Reporting on the Marianas and Their Inhabitants in Early 18th-Century Germany
The Jesuit ‘Neue Welt-Bott’ (New World Messenger) as a Source of Knowledge and Colonial Fantasy
By Dr. Ulrike Strasser
University of California San Francisco
Abstract: Although very few Germans in the early 18th century knew much if anything at all about the Marianas, reports from the Pacific islands on the other side of the world came to fill the front pages of Germany’s most important serial missionary publication. Launched by the Jesuit Joseph Stoecklein in 1726, “Der Neue Welt-Bott” (New World Messenger) appeared in forty issues and targeted a broad educated audience. The massive collection featured information from all around the world, from missionary letters and travel reports to maps and various types of cultural commentary. Given the careful assemblage of the materials presented in “Der Neue Welt-Bott”, the editor obviously made a conscious choice to open the first (and subsequent issues) with reports about the Marianas and their inhabitants. What prompted Joseph Stoecklein to give the Marianas such centrality in his publication? What knowledge about and what image of the islands and their inhabitants did the chosen texts convey to German readers? And what, if any, information can we glean from these European reports about island society under Spanish and Jesuit rule? This paper discusses the prominence, function, and content of the Marianas reports in “Der Neue Welt-Bott”, including a 1684 map of the islands.
‘The Mariana Islanders Know How To Navigate This Small Ship with Great Mastery’: German Jesuit Reporting on the Marianas and Their Inhabitants
It has been well established that quite a few Germans were among the Jesuit missionaries working in the Marianas during the early Spanish period. These Jesuits came mainly from two provinces of the Jesuit order’s German Assistancy, the Austrian and the Bohemian provinces. Like their Spanish counterparts, German Jesuits tried to instruct the CHamoru in the Catholic faith and to inculcate in the indigenous European social and cultural norms that were more often than not rather alien to island life worlds. As did the Spanish Jesuits, Germans too described their activities, the Pacific archipelago, and its people in letters and reports sent to Jesuits, family members, and friends in their distant European homelands. Thus they added to a historical record on the Marianas dominated by European voices and discourses.