In late-1880, ethnologist Adrian Jacobsen bought two Inuit families from Labrador to be exhibited in zoos in Berlin and around Europe. By mid-January 1881, all eight were dead from smallpox, which they had not been vaccinated against. Hartmut Lutz’ translation and editing of The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab, along with art and forward by Alooktook Ipelle and photos by Hans-Ludwig Blohm is an unusual turn in my reading, one which I wouldn’t be making were I not working with puppet theatre group Das Helmi on their project for the Dahlem Museum on Adrian Jacobsen.
Reading about Jacobsen is educational, though I wouldn’t say enjoyable. He, like the majority of Europeans of that colonial and imperial epoch were convinced of their racial superiority, engaged in establishing colonial domination through a variety of means, from actual land grabs and genocide to de facto claims by returning with artefacts for the newly-established national museums, and by today’s standards is a difficult to reconcile with as Wagner. This book, the diary of one of the unfortunate victims of the journey, is not what we’re covering in the project, which focusses on his north-west coast of Canada and Alaskan journey. It is though crucial to understanding Jacobsen, the culture he lived and worked in, and the economic and social reasons why families from one continent would uproot themselves to be looked at like animals in a zoo and be eager to do so. It’s also very sad reading of the country I was born in.