Germany returns skulls of Namibian genocide victims

Wednesday August 29 2018

Human remains from Namibia

A skull is on display at the Charite Hospital, prior to a hand-over ceremony of 20 skulls taken from Namibia at the beginning of the 20th Century, in this photo taken on September 30, 2011 in Berlin. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BBC
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Germany has handed back the human remains of indigenous people killed during a genocide in colonial Namibia more than 100 years ago.

A Namibian government delegation received the skulls at a church service in the capital, Berlin.

The bones had been sent to Germany for now-discredited research to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans.

Tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people were murdered in response to an anti-colonial uprising.

Their descendants are still waiting for an apology from the German government.

The military

The genocide began in 1904 after a Herero and Nama rebellion in response to the German expropriation of their land and cattle.

The head of the military administration in what was then known as German South West Africa, Mr Lothar von Trotha, issued an extermination order in October 1904.

The Herero and Nama were forced into the desert and any who were found trying to return to their land were either killed or put into concentration camps.

There is no agreed figure of how many died but some estimates have put it as high as 100,000.

It is thought that 75 per cent of the Herero population and half of the Nama population died.

Discredited studies

The skulls of some of the victims were sent to Germany where racial anthropologists studied them as part of an attempt to justify a theory about the superiority of Europeans.

There are thought to be hundreds of Namibian skulls in Germany and on Wednesday more than 25 remains were handed back.

Skulls from Germany's other African colonies, including modern day Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda and Togo, were also used in the discredited studies.

Will Germany say sorry?

In 2016, Germany said it was prepared to apologise in principle but it is still negotiating with the Namibian government over the form of the apology and how to deal with the legacy of the genocide.

Some of them have launched a class-action lawsuit against Germany in New York, hoping to get some reparations.

Wednesday's ceremony is the third time that remains have been handed back to Namibia, but it was hoped that this time it would be part of a true reconciliation process, reports the BBC's Johannes Dell