village Missionary Wilhelm Diehl as Photographer in Girawa Village Dieter Klein In 1887, only three years after the founding of the German colony of New Guinea, the Protestant Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft opened its first mission station in Astrolabe Bay near the village of Bogadjim. The mission’s activities there had little success at first. There were a number of reasons for that: the unknown languages, the extreme variations of those languages, the foreign indigenous mindsets, the absence of any infrastructure by European standards, and the high mortality rates caused by diseases, especially malaria. Fully half of the mission’s personnel died of it in its first twenty years of operation! And it was only in 1903, after it had been in existence for sixteen years, that the mission could claim its first successful baptism of a Melanesian. In Girawa Village, photograph by William Diehl, June 30th or July 1st, 1910. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Klaus-Jochen Kruger. Missionary Wilhelm Diehl (1874–1940) began his work in Bogadjim in 1902. He started as the assistant to his veteran colleague Albert Hoffmann, but took over the mission station when Hoffmann left in 1904. He quickly realized that the environment along the coast was too unhealthy. Diehl obtained reliable information about other less disease-ridden and consequently more populated areas from his mission students and house workers. Most of those who provided this information to him were from the mountain villages in the hinterlands west of Bogadjim. Diehl undertook many expeditions in search of better mission locations. In the course of these travels, he mostly visited areas to which no European had ever been before. Many first contacts between a white man and the indigenous Melanesians thus took place. In establishing relations with these newly discovered groups, Diehl sought tirelessly to recruit new mission students. His hope was that these new recruits, amply rewarded with gifts, would return to their home villages, help spread the gospel, and pave the way for an expansion of the mission’s activities. Sagu girls from Tami Islands with all their jewelry ready to celebrate a feast related to puberty or adolescence. Photo taken from the mission of Neuendettelsau. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Klaus-Jochen Kruger. Extensive provisions were needed for these expeditions. Diehl used mission students as carriers. Among them, there was always a so-called “shooting boy.” He would have access to Diehl’s rifle to secure meat for food, but was also prepared to use it in the event that it might be needed for self-defense. It is very fortunate for us that Diehl documented his expeditions with photographs. Under the difficult circumstances he faced, it was far from an easy task to do so. The equipment he needed included tripods and the glass negative plates typical of the time. The latter were not only very heavy and cumbersome to carry, but were also very breakable and sensitive to humidity. Every photograph was an elaborate undertaking, and the results he obtained were truly remarkable when one considers the extreme jungle environment in which he had to operate. The long exposure times needed meant that his subjects had to remain perfectly still while he photographed them, and one can well imagine that that was a difficult idea to communicate to them in the midst of a first contact. A glass plate negative had to be inserted into the camera for every photograph and then had to be wrapped in moisture-resistant paper after it was taken. The conditions he was working under often made that quite a feat! Men ready to celebrate a feast. Photo (ca. 1900) by Wilhelm Diehl or Albert Hofmann, Rheinische mission. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Klaus-Jochen Kruger. Diehl took the photo titled “In Girawa Village” on June 30th or July 1st, 1910, in the course of an eight-day expedition during which he penetrated 80 kilometers into the hinterland from Bogadjim. Girawa is about 25 kilometers (as the crow flies) west of Bogadjim, nestled on a steep mountain slope near the Nuru River. The missionary was very probably the first white man to have reached it. He reveals in his diary that at 10:30 (on June 30th, 1910), “We were in Girawa, which consists of three huts, although there are supposed to be more in the vicinity… Girls ready to celebrate a feast. Photo taken from the mission of Neuendettelsau. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Klaus-Jochen Kruger. There were no women or children to be seen, and only one man was present, with whom Djamo (a carrier) had an interesting conversation in the evening. Later on, a few more men arrived and they all sang. There were human bones and skulls in every hut. Four bundles of bones, each with a skull on it, although lacking the lower jaw, were hung from my bed. I saw three lower jaws in a separate sack. Throughout this area, corpses are set out on scaffolds to decay and to dry. The bones are kept. Girawa is situated at an altitude of 480 meters.” Sources: Klein, Dieter 2014: Pioniermissionar in Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, Wilhelm Diehl berichtet aus Deutsch-Neuguinea 1906–1913, Wiesbaden. Klein, Dieter 2011: Expeditionen des Missionars Wilhelm Diehl ins Hinterland der Astrolabe-Bucht (Deutsch-Neuguinea) um 1910. In: Münchener Beiträge Zur Völkerkunde 14, 311–356, München. Men’s house in Tami Islands. Photo from the heritage of William Diehl but probably taken by a missionary of Neuendettelsau. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Klaus-Jochen Kruger.