The silence around last week's repatriation of 20 skulls from Germany to Namibia is a sad commentary on an even sadder period in history.
The skulls belonged to four women, fifteen men and a boy of about 3 or 4 years old. They were part of an estimated 300 heads that were removed from dead bodies of members of the Herero and Nama tribes who died in Namibian concentration camps, particularly the one located on Shark Island in Luderitz, between 1904-1908. The heads were taken to Germany for research done by a German anthropologist, Paul Bartels, who wanted to use the skulls to prove that white people were superior to black people.
The Germans ruled Namibia from 1884-1915. In 1904, the Herero people, and later the Nama, tired of the abuse they suffered at the hands of the Germans, fought back and 123 Germans settlers were killed. In revenge, the German colonial authorities headed by General Lothar von Trotha called for the extermination of the Herero people. This extermination included rounding up the people and imprisoning them on Shark Island with no shelter and little to no food. Thousands died there from disease and starvation. During this time 65,000 ( some put the figure as high as 100,000) Herero people were killed and 10,000 Nama people. A thousand Herero people managed to run to Botswana and were given sanctuary. After the genocide only 15,000 Herero people survived in Namibia.
In 2004, Germany apologised for the genocide but has refused to pay any compensation to the Namibian people for the atrocities. Germany has paid out more than $61 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors.
A delegation of more than 60 Namibian leaders went to Germany to collect the remains of their ancestors from the Medical History Museum in Charite Germany. Upon their return they were met at the airport in Windhoek by thousands of Namibian people.
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