Recent Cases of Restitution to Namibia - from two Perspectives by Claudia Andratschke & Nzila Marina Libanda-Mubusisi

Panel: Cases of Restitution
Tuesday, 22 June, 2:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. (CET)


The human remains repatriated from Germany back to Namibia at different stages, shows the complexity of negotiation processes and the diverse meanings and conditions of restitutions.
In Germany, guidelines on the handling of human remains have been in place since 2013 and there is public agreement to return remains to the so-called countries of origin. The talk by Claudia Andratschke will show that State Museum Hanover was never an institution that researched human remains, which is why human remains in the colonial period entered the collections of ethnology and natural history rather “accidentally” alongside objects or animal preparations. Nevertheless, it was clear that the research on and the return of human remains had to take place before doing provenance research on objects from colonial contexts.
Therefore, the remains of three individuals were returned from the State Museum Hanover to Namibia in 2018. The whole process was preceded by intensive discussions whether or not anthropological investigations should be carried out in advance. The talk will shed light on the pros and cons of these discussions and would also like to show that the moral-ethical responsibility in dealing with human remains on the part of the German Institutions does not end with their return: On the one hand, the role of German Institutions and disciplines in the illegal transfer of human remains and the subsequent formation and distribution of racist stereotypes in museums in the colonial era and afterwards must be examined and made transparent until today. On the other hand, it is important to remain in a dialogue and to cooperate with the now preserving institutions and individuals in Namibia.
The talk by Nzila Mubusisi will show that the collection of human remains preserved in the National Museum of Namibia has more than doubled in the last ten years since independence until today, following the return of ancestral remains and cultural objects from the Charité University Hospital and other collections in Germany in 2011, 2014 and 2018. The first return of 20 human remains in 2011 received international publicity due to the direct and well-documented link between these human remains and the 1904/08 Herero and Nama genocide in Namibia. Photographs of some seventeen decapitated heads that had been used for research and published in a German scientific journal in 1913 were republished in the media. The heads had been taken from prisoners held in the notorious concentration camp on Shark Island at Lüderitz for racial studies. In 2014 the human remains of a further 35 individuals and in 2018 the remains of a further 27 individuals were returned. Therefore, a total of 82 individuals has, to date, been returned to Namibia, which means that there are now a total of (MNI=137) in the collection of the National Museum of Namibia. This causes challenges related to capacity of the institution to handle the human remains and infrastructure required for proper preservation and management of the material culture.
In February 2019, two sacred heritage objects – a Bible and a Whip that had belonged to the famous anti-colonial resistance leader, Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, were returned by the Linden Museum, from Stuttgart in Germany. Additionally, a more than 500-year-old Portuguese stone cross from Cape Cross was repatriated to Namibia in August 2019 from the German Historical Museum in Berlin, Germany. The consequence has been that a growing number of human remains and objects of cultural and historical significances are now accumulating in various storage facilities at various Namibian institutions including the National Museum of Namibia, the National Archives of Namibia and other institutions across the country. These returns have therefore raised awareness in the Namibian culture and heritage sector regarding the challenges of managing human remains (and associated objects) and heritage objects, hence restitutions debates can assist in developing guidelines on how human remains and other cultural objects can best be handled in a best compressive manner.
This paper urges, that countries should be obligated to ensure proper Restitution and Repatriation of looted and illegally acquired of Namibian objects and related material culture in foreign Museums, Institutions and other places.


Claudia Andratschke studied art history, medieval history, modern history and law in Brunswick and Tübingen and received her doctorate in Tübingen. Since 2008 she has been responsible for Provenance Research at the State Museum Hanover, since 2013 for all departments of the museum. Since 2018, she has also been head of the department Collections & Research. Since 2015 she has been coordinating the Network for Provenance Research in Lower Saxony which includes more than 60 institutions and partners from museums to libraries, archives or associations. She is a member in the Provenance Research Association, several working groups for Provenance Research and has published and taught in this field.