Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Human Remains Repatriated to Namibia

This is a quick post to report on the successful repatriation case of 20 human skulls to Namibia, after more than a century of storage at the Charite teaching hospital in Berlin (see the photo above left for an example). Namibia, then known as German Southwest Africa, was the site of Germany's brief attempt at colonial rule of foreign lands; a chapter in its history which ended rather badly. These skulls were taken from those who died in German prison camps during a retaliatory campaign of genocide against the Harero (Herero) and Nama (Namaqua) tribes from 1904-1907. This "first genocide of the 20th century," according to the article, was in response to a Harero uprising in January 1904 over alleged theft of land, cattle and women which killed 123 newly settled German civilians. The skulls were kept in a medical hospital to inform later eugenics-themed "research" intended to lend scientific credibility to Nazi claims of racial superiority.

It is great news, then, that these skulls will finally be returned on October 4th, with a reburial memorial and traditional mortuary rights being held on the 5th in the capital, Windhoek. As Namibia's former ambassador to Germany noted in 2008 (quoted in the article), the return of the skulls is "a question of retaining our dignity." I couldn't agree more. As this additional article points out, this repatriation is the tip of the iceberg, with the Charite museum allegedly having at least 7,000 skulls in its collections, as well as a variety of other bones, and several other museums in Germany the same; acquired under equally dubious circumstances. In their year of remaining funding, it is my hope that the physical anthropologists and historians involved will be able to collaboratively identify the most likely origin events that brought these skulls to Germany and arrange for their repatriation, after making sure that all relevant data that can be collected from them is. The injustices of the past should always be acknowledged and remedied as much as possible, but in my opinion, this does not excuse collecting all relevant information.

1 comment:

  1. Let us hope that this will not be the end of repatriation of African bones and skulls in German, French, British and Dutch museums and hospitals. Europeans should make an attempt to put an end to this shameful episode in their history by returning many more remains to Africa. We are not so much concerned with the past as with the present psychological problems that the lack of burial of ancestors causes to many Africans. See my full views in