Friedrich Julius Bieber (1873-1924), an Austrian, visited Ethiopia three times in 1904, 1905, and 1909, and he is recognized as the leading ethnologist dealing with the Kafa in southwestern Ethiopia. He was born in Vienna in 1873, during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Bieber had always had a strong interest in Africa since his childhood. Striving on this passion of his, he taught himself ethnology and African studies and attempted to visit Africa. In 1892, he met veterans Alexander Barges and Albert Rugg, who set out for Sudan and took Bieber along as an expert on Africa. They, however, could not reach Sudan; they ended up in Eritrea and then turned back. Upon his return, Bieber took a position as an official in the statistical section of the Ministry of Trade in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
During his tenure, he continued to give public lectures on Africa and Ethiopia. In 1904, Bieber got an opportunity to visit Ethiopia as part of a mission to open trade between the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and Ethiopian Empire. Under the leadership of the businessman Arnold Szél, about seventy companies financed a journey to Ethiopia by Leopold Morgenstern, a director in Szél’s company, and Bieber himself.
In 1905, under the leadership of Ludwig Ritter von Höhnel, an Austrian public mission was dispatched to Ethiopia. Bieber joined the journey as a specialist on Ethiopia and an Amharic interpreter. After the Treaty of Trade and Friendship was signed and the mission departed from Addis Ababa, Bieber remained behind with the intention of travelling to Kafa; he then traveled to southwestern Ethiopia with Baron Alphons von Mylius. Later, the interviews and materials collected in the Kafa region at that time became the core of Bieber’s research on Kafa.
In 1909, he traveled through Ethiopia with industrialist Emil Pick and reached the White Nile. After his return from Ethiopia, Bieber published numerous books and articles on Ethiopia. He documented many aspects of the lives, culture, and history of the people living in the Kafa region, making a great contribution to the formation of the basic framework for further research on Kafa. One of his major achievements is the two-volume book: Kaffa. An Ancient Cushitic People in Central Africa.
Friedrich Julius Bieber left a great deal of property and written documents concerning both Ethiopia and his daily life. This collection included ethnological objects from Ethiopia, instruments used on his journeys to that country, photographs, books, and unpublished written documents such as diaries, drafts, memoranda, letters, and postcards to his family and friends. The collections are held by the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), the Vienna World Museum (Weltmuseum Wien), and the District Museum of Hietzing (Bezirksmuseum Hietzing) in Vienna. A portion of the above materials will soon be accessible in the Friedrich Julius Bieber Collection’s digital archive on ARCHE.