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The Morden African Expedition

Identifier: Film Collection no. 224

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the Peabody Museum of Natural History-Morden African Expedition, 1956. In 1956 William James Morden and his wife, Irene, traveled to Africa to collect ethnographic and zoological specimens for the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. As in 1953, they were accompanied by collector Walter Hoesch, who concentrated his efforts on small mammals and birds. Southwest Africa Beautiful labyrinthine villages decorated with flowers and gourd-bearing vines characterize an area in northern South-West Africa (now Namibia) where the Ovambo (i.e Ambo) people live, known as Ovamboland. Yet despite their seeming isolation, the influence of western culture is clearly evident in the clothing and automobiles of the Ovambos. The expedition concentrated its attention on studying the culture and activities of the people, including their dress, their manner of cultivating maize, making beer, and tending to the sacred fires, which reflect the welfare of the tribe and must never be extinguished. Returning to Etosha Pan, the reserve the Mordens had visited during their 1953 expedition, the team films Bushmen (i.e. San) performing dances depicting the ant bear, the gemsbok, and the elephant. The expedition then continues on for a look at Windhoek. Natal Most of this footage records the wildlife of the Hluhlwe-Umfolozi Reserve, in Natal, South Africa, concentrating in particular on the behavior of the white rhinoceros. Many other mammals and birds indigenous to the region are shown. A Zulu sculptor displays his work for the expedition staff and a group of Zulu men and women perform a high kicking dance to the beat of drums. Kenya; Tanganyika This segment of the film concentrates on the hunting activities of the expedition. The places depicted are Nairobi, Isiolo Northern frontier district, Marsabit Reserve, Mt. Kenya Park, Ambesoli, Arusha, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti plains. There are shots of Mt. Kenya, Mt. Marsabit, Lake Paradise, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Lake Magadi. In camp, the expedition staff performs daily tasks such as cooking, testing guns, and smoking meat. The native staff is seen salting zebra hides and collecting freshwater fish for a joint project between Peabody and Corendon University in Nairobi. Irene Morden's stated goal of this trip was to bag a black-maned lion and a leopard. She succeeded with the lion. The hunt is recreated for the camera and she poses with the lion. The skinning is also photographed. Irene bags a rhinoceros and poses with that as well. The nearby Masai women, on hearing of Irene's success with the lion, pay her a visit, singing and dancing in her honor and Irene joins in the dance. The funnel produced by a sand cyclone is also shown.


  • 1956

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (87 minutes) : sound, color ; 16 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (87 minutes)) : sound, color ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 16 mm. print.



William James Morden, photographer; Irene Morden, narrator.

The Morden African Expedition, 1956
Iris Lee
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Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
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