It is fascinating to see how old photographs can revive by being included in Wikimedia Commons.
Sjoerd Hofstra was a Dutch anthropologist and sociologist who was stationed in Panguma Village, Sierra Leone from 1934 to 1936. He lived among the Mende, one of the largest ethnic groups of Sierra Leone. In total Hofstra made two trips to the country, having to end the first trip due to illness. His work was mainly focused on ethnographic research, however Hofstra also made himself useful as village doctor. Over the years, as he conducted his research, Hofstra took hundreds of photos of the people and nature of Sierra Leone.
Photo collection digitized in Leiden
A collection of about 400 of these photographs were digitized by the African Studies Centre Library at Leiden University. Working at the ASC we have spent the last few months working on the Sjoerd Hofstra photo collection at the African Studies Library in Leiden. We have gone through the photo’s carefully, as we contextualized, categorized and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons. Hofstra’s photos depict day to day life in Sierra Leone, as the Mende people cook, clear rice fields and retract palm oil from palm kernels, but also portray rituals, festivities and burials. The Sjoerd Hofstra photo collection is now complete and can be found here.
Photos shed new light on village life
What makes the Sjoerd Hofstra photo collection particularly interesting is the fact that Hofstra wrote detailed letters to his adoptive mother, M.F. Overdiep-Ham, also known as ‘Moeteke’. In these letters, which were written from 1934 until 1936 Hofstra described his journey and day to day life in Panguma Village, Sierra Leone. Hofstra’s letters portray the interesting bond Hofstra had with the Mende people, who trusted him and came to him for (medical) advice. At the end of his journey, Hofstra even became part of the highest group in the ‘Poro’, a men’s secret society, which normally only accepts higher political leaders. These examples portray the mutual respect both the Mende people and Sjoerd Hofstra had for each other. Because of these letters, we were able to connect names of villagers to photos, creating not only a better understanding of the collection but important narratives to support the stories behind the photos. The letters of Sjoerd Hofstra can be found in the book by Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra, Sjoerd Hofstra's daughter: Among the Mende in Sierra Leone; the Letters from Sjoerd Hofstra (1934-1936). (Open access online version).