First a globetrotter, then at home in the USA for more than three decades: the ethnologist and historian Rainer Buschmann. (California State University, Channel Islands)
Rainer Buschmann has lived in the United States for 33 years, including over ten years in Hawaii – for research purposes. His domain: the history of the Pacific region. Here he also explores the traces of German colonial history.
Hawaii, the 50th state of the USA, evokes many associations. Studies and university are rarely mentioned as keywords. But that’s exactly what Rainer Buschmann did here: he studied ethnology and Pacific history.
“Only the University of Hawaii in the United States has a doctoral program in this exotic story. Otherwise, I should have gone to New Zealand or Australia,” he says.
Climate change and the South Seas
Buschmann is now a professor at California State University. One of his main areas of research is the South Pacific region, that is, what is commonly referred to as the South Seas. He is currently working on the consequences of climate change, which is particularly sensitive here.
The South Seas, explains the scientist, associate many people with coral atolls: “The water level only needs to rise from one to two meters, then it will no longer exist”.
This is more like the observations of a marine biologist than those of a historian. But when you’re researching the South Pacific, says Buschmann, you shouldn’t draw the line so narrowly: “You have to be a little bit familiar with biology, a little bit with ethnology, a little bit with political science at the same time. “
German colonial heritage
Born in Bremen, he is particularly interested in German colonial history in the South Pacific. Until 1914, the German Reich occupied many areas here, including parts of what is now Papua New Guinea.
As a result of discussions of Germany’s colonial heritage in recent years, the history of the South Pacific has become more focused, says the historian. The myth that it was a “German colonial paradise” persisted for a long time. Götz Aly tried to turn things around a bit with his book “Das Prachtboot”. Rainer Buschmann considers this to be an important step.
According to the ethnologist’s experience, the inhabitants of the South Sea islands tend to react positively when asked about the German occupation. But you have to be careful here, he emphasizes. The German colonial era dates back almost 120 years, after the German Reich followed Japan, the United States and Australia.
Additionally, in the Pacific region, you “never want to say anything bad” to others. “When I travel the South Seas as a German and ask people questions about German colonial history, they always tell me something positive. That’s where this stereotype comes from that the Pacific people are very nice. “
According to the historian, traces of German can still be found in the South Pacific, even after more than a hundred years: “The language of Papua New Guinea still has some German words. Then there is also a very small region in New Britain, the ‘Unserdeutsch’ speaks, there are a few hundred speakers. And of course there are architectural remains. “
Rainer Buschmann travels a lot. Even as a child, he did not stay long in one place. He was born in Bremen in 1965. The father works at Krupp, the family will soon move to Essen. In the early 1970s, the father was transferred to Barcelona, so the family accompanied him.
With hindsight, the scientist sees this time positively: “It makes you a bit of a globetrotter.”
Buschmann later came to the United States through his aunt. He has lived there for 33 years. His German is now tinged with an American accent. He definitely wants to stay until the end of his professional career.
However, he has already thought about returning to Germany several times. Donald Trump was one of the reasons, the changed climatic conditions in California another:
“The risk of fire is still there. Right now the fires are all in northern California. It is affecting the quality of life, the quality of the air. Life has changed.”