Germany returns stolen Namibian skulls amid protests

30th September 2011, Comments 5 comments

At a solemn ceremony marred by protests, Germany handed back Friday 20 skulls spirited away from Namibia a century ago after what many historians call the first genocide of the 20th century.

A 55-member delegation from Namibia took part in the formal handover featuring tribal leaders, government officials and descendants of Herero and Nama victims massacred by German imperial troops.

But chaotic scenes accompanied the speeches, particularly an address by German Deputy Foreign Minister Cornelia Pieper, with a handful of demonstrators shouting words they demanded to hear from her: "reparations", "apology" and "genocide".

"Today's handover of the skulls reminds us of a dark chapter in shared German-Namibian history. It is an occasion to again acknowledge the atrocities committed," she said.

After expressing "deep regret" for the deaths in remarks translated into the Nama and Herero languages, Pieper left the ceremony quickly.

Germany has repeatedly refused reparations, saying that its 600 million euros ($818 million) in development aid since Namibia's independence in 1990 was "for the benefit of all Namibians".

The skulls are among an estimated 300 taken to Germany after a slaughter of indigenous Namibians during an anti-colonial uprising in what was then called South West Africa, which Berlin ruled from 1884 to 1915.

Incensed by German settlers stealing their land, cattle and women, the Herero people launched a revolt in January 1904 with warriors butchering 123 German civilians over several days. The Nama tribe joined the uprising in 1905.

The colonial rulers responded ruthlessly and General Lothar von Trotha signed a notorious extermination order against the Hereros.

Rounded up in prison camps, captured Namas and Hereros died from malnutrition and severe weather. Dozens were beheaded after their death and their skulls sent to German researchers in Berlin for "scientific" experiments.

Up to 80,000 Hereros lived in Namibia when the uprising began. Afterwards, only 15,000 were left.

The skulls gathered dust in the German archives until three years ago when a reporter uncovered them at the Medical History Museum of the Charite hospital in Berlin, and at Freiburg University in the southwest.

So far, 47 skulls have been found at the Charite and about a dozen more in Freiburg.

The publicity around their discovery prompted Herero and Nama leaders to ask the Namibian government to seek their return.

Members of the delegation began the ceremony outside the Charite university lecture hall with prayers and songs to their ancestors.

The service itself was held inside on a podium on which two of the skulls were displayed before Namibian flags, with one of the skulls marked on two sides with inscriptions in the blue-grey ink of the university archive system.

Bouquets of white lilies and roses were placed on either side.

Herero and Nama generals stood watch, wearing crisp uniforms laden with medals and carrying their tribal banners.

Charite chairman Karl Marx Einhaeupl said the purported "research" on the skulls performed by German scientists had been rooted in the perverse racial theories that later planted the seeds for the Nazis' genocidal ideology.

Namibian Culture Minister Kazenambo Kazenambo railed against the poisonous legacy of German colonial rule, which he said still drained his country of vital strength.

Pointing to the skulls, Kazenambo called them "our silent heroes and heroines, whom we are looking forward to taking home".

"May their souls rest in tender peace as we repatriate them for a dignified reception," he said.

Researchers determined the region from which the skulls came as well as the sex and age of the victims but say there is no hope of learning their identity or cause of death.

The Namibian representatives will return home Tuesday with a memorial service planned in the capital Windhoek the following day to welcome the 11 Nama and nine Herero skulls, which will go on display in a local museum.

The remains, derived from four women, 15 men and a boy, are expected to be followed by others in due course.

© 2011 AFP

5 Comments To This Article

  • Johann von Kriegsdorf posted:

    on 12th December 2011, 01:23:06 - Reply


    Maybe you missed the point that Germany already paid 800 millions to Nabia in the last 20 years. I'm 27 and I also have just a job. You really think that Germany is to blame for Namibia's poverty? We ruled what is now Namibia just a few decades. Was Namibia wealthier before the Germans ? Why is all of Africa so poor? Did you developed something like drugs, cars or anything what you could sell?
  • Jayco posted:

    on 2nd October 2011, 21:26:16 - Reply

    Johann is once again showing us the attitudes of his forefathers. Typical Nazi. Your people came to my country and killed people for nothing. Nothing. We didn't care wether German existed or not. We didn't give a damn. We were just happy to have our means of production here. But your von Trothas and other imperialists came from nowhere to steal our land and livestock. It's a total disgrace. The footprints are still here. Now we have German Namibians. They own everything in this country. Land is still in their hands and if we are being ridiculed for demanding reparations, it only means German remains the same. The Nazi mentality is still dominant in the minds of people like Johann. I am 29 and apart from having a job, I own nothing elese in this country. It's a German-made poverty that we are enduring. Give back our skulls. Give back our wealth. Pay for your deeds, you colonisers.
  • Don Ridgeway posted:

    on 2nd October 2011, 08:54:57 - Reply

    It's not about money my friend, it's about the brutality and the un-humaness that many Whites and Jews posess against other races. The Jews for instance are responsible for the deaths of over 100.000.000 West Africans, and still have to account for the brutality and longevity of the North Atlantic Slave Trade. 98% of all plantation in North America, South America and the West Indies were owned by Jews. When people committ such crimes against humanity it should never be forgotten.
  • gavin tjijeura posted:

    on 1st October 2011, 08:37:41 - Reply

  • Johann von Kriegsdorf posted:

    on 30th September 2011, 22:08:44 - Reply

    I am sick of it. Everybody want just money from us ! ! Why aren't the former colonies demanding money from the UK? They had much more colonies. Because we are the sucker who pay for everybody. All of us know everything about the Holocaust, it is a shame that happened but I was born in 1984 and I'm hearing reading about it every day in every newspaper. Now the Namibians begin..... Can we ask for reparations from the Romans? (lets say Italians).

    I am working and paying taxes to bail out Greece and the rest, we still paying to Israel and the third world. Now the Namibians are stretching out their hands.

    What is now Namibia they butchered each-others for centuries and even now but the evil is what we did 100 yrs ago. Get real ! !