• A Yeti in Africa

    There are many objects and images in the archives that we do not know anything about. This image is such a picture. Or was. The only information accompanying the image was the text “Africa?” and then the word “yeti” handwritten in the catalogue entry. A yeti in Africa, that would certainly be something…

    When I stumble across such images or objects in our archives, they intrigue me. And there was also something about this image that made an immediate impression on me; I liked it. How could the figures sit so close to one other? One could almost believe they are sitting and chatting. It made me think of staff at zoos and wildlife parks. Could the picture simply be from a zoo? Now – after some googling and research in the archives – I know exactly what the image represents. And the result made me feel… both stupid and naive. Like so many of our images, it carries a tragic, but also important, story.

    Katalogkortet för bild 0583.0001. Informationen om bilden är inte helt uttömmande.

    Catalogue card for image 0583.0001. The informationen about the image is… vague.

    The first time I saw the image was in 2013. We had digitized a part of the collection of images at the Museum of Ethnography and this was one of the thousands that entered the database. The image lacked metadata, and that was partially why it got stuck in my mind back then. Soon it became an educational example of the fact that we sometimes lack information about the images in our archives.

    One day a few months ago, when I was using the image as an example of our lack of metadata, I decided to test Google’s image recognition. And I got a hit! It was on a page of the Swedish Radio website and the image was included in an article about a nature program. (When I try the same image search today, I strangely get no hits, but it may be that the page is simply deleted and thus also has been removed from the Google search index. I believe the nature program was over 10 years old).

    The problem, however, was that it did not give any new information about the image itself. I do not remember exactly what the program was about, it was something about endangered species. But the image was processed differently than the one we had in the database, it was significantly sharper. Maybe an image search based on that image would provide more hits? It did it! I got a hit on a Youtube film ”Med prins Wilhelm på afrikanska jaktstigar”(With Prince Wilhelm on African Hunting Trails).

    Some clips from the film.

    Gorilla Hunt with Prince Wilhelm

    So that explains things. The gorilla in the picture is stone dead, shot during the Swedish Zoological expedition to Central Africa in 1921 by Prince Gustav VI Adolf’s little brother, Prince Wilhelm. The Swedish Natural History Museum would collect plants and animals through an expedition to the mountain areas of central Africa in the border areas between Rwanda and Congo. One of the goals was to collect 14 mountain gorillas.

    In addition to the prince, Nils Carl Gustaf Fersen Gyldenstolpe and Oscar Olsson were also in attendance. Gorillas were already a protected species at this time but the expedition was granted permission to shoot 14. That members of the royalty and nobility were attracted to big safari hunts has been a “perfect match” for many expeditions. The expedition receives funding and privileged rich men could shoot lions, elephants and gorillas in the name of “science.”

    Källor: Wilhelm (1922). Bland dvärgar och gorillor: med svenska zoologiska expeditionen till Centralafrika 1921. Stockholm: Norstedt


    author photo

    Magnus Johansson är sedan 2008 digitaliseringskoordinator vid Världskulturmuseerna. Han är arkeolog i botten och har tidigare arbetat vid Riksantikvarieämbetet.