In 1889, Georg August Zenker, a gardener and botanist from Leipzig, took charge of the Jaunde research station in the German colony of Cameroon. Following a six-year tenure, Zenker was surprisingly relieved of his duties. He was said to be leading a polygamous life at the station with several African women, some of whom had given birth to his children. We read on Wikipedia : “Far away from European controlling structures, Zenker established a network of personal relationships based on polygyny from which five children were born over the course of the following years. In November 1891, Max-Felix Zenker was born, whose mother was Embolo, the daughter of Chief Tschungi Mballa Ngono. A woman from Dahomé gave birth to Curt Julius and Hans Zenker. His third wife during this time was Ngoso, the daughter of Esono Ela’s brother, Onambele Ela.”
Zenker left the country only to return soon afterwards as a private citizen. He settled with his family (a woman from Dahomé and five children) deep in the Cameroon jungle in Bipindi where he built Bipindihof, a German colonial-style house as well as vast cocoa, rubber and banana plantations.
The mainstay of his livelihood consisted in collecting copious botanical and zoological specimens as well as ethnographic objects for German museums. Zenker’s thoughts and actions were heavily influenced by the colonial mindset. But on a number of occasions, he clearly opposed the colonialist and militaristic practices of his superiors and other German countrymen.
Despite not having a formal education in natural sciences, Zenker made a number of contributions in the fields of botany and zoology. He sent 5,000 plant specimens to Germany alone. Among the main recipients of his objects were the Zoological Museum of the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin, the Botanical Central Bureau for the German Colonies, and the Ethnological Museum. Since he was also a painter and illustrator, he often included color sketches of his exhibits. When the German Schutztruppe retreated to the neighboring country of Rio Muni in the beginning of 1916, Zenker was assigned the task of destroying the bridge over the Lokundje river after they had crossed it. He refused to do so and was the only German to be tolerated in Cameroon after the end of the war for this reason.
He died in 1922 and was buried on the grounds of his Bipindihof. Zenker’s descendants live widely dispersed in Cameroon and Europe today, but most of them still regard the now crumbling Bipindihof as the cradle of the family. For their project, photographers Yana Wernicke and Jonas Feige traveled to the present-day Republic of Cameroon several times in order to retrace Zenker’s life there and portray his descendants.
About – Kamerun. Due to the establishment of trading posts by Hamburg-based trading company Woermannn in 1868 at the mouth of the Wouri River, German influence in Cameroon grew stronger and stronger. On 14 July, 1884, German Consulate General and Imperial Commissioner, Gustav Nachtigal, signed protection treaties with several headmen of the Duala and other regional leaders, proclaiming the protectorate of Cameroon a German colony. During the First World War, the outnumbered German Schutztruppe was able to resist in Cameroon for two years despite not having sufficient supplies. In 1916, the last garrison in Mora, northern Cameroon, surrendered to the British colonial forces. As stipulated in the Treaty of Versaille from 1919, Cameroon officially became property of the League of Nations, which then granted a mandate for administration to Great Britain and France. This resulted in the division of the country, according to which France received four-fifths. It was not until 1 January, 1960, that French Cameroon – upon holding a referendum and expiration of the UN mandate – gained independence and was renamed the Republic of Cameroon.
About – Yana Wernicke (*1990) and Jonas Feige (*1988) are two photographers residing in Berlin. Both studied photography at Berlin’s Ostkreuz School of Photography and combine artistic and documentary approaches in their photographic work. Their photographs have been exhibited and awarded internationally.
ZENKER – Yana Wernicke and Jonas Feige . With original letters from Georg August Zenker (German/English) and texts by Jonas Feige, Yana Wernicke, Georg August Zenker, Elisabeth Zenker, Jean Michel Zenker, Marie-Thérèse Zenker. Design by Studio Krispin Heé (Krispin Heé, Tim Wetter) . German/ English . 18.5 x 26.6 cm . Hardcover . 268 pages . 164 images . € 68.- . ISBN 78-3-907236-18-5 . Edition Patrick Frey . GoSee : editionpatrickfrey.com///zenker
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