In 1885, the Berlin pathologist Rudolf Virchow presented three human skeletons from the colony of German South West Africa to the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. The remains had been looted from a grave by a young German scientist, Waldemar Belck, who was a member of the second Lüderitz expedition and took part in the occupation of colonial territory. In an attempt to re-individualise and re-humanise these human remains, which were anonymised in the course of their appropriation by Western science, the authors consult not only the colonial archive, but also contemporary oral history in Namibia. This allows for a detailed reconstruction of the social and political contexts of the deaths of the three men, named Jacobus Hendrick, Jacobus !Garisib and Oantab, and of Belck’s grave robbery, for an analysis of how the remains were turned into scientific objects by German science and institutions, as well as for an establishment of topographical and genealogical links with the Namibian present. Based on these findings, claims for the restitution of African human remains from German institutions cannot any longer be regarded as a contemporary phenomenon only but must be understood as part of an African tradition of resistance against Western colonial and scientific practices.
Colonialism, grave robbery and intellectual history
Larissa Förster, Dag Henrichsen, Holger Stoecker and Hans Axasi╪Eichab
. Catholics, Jews, and political radicals found it more difficult to assert themselves and were sometimes completely excluded from the academic community.5 During the same period, competition increased among the academic disciplines. Ultimately, the conflict was about the meaning of the concept of Wissenschaft. In a speech from 1892, the Berlin university’s rector (this term will be used from now on to refer to the Rektor, or vice-chancellor/president, of a German university), Rudolf Virchow, declared that ‘the dominance of neohumanism is broken’. Virchow, who was a
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus im Pelz (1870)
years before the showdown between Ernst Haeckel and his former professor Rudolf Virchow at the Fiftieth Congress of the Association German Scientists and Physicians in Munich, Sacher-Masoch aimed to popularise Darwinian ideas in an area about which Darwin had said little; The Descent of Man would be more forthcoming in that respect. Kelly, The Descent of Darwin, p. 58. 72 ‘Die Poesie soll eine bilderreiche “Naturgeschichte des Menschen” sein, wo sie dies nicht ist, wo sie abstrakte Phantome oder ideale Phantasiegebilde bietet, erfüllt sie ihre sittliche Aufgabe