From 2010 to 2013 the Charité Human Remains Project researched the provenance of the remains of fifty-seven men and women from the then colony of German South West Africa. They were collected during German colonial rule, especially but not only during the colonial war 1904–8. The remains were identified in anthropological collections of academic institutions in Berlin. The article describes the history of these collections, the aims, methods and interdisciplinary format of provenance research as well as its results and finally the restitutions of the remains to Namibia in 2011 and 2014.
Results of the Charité Human Remains Project
Holger Stoecker and Andreas Winkelmann
Colonialism, grave robbery and intellectual history
Larissa Förster, Dag Henrichsen, Holger Stoecker and Hans Axasi╪Eichab
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.
The fate of Namibian skulls in the Alexander Ecker Collection in Freiburg
This article explores the history of the Alexander Ecker Collection and situates it within the larger trajectory of global collecting of human remains during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is then linked to the specific context of the genocide in then German South West Africa (1904–8), with the central figure of Eugen Fischer. The later trajectory of the collection leads up to the current issues of restitution. The Freiburg case is instructive since it raises issues about the possibilities and limitations of provenance research. At the same time, the actual restitution of fourteen human remains in 2014 occurred in a way that sparked serious conflict in Namibia which is still on-going four years later. In closing, exigencies as well as pressing needs in connection with the repatriation and (where possible) rehumanisation of human remains are discussed.
Transnational dynamics in post-genocidal restitutions
Taking its starting point from a socio-anthropological study combining biographical interviews, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observations collected between 2016 and 2018 in Germany, France and the United States among Ovaherero and Nama activists, and also members of different institutions and associations, this article focuses on the question of human remains in the current struggle for recognition and reparation of the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama from a transnational perspective. First, the text shows the ways in which the memory of human remains can be considered as a driving force in the struggle of the affected communities. Second, it outlines the main points of mismatches of perspective between descendants of the survivors and the responsible museums during past restitutions of human remains from German anthropological collections. Third, the article more closely examines the resources of Ovaherero in the United States in the struggle for recognition and reparation, the recent discovery of Namibian human remains in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the questions that it raises.
Overriding politics and injustices
Vilho Amukwaya Shigwedha
In October 2011, twenty skulls of the Herero and Nama people were repatriated from Germany to Namibia. So far, fifty-five skulls and two human skeletons have been repatriated to Namibia and preparations for the return of more skulls from Germany were at an advanced stage at the time of writing this article. Nonetheless, the skulls and skeletons that were returned from Germany in the past have been disappointingly laden with complexities and politics, to such an extent that they have not yet been handed over to their respective communities for mourning and burials. In this context, this article seeks to investigate the practice of ‘anonymising’ the presence of human remains in society by exploring the art and politics of the Namibian state’s memory production and sanctioning in enforcing restrictions on the affected communities not to perform, as they wish, their cultural and ritual practices for the remains of their ancestors.
Caroline Fournet, Benoit Pouget and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
Critique and utopia in Benita Parry’s thought
This chapter focuses on the interplay of critique and affirmation in Parry's work. It begins by looking at her analysis of ethnic solipsism in the metropole, while also discussing her contribution to the understanding of resistance. Parry is concerned to analyse the problem of the left's non-engagement with colonialism, locating as crucial the ‘shift away from the political’ in European Marxism that began in the 1930s. Her accounts of metropolitan fiction writers demonstrate the refusal to subscribe to white racial or European continental essentialism. Furthermore, in Parry's resistance writings, changes of style that are also changes in political conceptualization can be seen. Her Oxford Literary Review makes heavy use of the ‘discourse’ word, which it uses interchangeably to designate aesthetic literature and anti-colonial political thought. Taking up Parry's critical cue, it is suggested that her relative lack of engagement with the aesthetic accomplishments of anti-colonial and post-colonial cultures is perhaps where her own historical utopian imagination gives way to a critical sensibility nourished by more restrictive metropolitan aesthetic values.
This chapter examines the possible links between sustainability and distributive justice, focusing on the welfare of future generations. It discusses the argument of Wilfred Beckerman and Joanna Pasek which holds that interests of future generations cannot be protected or promoted within the framework of any theory of justice. This chapter also outlines a theory of intergenerational justice and explains what this theory might imply for welfare reform.
Racism, immigration and the state
This chapter examines the current hegemonic construction of Ireland as an open, cosmopolitan, multicultural, tourist friendly society. The hegemonic sense of Irish identity established during the 1920s and 1930s has been severely challenged by the rise of the Celtic Tiger. The chapter maps the 'dark side' of contemporary Irish society by examining briefly the experiences of racism of two groups within the field of migration, namely asylum seekers and non-nationals with work permits. The legal and administrative categories of 'asylum seeker', 'refugee' and 'economic migrant' are important in that they confer different rights and entitlements. The two central pieces of legislation which currently shape Irish immigration policy are the 1996 Refugee Act and the Immigration Bill of 1999. Through legislation and social policy, most European states attempt to define and sanction acceptable types of social behaviour and activity.