In recent years, calls for repatriation of stolen artefacts from African countries by their former colonial governments have been yielding results.
On 24 May 2022, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin announced that it will send 23 ancient items of jewellery and other artefacts to Namibia on 27 May 2022 on an ‘indefinite loan’. Namibia is a former colony of Germany, and the objects were reportedly taken from Namibia during the 1904-1908 Nama-Ovaherero genocide committed by German military forces.
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which maintains the Berlin Museum, has not stated why the artefacts are being loaned out and were not simply returned to Namibia. The SPK’s president, Hermann Parzinger, explained the decision came about after ‘a process of rapprochement and that’s the way that was decided for the objects to go back’ to Namibia.
The artefacts include a three-headed drinking vessel, a doll wearing traditional dress and various spears, hairpieces and other fashion accessories. Reacting to the loan, the director of the National Museum of Namibia, Esther Moombolah, said it was a new chapter in ‘the long, complex history that Namibia and Germans have’, and that Namibians should not ‘have to get on a plane to see our cultural treasures which are kept in boxes in foreign institutions’.
Analysts have said that the move by Germany to loan the artefacts to Namibia is one in a series of recent steps Germany has taken toward atoning for colonial-era crimes. Last year, Germany finally admitted that it committed genocide during its colonial occupation of Namibia (then known as German South West Africa). Germany also agreed to pay €1.1 billion in reparations. Between 1904 and 1908, German forces massacred tens of thousands of indigenous Herero, Nama and San people over disputes of land and cattle. Many of them were driven into the desert to die of dehydration, while others were imprisoned in concentration camps.
According to EuroNewsCulture, Germany’s decision to return these prized artefacts to Namibia comes in contrast to the response by Britain regarding some of the stolen items in its British Museum such as the Benin Bronzes of the Benin Kingdom and the Parthenon Marbles, which belong to Greece. Although the British government has agreed to open talks with the Greek government over the marbles, it has continued to affirm that the British Museum is independent. The British Museum meanwhile continues to state they won’t return the marbles without push from the government.
In recent years, calls for repatriation of stolen artefacts from African countries by their former colonial governments have been yielding results. Last year, France returned looted African artefacts to Benin and Senegal. The Met, the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen have also returned some Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art agreed to return its Benin Bronzes to Nigeria and Germany has also said it will return thousands of Benin Bronzes in its museum to Nigeria⎈
Here are some Republic articles to read for more context on stolen African artefacts:
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