Rumphius Revived

Rumphius
Rumphius

Image, and the following information from the article in Wikipedia:

Georg Eberhard Rumpf was baptized in Wölfersheim, Germany November 1, 1627. He was the oldest son of August Rumpf, a builder and engineer in Hanau, and Anna Elisabeth Keller, sister of Johann Eberhard Keller, governor of the Dutch speaking Kleve, a city near the Dutch border.  He was educated in the Gymnasium in Hanau. Though born and raised in Germany he spoke and wrote in Dutch from an early age, probably as learned from his mother. He was recruited, ostensibly to serve the Republic of Venice, but was put on a ship (The Black Raven) in 1646 bound for Brazil where the Dutch and Portuguese were fighting over territory. Either through shipwreck or capture he landed in Portugal, where he remained for nearly three years. Around 1649 he returned to Hanau where he helped his father’s business.

A week after his mother’s funeral (Dec 20, 1651) he left Hanau for the last time. Perhaps through contacts of his mother’s family, he enlisted with the Dutch East Indies Company (as Jeuriaen Everhard Rumpf) and left December 26, 1652 aboard the ship Muyden for the Dutch East Indies as a midshipman. He arrived in Batavia in July 1653, and proceeded to the Ambon archipelago in 1654. By 1657 his official title was “engineer and ensign”, at which point he requested a transfer to the civilian branch of the company and became “junior merchant” on Hitu island, north of Ambon. He then started to undertake a study of the flora and fauna of these Spice Islands. Eventually, Joan Maetsuycker, the governor-general in Batavia, gave him dispensation from his ordinary duties to complete this study. He would become known as Plinius Indicus (Pliny of the Indies).

This week, in American Scientist magazine, an article entitled, The Herbal of Rumphius: A 17th-century Dutch naturalist established the botanical foundations of the flora of Indonesia, by Lynn Margulis and Peter Raven.

From 1653 until his death in 1702—most of his adult life—Georgius Everhardus Rumphius lived on Ambon in eastern Indonesia, where he described its plants. At the time, Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the Dutch East India Company) was the largest private business enterprise in the world; it reflected the mercantile power of the far-flung Dutch Republic and controlled much of the trade between Europe, the “Spice Islands” and many ports of Asia. The Company headquarters at Ambon—one of the Molucca islands that are today part of Indonesia—became a bustling outpost of the “civilized world.” The contrast between the marum-grassy dunes, incessant booming waves, overcast skies, cold and damp cobbled streets of Amsterdam and the verdant, lush, mountainous backdrop of sunny warm Ambon was extraordinary. The paucity of useful species of flowering plants in the gloomy north contrasted with the prodigious green landscapes of Indonesia. The goal of Rumphius was not to bring himself fame or fortune but to communicate the wisdom of the place, to describe for the literate world the plethora of plants and their uses.

Their article not only encapsulates the life and work of Rumphius, it also reveals the immense labor of love of the translator of  the Herbarium Amboinense, the late Dr. E. M. Beekman, a professor of Germanic languages at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Working alone for more than seven years with the invaluable support of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and on a Guggenheim Fellowship (2001) that barely financed one year, Professor Beekman himself, like his object of study Georgius Everhardus Rumphius, astounds us. His unique linguistic abilities (aside from fluency in Latin, Dutch, German and English, he was an accomplished poet), his perseverance, intelligence and newly acquired botanical expertise, are requisite to this work. We suspect the timing was optimal; it is unlikely that anyone else was competent and generous enough to complete this enormous undertaking.

Read the complete article in American Science.

More information on Dr. Beeckman’s translation of  Rumphius’ book, Amboinsche RariteitkamerThe Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet.

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