New York’s Museum of Natural History hoarding skulls of Namibian colonial victims

Magreth Nunuhe

Windhoek – Four skulls of Namibian origin have been found in the City of New York’s Museum of Natural History as part of a private collection dating back to the German war of extermination in Namibia of 1904 to 1908.

Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero, Advocate Vekuii Rukoro made this revelation on Wednesday, saying that their US based lawyer, Kenneth McCallion, who is representing them in the class-action lawsuit against the German government for reparations, brought it to his attention that there were human remains of the Ovaherero and Nama people of Namibia in the anthropology division of that museum.

In a statement read by Utjiua Muinyangue, chairperson of the Ovaherero Genocide Committee, Rukoro said that arrangements were being made for the Ovaherero and Nama delegation to view the remains when they attend the next court hearing for the lawsuit on 13 October 2017.

The two Namibian tribes filed a lawsuit at the beginning of this year, suing Germany for excluding them from current negotiations between the German and Namibian governments concerning the 1904-1908 genocide committed on Namibian soil.

Rukoro said that the four human skulls found in New York were part of a private collection of Professor Lieutenant Felix von Luchan’s Okahandja Battalion during that period.

“Lieutenant Felix von Luchan was notorious for the extermination of many Hereros and sold skulls to medical institutions and medical students in Germany on request,” he stressed, adding that it was the same anthropologist who provided those remain to the New York City Museum of Natural History.

The paramount chief said that they were proposing to keep the remains in the US, in New York City as it was in close proximity to the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations headquarters.

The United Nations headquarters is also the place where the late paramount chief of the Ovaherero, Chief Hosea Kutako, petitioned to denounce South Africa’s occupation of Namibia (then South West Africa) in the 1940s.

It is not the first time that skulls of Namibian origin have been found outside the borders of Namibia as on 4 October 2011, 20 human skulls of Herero and Nama people held in anthropological collections of the German Charité University Hospital in Berlin were returned to Namibia.

A further 35 skulls and two skeletons of Namibian origin were also returned to Namibia on 7 March 2014. The skulls and skeletons were of Namibians who were victims of genocide carried out by German troops.

Nearly two-thirds of the Herero were killed and reduced from 80,000 people to 15,000 people. About 10,000 Nama, half of their population, was also killed in the war with Germans.

It is believed that in the period between 1904-1908, German soldiers removed the human remains of about 3,000 Ovaherero, Nama and Damara people to prove that the black race was inferior to the Germanic Aryan race, by measuring skulls, facial features and eye                             colours.

These dark racial science theories inspired German scientists like the notorious geneticist Eugen Fischer, who came to Namibia on behalf of German universities, to behead Namibians and use “race science” theories with the idea of a “supreme race”. He tested heads of about 778 Herero and Nama dead prisoners of war.

The return of the skulls opened old wounds for many Namibians, especially among the Ovaherero and Nama who suffered the most atrocities of the heinous acts that were committed against their ancestors.

It also marked the turning point in the fight for restitution and reparation as the dark racial science theories, which later inspired German Nazis and its fascist leader Adolf Hitler.

“It is my hope that the New York City Museum of Natural History will have paved the way for other institutions in the United States of America to reveal similar items in their possession to expose the extent to which Imperial Germany has committed crimes against the humanity on the African continent in the 21st century,” Rukoro said.

He said that the global community, humanity and democratic institutions globally should take note of Germany’s continued exclusion of the authentic traditional leaders of the Ovaherero and Nama victims from direct involvement in the ongoing negotiations with the Namibian government.

Rukoro alleged that in the latest development, the two governments were hatching a dubious plan to establish a trust fund that will be used to fund projects in the affected communities with the aim to neutralise genuine demands for reparations.

“This time around, Germany is allegedly planning to manage the trust fund directly from Germany because of the lack of ‘trust’ it has in the Namibian government to appropriate funds as earmarked. This is so typical German government,” he said.

Rukoro pointed out that the affected communites would continue to fight for a just cause “come what may, there shall be nothing about us without us”.

September 2017
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