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The journey of the bird of paradise


journey of the bird of paradise

On show from 9 December 2023 to 1 September 2024 at the Mission Museum.

How the mission village of Steyl became the centre of the trade in feathers of the bird of paradise, for fashion houses in Berlin and Paris. The importance of the bird of paradise to the hunters and Missionary Brothers of the past and in New Guinea today.

Birds of Paradise - Exhibition Information

BIRDS OF GOD. That is how the birds of paradise were described, both by the indigenous peoples of New Guinea and earlier traders and scientists from around the world. Born and captured in the rainforest, birds of paradise travel to small coastal towns of New Guinea, which become the starting point of a global trade network, leaving an indelible impression on the world. Missionaries from Steyl not only spread the Word of God in the locality, they also traded in the Birds of God. Today, the bird of paradise remains a powerful symbol representing status and beauty and is strongly associated with the identity of both the original peoples of New Guinea and the Papuan diaspora in the Netherlands.

What is unique about this exhibition is that the story of the bird of paradise is told from three different perspectives: indigenous, colonial and missionary. The perspectives of three real-life historical figures: the hunter Tiliauw de Sawia, the writer Rudolf Voorhoeve in New Guinea and Brother Berchmans in Steyl.

Celestial Beauty

On entering, the visitor arrives in the rainforest of Arso, New Guinea. Surrounded by the sound and colours and patterns of the rainforest, visitors look at the many (stuffed) birds of paradise. Tiliauw's dagger has a special place here, surrounded by various spears that were used when hunting the bird of paradise.

Product of God

From the rainforest, visitors are taken on the journey of the bird of paradise, which leaves New Guinea as a commodity and goes on to the rest of the world. Here we see shops with rows of birds of paradise from Brother Berchmans' trading stock. And we see the final products: European hats and a Nepalese headdress, all adorned with feathers of birds of paradise.

Powerful Symbol

Visitors return to the rainforest of Arso but in the zeitgeist of today. Here another side of the rich rainforest becomes visible: the construction of  palm oil plantations. Interviews with students from Jayapura and the younger generation in the Netherlands with roots in Papua New Guinea show how the bird of paradise is still a powerful symbol.