Auckland launch for book of German/Samoa history

28 July 2017, 12:00AM

Two hundred people attended the Auckland book launch of Tony Brunt’s first volume of, “To Walk Under Palm Trees – The Germans in Samoa: Snapshots from Albums.”

The launch, whose chief sponsor was S.S.A.B, was held in the new Maota Samoa fale in Mangere and attracted descendants from many German Samoan families, some of whom are still represented in the islands, but also many who are now only found outside Samoa.

 Aiga who were represented included Schmidt, Wetzell, Klinkmuller, Grapengiesser, Sasse, Meiritz, Meyer, Mugele, Hack, Schmalkuchen, Peemuller, Grevel, Schwenke, Stunzner, Treviranus, Osbahr and others.

A number of speakers participated, including Samoa’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan, and his wife, Joyce Scanlan (nee Wetzell) who hails from one of Samoa’s most prominent German Samoan families. 

Mrs. Scanlan outlined her family’s history and introduced from the audience her Aunt, Elizabeth Wetzell Dean, of Auckland and formerly of Samoa, sister of the late Tupua Fred Wetzell.

Attending from Samoa was the Chairman of the Samoa Historical & Cultural Trust, Hans Joachim Keil, whose group published the book – one of many historical volumes that it has issued over the years. S.S.A.B Samoa is the main distribution outlet for the new book. 

Mr. Keil commented positively on the German colonial influence in Samoa which had led to considerable economic prosperity and high export volumes, which had never been matched after the German administration ended in 1914.

Author Tony Brunt said that his interest in researching and scanning private photography from the German colonial period in Samoa had been prompted many years ago when he saw an album held by his cousin, Mrs Agnes Sasse Heeney, daughter of Samoan settler Werner Sasse. 

Agnes, now aged 95, had inherited very significant photography from her father who died in Apia in 1929. 

“I found her photography from the German period really enthralling,” said Tony, “and I wondered if other German Samoan families were sitting on historically significant albums whose photos should be scanned for depositing in the Museum of Samoa digital archives.

“I networked with other families, both in New Zealand and elsewhere, and was able to confirm that there was a treasure trove of images that needed to be recorded and publicly displayed.”

Tony believes that his work, which has scanned many family collections and extended over a number of years, has been carried out in the nick of time.

“You never know what is going to happen to private collections. When people pass on, their descendants may not be interested in history and so precious family heirlooms sometimes go missing. Or the photos get passed on down the chain and trying to track them down becomes very difficult.”

Tony said that some magnificent private collections had been accessed which were historically very important and the collection owners were always very cooperative and happy to have digital copies passed on to the Museum of Samoa. Some of the large and unique collections came from the Klinkmuller, Hufnagel, Kronfeld-Parr, Sasse, Akkerman-Ohle and Grapengiesser families.

“The Akkerman-Ohle collection of nearly 500 photos of Samoa and Tonga from the early 1900’s was found in Holland and was practically all from a single album, which was put together by Mr Karl Hanssen, the last general manager of the big German company in Apia, the DH & PG, which was closed down by the New Zealanders in 1916. 

His granddaughter, Gesa Akkerman-Ohle, found it in storage while moving house in 2015, and got in touch with me. After a long dialogue and collaboration that involved a number of people, Gesa took the wonderful step of having the whole album scanned in high resolution and sent a copy sent to me and museum. Virtually none of the photos have appeared before in public collections or display. So it’s an extraordinary acquisition.” 

Another extraordinary find was the Hufnagel-Betham family collection, held in Orakei, in Auckland, by Mrs Touzelle Edmonds, granddaughter of Kapitan Kurt Hufnagel, the former manager of the Vailele plantation (1881-1911).

Photographs from this collection dated back to the 1870’s and finished in the 1930’s when son Kurt Hufnagel-Betham and his family left Samoa for Auckland. “This collection covers two large albums plus loose photographs and has been preserved in beautiful condition.

“The Alfred Schultz album, which was kept by Mr Schultz when he was a prisoner of war on Motuihe Island in Auckland in the 1915-1920 period was very important for giving us top quality photos of various German administration officials, plantation owners and business men who had lived in Samoa beforehand.

Though these photos were not taken in Samoa they are important as a kind of ‘photo gallery’ of these former Samoan residents. The Alfred Schultz album is very comprehensive and, in my opinion, is a major discovery not just for South Pacific photography but for German colonial photography as well.

It is held by Schultz and Kronfeld descendant in Auckland, David Parr, who has been so generous in sharing the images digitally with us.”

Tony said that his experience indicated that the earlier that photos or albums left Samoa the better. “The Samoan climate is so hard on photography. You’ve got the everpresent danger of cyclones sweeping into houses and destroying possessions, as well as the humidity causing mould and decay.” 

The MC for the book launch was Auckland community councillor Tauanu’u Nick Bakulich, and the presiding minister was the Rev. Tau Lasi, of Mt Roskill Wesley Methodist Church. 

28 July 2017, 12:00AM

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