Vertenten, a Belgian priest, came to the south coast of what was then Netherlands New Guinea in 1910, as a Sacred Heart missionary. He lived there for fifteen years, in missionary posts devoid of modern comforts, to spread God’s word among the Marind. At that time, Marind culture was generally considered to be extremely violent and inaccessible, with barbarous customs, bizarre rituals and secret societies. Headhunting and ceremonies featuring unrestrained sexual promiscuity were anathema to the Dutch administrators and missionaries.
Father Vertenten got to know the people and their culture well in the years he lived with the Marind. He developed a sympathy for a people that he considered to be overwhelmed by darkness. He felt they were ‘profoundly unhappy: the fear of ghosts, and of magic and vengeance turned their life into a continuous torture.’ To Father Vertenten, the Marind were not just anonymous people without any individual personality. As his portraits - like this example - show, he knew these Marind men by name and recorded the date and place of each picture.
Marind views about Europeans
So what did the Marind think about Europeans? They trusted the missionaries. Their commitment and the medical help they brought surprised them, and Western technology made them curious. Yet they looked down on the whites - inept as archers and dancers, with strange hair and dirty clothes instead of the fragrant palm oil with which the Marind smeared their skin. Some also resented European interference in their affairs. Europeans banned their rituals and headhunting - which they continued to practice in secret.
circa 76,5 x 59cm (30 1/8 x 23 1/4in.)