Otto Reche - Physical Anthropologist and Participant in the Hamburg South Sea Expedition Otto RechePhysical Anthropologist and Participant in the Hamburg South Sea Expedition By Rainer F. Buschmann Otto Carl Reche (1879-1966) was a controversial German physical anthropologist whose racist outlooks and close support of the Nazi regime often clouded his contributions to Pacific anthropology. Nevertheless, as a participant in the first year of the Hamburg South Sea Expedition (1908-1909), Reche would author two monographs related to the venture. His 1913 volume on the Sepik River suggested a division of the region into four stylistic provinces that, while questioned, still finds application today. In 1954, as the last surviving expedition member, he launched a final volume of the Hamburg undertaking dedicated to New Britain. Reche holding Skull, Dr. Reche Anthrop, Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt. Born a Prussian citizen in lower Silesia, Reche would study zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of Breslau, from where he obtained his doctorate in 1904. Georg Thilenius, who taught anthropology and ethnology at the same institution, influenced Reche’s career choice. Shortly after receiving his doctorate, the young scientists accepted a position at the Royal Ethnological Museum in Berlin under Felix von Luschan. However, he did not remain in Berlin for long. Instead, he opted to follow Georg Thilenius’s call to Hamburg, where Thilenius had accepted the position as director of the local ethnographic museum. In Hamburg, Reche assumed the small physical anthropology division at this institution. Thilenius convinced the physical anthropologist to participate in the first year of the Hamburg South Sea Expedition (1908-1910). Reche's training enabled him to perform anthropometric measurements and collect human remains, especially skulls. Reche's time on the expedition's steamer Peiho supported his acquisition of about 600 full or partial skulls while traveling through the Bismarck Archipelago and the northeastern part of the island of New Guinea. The anthropologist also acquired several artifacts on the journey, although the lion's share of this activity fell to the expedition's official collector F. E. Hellwig. The physical anthropologist complained bitterly that he had to share translators with Hellwig, which restricted his measurements and the collecting of human remains. In the 1950s, Reche’s collection of skulls would eventually move from Hamburg to the University of Göttingen where they rest until the current day. In recent years, Göttingen has obtained a Volkswagen Foundation Grant to investigate human remains collected in colonial settings and the results will be published gradually. The Peiho up the Sepik River from Reche Der Kaiserin Augusta Fluss Upon his return from the expedition, Reche assumed his old job curating the physical anthropology collections in Hamburg. By 1911, he also curated the African division at the same museum. However, his main task was to craft the Sepik monograph of the expedition for which there was a great sense of urgency. As the Adolf Roesicke biography of the current Provenience section revealed, the Sepik became the final frontier for ethnographic investigations following 1907. Virtually every steamer in German New Guinea traveled up the river to collect artifacts. This situation contributed to a competitive atmosphere among European collectors and an incentive for the Sepik indigenous population to produce more objects. The Sepik rush prompted Georg Thilenius to publish the material on this region before moving to other ethnographic areas in German New Guinea. The compilation of the collected artifacts fell to Reche, who would contact other German and European museums to obtain comparative material. While most institutions complied with supplying photographs or drawings of their Sepik collections, others failed to answer his call for assistance. For example, the Royal Ethnographic Museum in Berlin refused help beyond two pictures of artifacts. As one of the most prominent organizations sponsoring the official Sepik Expedition (1912-1913), Berlin museum officials preferred to wait for their publication rather than supporting Hamburg's volume dedicated to the river. Reche at his desk at the Hamburg Museum, Reche_Anthropologie_Schädel – Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt. Reche did what he could with the material and the time available. But, perhaps most noticeable, his racial comments on the Sepik were limited to ten pages of the monograph comprising almost 500 pages. He was aware that his collection of roughly one hundred skulls did not represent a significant sample. Moreover, Reche informed the reader that the absence of translators rendered it difficult to determine whether or not the collected skulls represented locally deceased ancestors or those of slain enemies from other villages. Identifying five types of skulls, Reche ultimately argued that two populations inhabited the Sepik River at the time of the expedition. The first population was small and dark-skinned with a broad head, while the second population was of larger "nobler" build, lighter colored, and elegantly shaped head. Reche stipulated that the first, autochthonous, people intermingled with the second, later arriving, population to make up the Sepik River at the time of his journey. His emphasis on racial mixing prior to German colonial annexation would also dominate his later monograph on New Britain. Reche spent much of his monograph attempting to classify the material culture collected by the Hamburg South Sea Expedition. Based on his assessment, the anthropologist suggested a division of the Sepik River into four stylistic provinces ranging from the river's delta to its source not visited by the steamer of the Hamburg venture. Reche's division still finds application today, although contemporary anthropologists postulate more fluid boundaries and a clear preference for performative arts. Unfortunately, Reche could not collect such information during his two-week (May-June 1909) journey on the river. Similarly, pre-war anthropology preferred sharply delineated typologies to fluid constructions. Reche’s initial cultural typology of the Sepik River, from Reche Kaiserin Augusta Fluss Shortly after completing his Sepik monograph, in August of 1914, Reche enlisted in the German army to fight with distinction during the Great War. A life-threatening injury led to his discharge from the carnage in 1917. He returned to his museum position in Hamburg and became a lecturer at this city’s Colonial Institute. The war had greatly impacted Reche as his writings became increasingly tainted with nationalistic and hardened racial views. He joined an ongoing Prisoner of War project, presenting physical anthropology with an opportunity to employ a captive audience for anthropometric measurements. While initially studying prisoners from Asia, Reche soon shifted his attention to Eastern Europeans to justify German eastward expansion in racial terms. In 1918, Reche obtained the title of Professor and continued to teach anthropology at the newly founded University of Hamburg. He would leave Hamburg in 1924 to take on the chair of Anthropology and Ethnology in Vienna. A few years later, in 1927, he replaced the retired Karl Weule at the Ethnographic Seminar in Leipzig, which Reche would rename into the Institute for Racial Science and Ethnology. When the Nazi Party assumed power in early 1933, Reche enthusiastically signed a letter compiled by German scientists to endorse Adolf Hitler. In 1937, he joined the Nazi Party and continued his research on the racial configurations of Eastern Europe. When the war broke out, Reche actively advocated ethnic cleansing in Poland and the Soviet Union. His large geographical map on the Distribution of Races and the short accompanying textbook became a preferred teaching tool around schools in Nazi Germany. American forces arrested Reche at the end of the Second World War. Interned for 18 months, Reche was eventually exonerated in the late 1940s. Forced to retire, the anthropologist stayed active by editing the last volume of the Hamburg South Sea Expedition in 1954. In this volume, Reche revisited his racial views that he could no longer explore within Europe following the Second World War. However, by the 1950s, he could still safely investigate such notions within the confines of the colonial Pacific. Although more than forty years had passed since Reche last visited New Guinea, he still employed his collected skulls to assert what he believed to be the racial makeup of the Pacific. To his amazement, however, the human types he witnessed and collected displayed a bewildering diversity. Reflecting on the more than 600 skulls he returned from the journey, Reche stipulated that the islands, especially New Britain, visited by the expedition must have experienced tremendous crossbreeding well before the advent of German colonialism. He urged future physical anthropologists to identify the original pure races that he postulated had once inhabited the Pacific. An obsession with racial purity had taken Reche to German New Guinea before the Great War to prove the existence of somatic markers for human cultures and the supposed inferiority of Melanesian individuals. However, his encounter with a great deal of diversity within the German colony did not provide the data expected by Reche. Nevertheless, the contradictory evidence he collected did not convince Reche to change his unwavering racial outlook. On the contrary, even ten years before his death, the physical anthropologist kept urging his colleagues to identify supposedly pure and unadulterated races characterizing the Pacific. Betelnut mortar collected by Reche on 6 May 1909, Tolokiwa Island, Morobe Province, 4498 I, Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt.