of the British Period to 1947
Egon Freiherr von Eickstedt (1892-1965)
Egon Ernst Rudolf Adolf Hans Dubslaff Freiherr von Eickstedt (to give him his full name) was one of the oddest scientific investigators ever to work in the Andamans. How a Prussian managed to get permission from the British authorities for field work in a closed penal colony during the late 1920s when anti-German feeling had by no means wholly died down following World War 1 remains a mystery. British researchers had applied for similar permission and had been turned down out of hand. Von Eickstedt himself thanks Messrs Bonington, Gray, Donell, Wernigg, Bayley de Castro and Smith. He must have been very popular in the islands, especially among the forestry service, and was even elected as honorary member of a club there.
Egon Freiherr von Eickstedt in 1952
The Anthropological Institute of the University of Mainz may know more about how von Eickstedt managed this remarkable feat but after originally granting us permission to look at their archive, they ceased corresponding when we tried to make an appointment. Nearly four decades after his death, von Eickstedt still seems to be something of a difficult case in Germany and reading his work, one can see why. According to his own report, his Andaman expedition resulted in 706 photographs of which 529 show "types," 147 "body measurements" and 207 ethnographic-geographical subjects. Of all material produced by this expedition, only this photographic material has survived the firestorms of World War 2. It remains largely unpublished and inaccessible to the public at the Anthropological Institute of the University of Mainz. We do owe the Institute and its journal Homo - Journal of Comparative Human Biology (founded by von Eickstedt 1950) most of the details we can give here from biographical sketches published by a former assistant, Prof. Dr. Schwidetzky, and others. These details clearly were published to salvage von Eickstedt's reputation and to defend him against the accusation that he was a Nazi or a collaborator. The sketches do succeed in doing so - up to a point.
Von Eickstedt's work has fallen low. Most major international institutions with an interest in the Andamans and India outside Germany as well as Indian institutions have never heard of von Eickstedt and those few who have heard of him are not interested. The man's proud insistence on publishing exclusively in German (until the 1930s a major international scientific language; his refusal was not quite as provincial as it would be today) has not been helpful. However, the main reason for his obscurity today is not his personality or his activities (which seem to have been unobjectionable). It is because most of his photographic material from the Andamans remains unpublished and what relatively little he has published on the subject is cast firmly into the unfortunate racial theories of his time.
Because of a general ignorance about von Eickstedt and the difficulty of finding anything on him in any language other than German, we are giving him a rather longer biography here than would otherwise be justified. As a pioneer of Andamanology he is a minor figure.
Egon von Eickstedt was born near what was then the German city of Posen (Poznan today and in Poland) on 10th April 1892. His family was of the lower Prussian nobility which claimed to be able to trace its descent back to Charlemagne, a matter of intense pride to young Egon. He completed basic schooling in 1913 at Dresden but while still at school he had already tried his hand at journalism and worked in a factory. He would have liked to study medicine but lacked the necessary knowledge of Latin. He attended lectures on anatomy and physiology and at the same time acquired a wide knowledge of anthropology, philosophy, psychology, ethnology, geography, history, prehistory and linguistics. Through Felix von Luschan, professor for anthropology at Berlin and departmental head responsible for Africa and Oceania at the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, his interests were concentrated increasingly on biological anthropology.
World War found von Eickstedt in the medical troops where he could do anthropological investigations on prisoners of war; especially Sikhs serving in the British army. This awakened a special interest in India and its people in the young scientist. After the war he used the results of this wartime research to gain his doctorate.
During the war years, von Eickstedt married a Brazilian lady of Portuguese ancestry, Enjo da Costa Macedo. The two knew each other from earlier school days. She was as intelligent and beautiful as she was educated. Economically independent, she used her professional training as political economist for her work in banking. In those days professionally trained and educated women were rare. She took a lively interest in her husband's scientific work and is said to have been a great help to him socially since he tended to be rather unsociable, introverted and distant. In wartime Germany it cannot have been common and demanded some courage for a young soldier to marry a lady of foreign extraction.
The von Eickstedts in the Andamans 1926/7.
From 1920 to the start of his first India expedition in 1926, von Eickstedt moved from job to job, among them positions at the Anatomical Institute at Freiburg/Breisgau, the Museum of Natural History in Vienna and the Academy of Sciences at Munich. In Vienna he developed his plan of an India expedition and began work on what would later become his enormous "Rassenkunde und Rassengeschichte der Menschheit" [Race and Racial History of Mankind]. Long and protracted negotiations regarding funding of the expedition were brought to a successful conclusion by the eloquent tactician, Mrs. Von Eickstedt. She also accompanied the expedition as an assistant in 1926 and shared all the trials and tribulations that such an undertaking brings with it until she had to return to Germany in 1928 for reasons of health. One of the high points of the expedition was a meeting with one of the greatest of all Indians, Rabindranath Tagore.
Government institutions financed the expedition and so had every right to insist on a publication of results. Many short reports appeared during and after the expedition, most of them tailored to a variety of specialized interests and readers but the overall, no conclusive report never appeared and most of the documentation (apart from the photographic material mentioned earlier) was lost during World War 2.
On his return to Germany, von Eickstedt was appointed to the Chair of Anthropology and Ethnology at Breslau (today Wroclaw in Poland). Von Eickstedt had arrived. Besides expanding the Anthropological Institute and founding an Ethnological Institute, von Eickstedt's main work involved the writing of his vast "Rassenkunde und Rassengeschichte der Menschheit" [Race and Racial History of Mankind] which made him famous in Germany and outside when it appeared 1932-34. The present author has read as much of the work as he could take and found it toe-curdling embarrassing. Von Eickstedt's biographer, Schwidetzky, is at pains to stress that this great tome was written almost entirely before the Nazi era. True - but it does not make its content any better in the cold clear light of hindsight. The physical anthropologists of those days all routinely collected and published vast amounts of human measurements, anything from weight, height and proportions of limbs, noses, skulls, ears, penes, breasts, buttocks and any other appendages and parts of the human frame. Down to earwax, body smells and nasal mucus, all was tabulated and classified. Primitives were stripped down mercilessly to be photographed since it was taken for granted that such backward people could not know shame or embarrassment. Nothing was safe from the probing finger and the measuring tape of the metric anthropologist. Von Eickstedt was well within the mainstream (and by no means a bad case!) when he, too, published a short treatise on the racial Morphology of the soft parts of the Nose ["Beiträge zur Rassenmorphologie der Weichteilnase"]. Ludicrous though we may find much of this today, it was written in a different age and was a relatively harmless obsession of which at least some results retain a certain limited scientific value today. Not at all harmless, however, was the use made of the figures so collected, Oddly enough, the classifying scientist's own noble type invariably came out on top...
Soon after taking over a teaching position at Breslau University, von Eickstedt started to lecture on such subjects as "foundations of racial hygiene - inheritance, variation and selection in their social effects" and "Foundations of population biology and eugenics." As his biographer Schwidetzky hastily adds, as a non-medical man, von Eickstedt had nothing to do with the execution of the matter.
Von Eickstedt and his colleagues were thus busy at their desks, sorting human races into higher and lower forms on a purely theoretical basis. He noted here a "primitive chimpanzoid type" among the Onge, disapproved there of the Veddoid Panyer people of southern India as the "phylogenetically lowest type he knew." Von Eickstedt (as an unquestionable europiforme scientist himself) did, however, approve of an attractive Andamanese girl as "well-proportioned, i.e. europiforme, shape." Such pseudo-scientific guff was not a German speciality but at that time was widely shared by the international western scientific community. In India, the British anthropologist Ripley demonstrated in 1901 that upper-castes differed in their fine noses from the squat ones of their menials. Nor was the Swiss Prof. Schlaginhaufen alone in his firm conviction that stupidity, immorality and poverty could all be traced to racial factors.
To give our readers the flavour of von Eickstedt's work and the way he formed his working hypotheses, we quote here in full (in our own translation) a section of his writing on the Onge. He identifies two outsider types as well as a normal uniform type among the Onge population
...we have first clearly met the higher type in a chief of the Western Bay people. Totally un-Negritoid are the brutal chin with the strong lower lip, the hooked yet fairly narrow nose as well as the outline of the forehead and the general facial expression. Still more clearly does this type appear in the oldest man at Weule [Dugong ] Creek, the only Onge to turn up with his bow (which was later "accidentally" broken by one of our Rutland Onges during trial shooting). The old man had a long, finely chiselled face that was crowned by a splendid forehead, a daring aquiline nose, tight, firm lips and an energetic chin. It appears almost a typological contradiction that such a fine, friendly senatorial head had jet-black skin and belonged to a pygmy body. Other individuals also occasionally showed thick lower lips or finely curved noses, sometimes thickened at the tip, characteristic of the Mopla, Arab half-breeds of the Malabar coast (where this report has been written). Apart from the more recent Malay pirates, for the past one and a half thousand years it has been above all Arab merchants, often slavers, who called at the Andamans. Trade was almost exclusively in Arab hands and the lack of water forced the small trading boats to travel in stages. In view of this fact and the obvious morphological data there can hardly be any doubt that the type discussed here originates in Arab somatic influence, i.e. comes in its essence from an oriental race. It is possible that such influence has entered the population before strongly xenophobic attitudes had spread - even though according to sources such attitudes have been current for more than a millennium - but it can also be that not every shipwrecked castaway was murdered after all. Even among the Jarawa there has recently been a case when an escaped convict has been accepted within the group (albeit the last surviving and badly injured survivor of a group). In any case, even a few intrusions could hold up in a population that was isolated towards the outside world for very long periods and that consisted of at most 3-400 persons.
The second outsider type among the Onge is a morphological contrast to the first: the face is low and round, the jaw often protruding as in a snout, the upper part of the face flat with a small, low and slightly turned-up, stubby nose. This type, which in the field we called "chimpanzoid" for short, is underlined further in its primitive features by a highly receding chin and protruding eyes. It is obvious that we have here a primitive component within the Negritos, a surviving trait from the morphological development of the race, so to speak. Whether the type represents the survival of an original stage in the development of the present-day Onge or whether it represents another Negrito group that was pushed into the Andamans at the same time as the original Onge must remain undecided. The latter explanation cannot be rejected out of hand in view of the linguistic mosaic of the Great Andamans.
Neither the oriental nor the primitive type is numerous among the Onge ... The majority of the Onge is characterized by a relatively unified type ... On historical and morphological grounds it seems justified to regard the Onge as the Negrito group that has least been modified through outside contact and gives the best representation of the old type of the Negrito race .... The face [of a typical Onge man] is of middle length, the nose middling broad and with a blunt, slightly upturned tip. The impression of a square face is somewhat reduced by a pointed chin. Of primitive characteristics we find especially a concave upper lip, a receding chin and a widened nose, all only to a relatively light degree. The forehead is steep, eyes, ears and mouth are large, the lips are not thick, sometimes even thin. Hair form and colour, however, are Negroid.
Their very dark forms seem jet-black in their natural environment, they are strong and slim and often show a wonderful harmonious proportion of their bodies.
When Hitler came to power, von Eickstedt like so many other scientists tried to jump aboard the rolling bandwagon. He applied for membership in the Nazi party in 1933 but was turned down for reasons that are not clear but may have had to do with professional jealousies between academics competing in the field of racial studies. Even his biographer, Schwidetzky (who otherwise goes to considerable lengths to distance her subject from Nazis, racists, colonialists and other unfashionable -ists) has to admit that he had been, for 2-3 years after 1933 a sympathizer of Hitler and that he believed in "racial hygiene" and eugenics. His fundamental belief seems to have been in the notion "primitive/progressive". This was based based in part on the then not extensively available and not well understood discoveries of prehistoric hominids. As Schwidetzky writes in defence of von Eickstedt:
Theromorph-primitive means human characteristics closer to the pre- and early forms of modern humanity which are documented extensively through [archaeological] finds. Infantile-primitive means closer to childlike forms, including among adults. Both forms of primitiveness can thus be defined morphologically.
After being rejected by the Nazi party and experiencing some hostility to his scientific work, Schwidetzky claims that her subject went into what later would be called the "inner emigration" at Breslau/Wroclaw. It is not immediately apparent why he should have had such serious political problems as claimed by his biographers. They appear to have been more in the way of minor irritations when his scientific work was not entirely following the party line or were based on differences so obscure and minute that it needs the mind of a theologian to sort out. Although never seriously in danger from the authorities, von Eickstedt is said to have stopped to concern himself with politics, concentrating entirely on his scientific work. He started a "Zeitschrift für Rassenkunde" (Journal of Racial Studies) which attracted many foreign contributors and did population studies in Silesia.
In 1937-39 he went on his second expedition which was less systematically organized than his first but which went much further afield; it extended as far as China but did not touch on the Andamans. His later biographer, Schwidetzky, first appears as his deputy during this time.
Not much is reported on Eickstedt's activities during the years of War, 1939-45. He remained professor at Breslau/Wroclaw, published in his field and quarrelled a little with the Nazi authorities. The Office for Racial Politics found his obscure distinction between genetic race, ("form race") and "Volksrasse "(folk race) objectionable for some arcane reasons, but no serious consequences followed.
When in January 1945 the Red Army approached Breslau/Wroclaw, the von Eickstedts had to flee the city. His wife suffered from chronic arthritis and the trip to Dresden took place in an ambulance. Soon after their arrival, they lived through the devastating aerial bombardments of Dresden in mid-February 1945. Having survived that ordeal, von Eickstedt found himself unable to sit still in the sickroom of his wife in a partly ruined hospital - and went to look for employment. In Leipzig he was offered the chair of anthropology and ethnology which he accepted. His assistant was again to be his biographer, Schwidetzky.
Most of his scientific notes and collections had to be left behind in Breslau/Wroclaw. In the chaos of the immediate post-war period, von Eickstedt went no less than eight times from Leipzig to now Polish Wroclaw, each time bringing back bags of books and artifacts, above all his photographs, from his old apartment (his old institute had been destroyed and nothing could be saved there). Moving around the new borders for Germans during early postwar days was dangerous and on occasions he had to travel tied to the underside of railway carriages. Von Eickstedt could not have brought back anything without the help of the Polish scientists who had taken over his old institute and who seem to have liked and helped the German professor wherever they could. This is a most amazing feat, quite on a par with his ability to get into the Andamans when British scientists could not! He even dedicated a copy of his book "Racial Dynamics of Eastern Asia" (1944, the fruit of his second expedition) to his Polish successor at Breslau/Wroclaw, Stojanowski. This - rather than the occasionally laboured arguments in his favor presented by Schwidetzky - is by far the most convincing argument that von Eickstedt was not a bad apple. Unfortunately for him, his data was good but his science was rubbish.
In 1946 von Eickstedt was imprisoned and interrogated by the Russians for a fortnight. After this unpleasant experience he decided to leave the Russian zone and to move west. His decision also seems to have been speeded up by a chat with his cleaning woman who introduced herself as the new chair of the Institute's Trade Union, welcomed him as a new member and told him to ask her if there were any problems. It is said that he, the member of a noble Prussian family and a German University Professor, froze during this conversation. He hurried west and was welcomed in Mainz where a chair for anthropology was set up for him. Many of the old crew from Breslau/Wroclaw, including Schwidetzky, soon joined him there. The new Institute financed itself in part by supplying expert opinions in disputed paternity suits.
At this time the old publisher of "Zeitschrift für Rassenkunde" [Journal of Racial Studies] approached von Eickstedt in the late 1940s and suggested a resurrection of the journal. In the words of Schwidetzky
... von Eickstedt agreed. The old title, however, was out of the question. It was also clear to von Eickstedt that the word "race" had been discredited through its connection with Nazi racism and that it would be put under taboo (even by experts in the field!). There were also hints from the historical scientific side that the subjects Race and Race Classification would no longer be the focal point of the field and that it would be replaced by other paradigms. Von Eickstedt chose the name "Homo" for the new journal, from 1950 with the subtitle "Journal of Comparative Human Biology."
Von Eickstedt never had a lucky hand in naming his journals.
The third and last volume of "Forschung am Menschen" [Research on Humans] appeared in 1963. He had hoped to repeat his success with "Rassenkunde und Rassengeschichte" of 1934 but the new book sank without a trace in a world that had changed completely.
Egon von Eickstedt died 20th December 1965 in Mainz, following a stroke while preparing for a trip into Iran.
No other scientist associated with the Andamanese so clearly shows the light and shadows of an anthropology tied to the bloodiest century mankind has ever seen. He could have been a great scientist but he ploughed his furrow in a doomed and poisonous field.
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