Dutch Photographer: On the road

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Paul Julien (1901-2001) was an anthropologist from the Netherlands who traveled through Liberia in 1932. Andrea Stultiens (1974) is a photographer and researcher from the Netherlands. As part of her PhD-research she tries to connect the past that was documented by Paul Julien to the past as remembered in Liberia and the way it is connected to the present. Julien’s photographs are part of the collection of the Netherlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

From July 19th till August 19th 2014, Julien’s photographs and the film he made will be on display at the National Museum. Leading up to this, some of the stories are shared in History and Us columns written collaboratively by Kenneth Best and Andrea Stultiens. Comments are most welcome on [email protected]

This week Paul Julien finally sets off from Monrovia towards the goal of his travels in the interior. He wrote that ‘Most of my time in Monrovia was, in line with the nature of my business in Liberia, spent on the preparations for the trip. And within those preparations the porter-issue was of great importance. Finding reliable, strong men, who would be able and willing to deal with the hardship of a journey through the hinterland during the rainy season, was a first priority to make this expedition into a success.’

Initially Julien hires Bassa porters. But when they hear about the route and destination of the journey, they all refused to go because, ‘the Manoh – whether justified or not, I will leave that open for now – are said to still practice cannibalism up to now.’ On board of the ship that brought him to Africa a German co-traveler warned Julien that he should not go to Manoh-land because of the same cannibalism. The Irish missionaries, who Julien holds in high esteem, on the other hand, say that the practice has been abolished fifteen years ago and laughed claims of cannibalism away. Julien adds that ‘All those stories by Europeans don’t mean a thing. Nobody here ever went to the interior. They are all traders on the coast. The negroes bring the products to the coast themselves and the traders are not familiar with the situation in the interior. They are afraid of it and have big stories. But so far I haven’t talked to one of them who traveled more than 15 km upcountry.’

With the help of the missionaries porters belonging to the Manoh and Geh people are then engaged. Julien seems to be unaware of the porter system that, as I understood, at the time was an involuntary service. He pays the people who carry his stuff and that is that for him. They should obey, and he makes them do that with an authoritative voice.

The group, led by cook Moses, was sent on its way, with the majority of the heavy luggage that included salt and tobacco that was to be used as payment, food and all the research equipment needed.

There was only one main road then in the country that, as Julien tells us, ended in Kakata. He does not walk this first part of the journey, but arrives three days after the departure of his porters in a truck. Beyond Kakata efforts are made to continue the road that should cut through the country in north-eastern direction, but there are no bridges which makes it impossible to pass through during rainy season.

Julien stays in Kakata for a few nights, hosted by Mr Bare, an   American who ran a Protestant mission school there.

Julien walks with his porters, as he considers a hammock, to be more of a burden than  giving pleasure, considering the road conditions. The only time we see a hammock appear in his photographs is when he visits Mr Reider, another missionary whom he meets in ‘Kpelleland’. Next week we will see Prof. Logemoh, who was at the time also on a mission in Kpelleland, but one very different from Julien’s, and, of course, more closely connected to the geopolitical situation Liberia was in.

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