Namibia's ancestral skulls receive hero's welcome home
A century after colonial German authorities seized the remains of Africans for racial experiments, 20 skulls returned Tuesday to Namibia with military honours to be laid in state at parliament.
Their journey from dusty archives in Berlin to a heroes' welcome in Windhoek has cast a spotlight on Germany's history as a colonial power in what was then known as South West Africa.
The skulls of 15 men, four women and a boy from Namibia's Herero and Nama communities landed at sunrise in Windhoek, carried from the plane in two caskets draped with the national flag and flanked by an honour guard.
Military trumpets saluted them, while women ululated and men shouted battle cries amid banners reading "Welcome to our ancestors, our heroes".
As the caskets were loaded into a military vehicle, a small group of Herero men drew closer, calling to their ancestors and welcoming them home.
"Our people cry tears as our grandmothers and grandfathers are back on their home soil," said Herero chief Kuiama Riruako, who flew to Germany to receive the skulls at ceremony Friday.
The skulls were taken to Parliament Gardens, where 18 laid in closed boxes and two others sat in glass cases, as about 2,000 people lined up to pay their respects -- with many bowing as they filed past.
The emotional return of the skulls has revived Herero and Nama demands for reparations from Germany over what they call a genocide of their people.
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".
"These mortal remains are testimony to horrors of colonialism and Germany's cruelty against our people," Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula said. "The Namibian nation accepts these mortal remains as a symbolic closure of a tragic chapter."
But some within the Herero and Nama communities disagree and continue to call for reparations. One car in the motorcade at the airport was emblazoned with the words "Germany must pay -- Herero and Nama genocide".
"We trust that the Namibian government will engage Germany for reparations and that justice will be done," said Nama chief David Frederick, whose grandfather's skull was among those taken to Germany a century ago.
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 discredited "scientific" experiments that purported to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans.
Up to 80,000 Hereros lived in Namibia when the uprising began. Afterwards, only 15,000 were left.
On Wednesday the skulls will be taken to Heroes' Acre, a memorial for Namibia's liberation war dead, crowned by an obelisk and a bronze statute of the unknown soldier.
Later the skulls will be kept in a newly built museum dedicated to the history of Namibia's liberation struggle.
© 2011 AFP