Legba-figures and dzokawo: Unpacking a missionary collection from the Übersee-Museum Bremen

In the debate about colonial collections in ethnological and other museums, little attention has been paid to things acquired by European missionaries during conversion practices. These things do not fit into the current discussions of looted art and are barely subject to demands for repatriation. Among such accumulated objects – what Birgit Meyer calls “sacred waste” – are Legba-figures and dzokawo. The former were considered “idols” or “fetishes” by European collectors, and the latter “charms”. These two categories of items initially served religious purposes among the Ewe in what is today South-East Ghana and South Togo. They are also the subject of one of Meyer’s current research projects. Here, she looks at the things collected by the missionary Carl Spiess (1867–1936), who was part of the Norddeutsche Missionsgesellschaft and transferred the items to the Städtisches Museum für Natur-, Völker- und Handelskunde Bremen, which is now the Übersee-Museum. In a recently published article on the Decolonizing Collections – Networking towards Relationality (DCNtR) section of boasblogs, Meyer discusses this research, tracing the routes of these materials from their spatial and historical origins to their current locations and meanings. 

You can read the full article here.

Legba Figures in the Schaumagazin, Übersee-Museum Bremen. Photo: Birgit Meyer.


Birgit Meyer (PhD in Anthropology, 1995) is Professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University, the Netherlands and chair of the Academic Advisory Board of the Forum Transregionale Studien. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she studies religion from a material and postcolonial angle, seeking to synthesize grounded fieldwork and theoretical reflection in a multidisciplinary setting. Her recent publications include Figuration and Sensations of the Unseen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Contested Desires (2019, coedited with Terje Stordalen), and Refugees and Religion: Ethnographic Studies of Global Trajectories (2021, coedited with Peter van der Veer). She directs the research program Religious Matters in an Entangled World.


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