In the footsteps of Gustav Nachtigal in the Pana Museum close to Dapaong

In the footsteps of Gustav Nachtigal in the Pana Museum close to Dapaong

Pana is a small town not far from the provincial city of Dapaong in northern Togo, to the border of Burkina Faso and Ghana. On May 6th we visited their small, barely known museum. A museum like there are many in West Africa and in Germany would probably be described as a "Heimatmuseum". In addition to peasant utensils, iron and bronzes, jewellery, and of course, Moba figures of local origin, we also find hectographed writings on the history of the place. Everything is pretty dusty, but you can still feel the pride and the love that adorns the small space of little more than a living room size. Not objects that interest Western collectors, but a small museum to the local taste, lovingly compiled and closely intertwined with the history of the small town, in which Gustav Nachtigal once had his establishment in a small German-built house.

Right at the entrance, the German/African past blows our minds in the form of a painted portrait of Gustav Nachtigall together with the local prince Mlapa III, who had signed a "Protectorate Treaty“ in Pana in 1884. The window is draped with a fantastically beautiful textile, in four panels, hand-woven in a way that Annie Albers, the wife of Bauhaus artist Hans Albers, couldn't have done better. (Both had lived in Africa for some time in the 1920s).

So here I meet him again, the name "Nachtigal", which recently was in the German media after protests to free the "African Quarter" in Berlin from its colonial legacy and "clean up" street names.The former Nachtigalplatz is now Manga-Bell-Platz, renamed to clear out colonial guilt that was also associated with the name.

The director of the museum takes me to the house where Gustav Nachtigal lived when the protectorate treaty was signed in 1884.

 The peeling plaster of a wall clearly shows German traces. Bricks like these are reminiscent of the Construction of the founding years in Germany and, back then, must have caused astonishment among Africans who, until not long ago, made houses or hutsout of "banco rouge" and larger ones out of dried ashlars, which were exposed to constant decay during the rainy seasons.

Here they are proud of all things reminiscent of the protectorate period, like the remains of terraced fortifications built by Nachtigal to protect the fertile soil from being washed out by the torrents and even the big tree planted by him at the entrance to the village.

A stone's throw away: The holy shrine of the Moba, in which the great figures stood. In 1904 Leo Frobenius had some brought to the Ethnological Museum in Hamburg, which gathered dust in the magazine for decades because their "artistic value" was considered "not worthy of an exhibition". After the rediscovery of the Moba in the 1960s, all large figures were stolen from the intact groves and the greedy art trade jumped at these unique, archaic artefacts, which eventually found in Western museums and well-known collections in Europe their final destinations.

At the end of our little tour through the roots of Gustav Nachtigal in Pana, a photo with the director of the museum.


The day before I had bought a Moba figure from two dealers in Dapaong. When buying from dealers I haven't met before, I always take photos like this. They offer a guarantee that the figure has not been stolen. After all, no thief would accept being photograph next to a stolen figure.


Some Moba, Konkombar and Mamprusi figures are delivered by motorbike...


..and lined up for sale in the forecourt of the small local bar where we are taking a break.

I would have loved to have bought them all, as they are without a doubt “authentic”. But our Defender has been in the workshop for months, and the old Toyota Corolla I had to buy is overloaded with what northern Togo has brought... and, by the way, 50 kg of "wood" costs around 500 euros to transport. Considering all the additional costs that each object generates before it can be sold, with a heavy heart the "businessman in me, with his calculator" has to say "no" once again and select only one to be bought (pictured above with the dealers).

Then I won't be able to sleep at night again. Will think of Frobenius, the former ethnological museum in Hamburg, the small museum in Pana with his "Holy shrine", very close to Nachtigal's domicile, in which there have long been no large Moba figures due to the risk of theft. 

And of course to the African Quarter in Berlin, where the street name "Gustav Nachtigal" was recently deleted, because the Germans suddenly  walk around in “penitent robes” as far as Germany's colonial past is concerned.

On the way back, near Kara, we pass a memorial to those who died fighting for Togo's independence. A memorial that was indirectly aimed at the French colonial rulers who "were already very unpopular in Togo in the early 1960s." An argument that I heard again and again from all former German colonies.

The Germans, on the other hand, are generally regarded as "the good guys". Which is definitely not true. It also has something to do with the fact that Germany lost its colonies to England and France in 1918. So it didn't come into contact at all with the tense independence movement of these states.

Two stories: one in a small museum in northern Togo and the other in the African Quarter of Berlin, where the Nachtigalstraße and Nachtigalplatz were renamed.

Not far from the monument of friendship between Togo and Germany, in Lomé Baguida, five kilometers from our home in Avepozo, Nachtigal landed in 1884 with his "Möve" and promised King Mlapa III to ensure order and protect his country from the evil French, English and Portuguese.

A dream to sail or "steam" with such a "gunboat" from Cameroon via German South-West (today's Namibia) to Togo. "Just the sight of such a white-painted ship must have been impressive for the Togolais, who at that time only paddled out to sea in simple pirogues."

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