The Collection of Luigi Maria D’Albertis

The exhibits here were part of the private collection of Luigi Maria D’Albertis. These include the pieces that the explorer did not donate to the Museo Pigorini in Rome and the Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology of Florence, after returning home from his travels.
These pieces may not represent a culture, explain a historical moment, illustrate the development of human civilisation. Rather, removed from their original context and gathered under an old glass, they evoke in us many stories: stories of everyday life on the banks of a river in a distant tropical country, stories of adventurous explorations in fascinating and hostile places, but also stories orally passed down on the first traumatic encounter between two cultures in New Guinea.

Many different perspectives are thus given a voice. The most accessible for visitors today are the words written by Luigi Maria D’Albertis in “Alla Nuova Guinea: Ciò che ho veduto e ciò che ho fatto. “ (Dedication to New Guinea: What I have seen and what I have done), published after his return to Italy.
In his memorial, the explorer eloquently describes the dreams and hopes that drew him to New Guinea. He relates his impressions on the natives, and his desire to explore even further, reaching more and more exotic, wild, unventured places, to meet “primitive” men and women in the state of nature, to discover new species of plants and animals. His words reveal both the fascination and at the same time the repugnance that these men and women exert in him. His words describe his attempts at proving his friendly intentions towards the natives, his efforts to intimidate and scare away those seemingly hostile, and the use of dynamite and rifles. His words speak of the difficulties encountered, the diseases, insects, and attacks by the armed natives. His words tell his side of the story about his last expedition, and how he left the coasts of New Guinea, defeated and grieved.

Luigi Maria D’Albertis was aware of the birth of the first ethnographic museums: an integral part of the scientific-naturalistic project of 19th-century anthropology, in which evolutionism used the collections of artefacts made by indigenous peoples to produce knowledge on colonial subjects. Although he had travelled to collect natural specimens, it is clear that the explorer was willing to also include pieces of ethnological interest in his collection.
During his travels, the explorer adopted various approaches to collecting these pieces. For example, he remained on the Isle of Yule for a longer period, thus managing to establish stable relationships with some natives, who gave him the objects he wanted in exchange for axes, iron bars, blankets, mirrors, etc. The Moatta pieces come from a series of repeated visits to the same homes, while those from the Fly are casual findings encountered in huts along the river. During the expeditions on the Fly, the explorer seemingly grew disillusioned, gradually renouncing to establish friendly relations of exchange with the inhabitants of the river and rather starting to raid the villages abandoned by the natives fleeing the Neva. This was the sign of increased cynicism on his part, but also of increased hostility on the part of the natives whenever his boat returned.