The Legba-dzoka Project: Unpacking a Colonial Missionary Collection

22 January, 2023

On the 21st of February 2023 Birgit Meyer will present her research The Legba-dzoka Project: Unpacking a Colonial Missionary Collection as part of the Christian Missions in Global History seminar. Chris Wingfield will chair.


So far, missionary collections assembled in the aftermath of evangelization in areas colonized by European imperial powers have gained relatively little scholarly and public attention. Focusing on a collection of legba-figures and dzokawo (so-called “charms” and “amulets”) assembled by Protestant missionary Carl Spiess among the Ewe in Togo and the Gold Coast (now Ghana) for the Übersee-Museum Bremen, this presentation will present the Legba-dzoka project, which involves scholars and spiritual practitioners from Ghana, Togo, Germany and the Netherlands. Special attention will be paid to the interpretative frames through which legbawo and dzokawo were re-signified and alienated from their original value and meaning through missionary discourses around “fetishism” and “idolatry”. Situated in between the categories of religious objects, ethnographica and heritage, collections like this offer gateways into the complex colonial and postcolonial entanglements that must urgently be unpacked.

Birgit Meyer is professor of religious studies at Utrecht University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she studies religion from a material and postcolonial angle, seeking to synthesize grounded fieldwork and theoretical reflection in a multidisciplinary setting. She has written extensively on mission and colonialism in Africa, modernity and conversion, the rise of Pentecostal churches in the neoliberal era, the relationship between media, religion, and identity, and material religion and the role and place of religion in 21st century Africa. In addition to her research in Ghana, she is interested in broader conceptual issues related to the multiple manifestations of religion in the past and present and the coexistence of people from diverse religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Awarded with the ‘Academy professor prize’ and the ‘Spinoza prize’ in 2015, Meyer initiated the comprehensive research programme Religious Matters in an Entangled World ( which she is currently conducting.

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