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.
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This article focuses on the judicial consideration of the scientific analysis of the Tomašica mass grave, in the Prijedor municipality of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Often referred to as the largest mass grave in Europe since the Second World War, this grave was fully discovered in September 2013 and the scientific evidence gathered was included in the prosecution of Ratko Mladić before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Based on the exhaustive analysis of all the publicly available trial transcripts, this article presents how the Tomašica evidence proved symptomatic of the way in which forensic sciences and international criminal justice intertwine and of the impact of the former over the latter on the admissibility of evidence, the conduct of proceedings and the qualification of the crimes perpetrated.
Debates on the relevance of repatriation of indigenous human remains are water under the bridge today. Yet, a genuine will for dialogue to work through colonial violence is found lacking in the European public sphere. Looking at local remembrance of the Majimaji War (1905–7) in the south of Tanzania and a German–Tanzanian theatre production, it seems that the spectre of colonial headhunting stands at the heart of claims for repatriation and acknowledgement of this anti-colonial movement. The missing head of Ngoni leader Songea Mbano haunts the future of German–Tanzanian relations in heritage and culture. By staging the act of post-mortem dismemberment and foregrounding the perspective of descendants, the theatre production Maji Maji Flava offers an honest proposal for dealing with stories of sheer colonial violence in transnational memory.
Between 2012 and 2017, at the Ł-section of Warsaw’s Powązki Military Cemetery, or ‘Łączka’, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance exhumed a mass grave containing the remains of post-war anti-communist resistance fighters. Being referred to as the ‘cursed soldiers’, these fighters have become key figures in post-2015 Polish memory politics. In this article we focus on the role of the volunteers at these exhumations in the production of the ‘cursed soldiers’ memory. Following the idea of community archaeology as a civil society-building practice, the observed processes of sacralisation and militarisation show how the exhumations create a community of memory that promotes the core values of the currently governing national-conservative PiS party. We found that tropes related to forensic research and typically identified with cosmopolitan memory paradigms are used within a generally nationalist and antagonistic memory framework.