cover image The Magnificent Boat: The Colonial Theft of a South Seas Cultural Treasure

The Magnificent Boat: The Colonial Theft of a South Seas Cultural Treasure

Götz Aly, trans. from the German by Jefferson Chase. Belknap, $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-674-27657-4

In this thought-provoking study, historian Aly (Europe Against the Jews, 1880–1945) exposes the tragic history of the Luf Boat, an ornately decorated ship from the Hermit Islands in Papua New Guinea currently displayed at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Procured in 1902–1903, the Luf Boat represents decades of ruthless German colonial exploitation in the South Seas, according to Aly, whose great-granduncle was a chaplain with the German Navy in the Bismarck Archipelago in the 1880s. He explains how the 1882 Luf Massacre, in which the German navy “obliterate[ed] the means of existence of three to four hundred people” on Luf Island, set the stage for German ethnologists, supported by the colonial government and military, to engage in large-scale pillaging and deceptive practices to obtain cultural treasures. Aly also debunks the long-standing notion that the inhabitants of Luf “voluntarily decided to no longer reproduce”; documents the unsavory actions of ethnographers and traders Max Thiel, Eduard Hernsheim, and Felix von Luschan in plundering cultural artifacts and misrepresenting their true provenance; and critiques present-day museum officials for refusing to acknowledge atrocities committed in German New Guinea. Concise and convincing, this damning account reveals the painful legacy of colonialism. Illus. (Mar.)