Germany Returns Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter

Namibia_Hendrik Witbooi
Chief Hendrik Witbooi

At last, Germany is returning artifacts back to Namibia which it had stolen some 126 years ago from a Namibian freedom fighter, Hendrik Witbooi. This is a good step forward, as they also returned the human remains of people they had killed via committing a genocide, last August. As a flashback, the First Genocide of the 20th Century was committed by Germany on the Nama and Herero people of Namibia. During that time, it is estimated that Germany wiped out at least 75% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama population (the Namibian genocide or the Herero and Namaqua genocide). The skulls and bones of the people they decimated had been sent to Germany to study the racial superiority of Europeans. To that effect, tens of thousands of Nama and Herero people were murdered. There are thought to be hundreds of Namibian skulls in Germany and last August about 25 remains were handed back. Their descendants are still waiting today for an apology from the German government, as well as reparations. Skulls from Germany’s other African colonies, including modern day Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda and Togo, were also used in these now discredited studies.

Below is the article from Artnet News.


Presentation of cultural objects of robbery
A bible and a whip from the estate of Hendrik Witbooi. (Getty images)

The German city of Stuttgart will return artifacts looted from the country’s colony in what is now Namibia on March 1 during a ceremony with Namibian president Hage Geingob.

German state minister for science Theresia Bauer will travel to Namibia to hand over a whip and bible from the collection of Stuttgart’s Linden Museum that once belonged to Namibian national hero Hendrik Witbooi, a leader in the fight for independence against the German colonizers during the Nama-Herero uprising.

“The restitution of these objects is for us the beginning of a reappraisal of German-Namibian colonial history,” Bauer said in a statement published on the Linden Museum website.

The ceremony is taking place in Witbooi’s hometown of Gibeon, where a museum is being built and will eventually house the items. In the meantime they will be safeguarded by the state. 

Chained Herero men

German soldiers stole the artifacts during an attack on Witbooi’s stronghold of Hornkranz in 1893. Colonial troops in former German southwestern Africa launched a brutal crackdown on Witbooi’s people after the leader refused to sign a protection treaty to cede territory to the colonizers. In response, German troops ransacked the village, took livestock, burnt huts, and looted possessions.

Both the whip and bible were donated to the Linden Museum in 1902, according to the German art magazine Monopol.

The German imperial empire colonized parts of Namibia from 1884 to 1915. Germany officially [recognized] the Nama-Herero genocide in 2004, in which an estimated 65,000 members of the Nama and Herero tribes were murdered in response to the uprising.

Survivors of the Herero genocide

In November 2018, the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg said that the German state “is aware of its historical responsibility and is ready to take action. Sending an important message and signaling an important step in the process of reconciliation.”

Today Witbooi is revered as a national hero in Namibia and one of the most important chiefs of the Nama tribes. He is honored by numerous monuments across the country and his portrait is printed on numerous paper bills.

13 thoughts on “Germany Returns Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter

  1. Getting back those artifacts is a start, but more needs to be done. I saw the Namibian Genocide documentary which was an eye-opener since I didn’t know about that genocide until last year when I first heard about Namibia trying to sue Germany. It’s sick how they never got compensated. Did you also know that some of the people involved in the Namibian Genocide would eventually be accountable for the Holocaust? One of the major generals Von Epp was a superior to Adolf Hitler and the leader of the Third Reich himself said that Von Epp helped “give him his voice”. Another disturbing thing about this (which can also apply to the Congolese Genocide under the brutal reign of Leopold II) was the Shark Island camp where the Namibians were annexed from their homes and forced to be starved out. That situation and imagery made me wonder if Disney got inspiration from that event to influence the Elephant Graveyard in The Lion King (saying nothing about them ripping off the 60s anime Kimba the White Lion) while having the hyenas as proxies as Black people who they believe should suffer at all costs. All this history certainly taints different things. Thanks for the article.


    1. Thanks ospreyshire for your great comments. I did not know that some of the people involved in the Namibian genocide went on to serve Adolf Hitler…
      Thank you for bringing to thought some of the Disney imagery that we take for granted. And yes, I always wondered why they never mentioned the 60s anime ‘Kimba the White Lion.’ These days, I am starting to notice these hidden things in the Disney cartoons which are quite disturbing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Dr. Y. I learned that fact from the Namibian Genocide documentary that the BBC of all channels made and they talk about the connections between the Second and Third Reichs. One of the doctors who sent the severed heads to Germany would be a teacher to Josef Mengele, too.

        No problem, and I’m glad you appreciate my insights on that matter. Bonus points for also knowing about Kimba, too. I certainly agree and one of the big things that caused me to question things about Disney was when I saw Dumbo as an adult when I was interning at a film festival and I got seriously offended with the rastabouts (all of them are faceless Black men) and the crows at the end especially when I found out the lead one’s name was Jim.


      2. Whoa… the crows at the end, and the lead one’s name was Jim, as in Jim Crow…
        There is so much hidden connotations in these, and we need to pay attention, for our sake and that of children, and above all, we need to make our own and not wait for Hollywood-made Black Panther (no offense with this) when there are so many great stories on the continent as a whole.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I know, right? I saw that movie multiple times as a child, but I never noticed it until I saw it as an adult and I facepalmed so hard.

        You’re absolutely right about hidden connotations in movies. Disney isn’t the only guilty party. It’s the rest of the big Hollywood companies, too. I’ve told some people about some of those implications and connotations before. When I worked at a media production summer camp, we had a unit based on media representation and the student base was Black, Latino, and one biracial student who was half-Native American who really soaked in this information. I do agree about making our own movies. I wasn’t offended about the Black Panther comment. For a superhero movie, it was alright, but it’s not as progressive as people make it out to be. One major goal I had was to watch and review African cinema on one of my other blogs. I did like this Nollywood movie called Lunch Time Heroes which was a calming and lighthearted watch for example. They certainly don’t get as much exposure as European or Asian films as far as international films are concerned here in America. Sure, I still watch movies from those continents, but I want to see more African cinema representation here.

        Going back to Disney, I found out that they trademarked the phrase “Hakuna Matata” and there’s a petition going on to get them to drop it. That’s cultural appropriation on so many levels against the Swahili-speaking parts of Africa. I mean, it’s like if they trademarked other foreign phrases like “C’est la Vie” or “Dios Mio” for example. France and Spain wouldn’t tolerate that if any company did that with phrases they’ve spoken since time immemorial.


      4. thanks for your comment Ospreshire. I will check out the Nollywood movie Lunch Time Heroes.
        Yes… I, too, was upset with Disney trademarking ‘Hakuna matata’
        … it is really like “are they serious?”

        Liked by 1 person

      5. You’re welcome. Lunch Time Heroes was better than I expected and certainly a decent lighthearted watch.

        I know, right? I’m glad you know about that issue, too. I shook my head when I first heard the story from Dr. Mumbi.


      1. You’re certainly welcome! I wanted you to know about that especially with the recent Namibian news. I think it’s awesome how Dr. Mumbi has cited your sources and featured your articles for some of her videos.


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