Namibians living in the United States of America (USA) last month announced the discovery of eight skulls, which have been identified as of Namibian origin, in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The eight skulls are only a drop in the ocean of thousands of human remains in this museum. Can this discovery really be surprising in view of the fact that human remains in their thousands and thousands have already been discovered in museums in the Federal Republic of Germany, a number of them, of Namibian origin? Given the sad dark history of Imperial Germany in the then German South West Africa, where thousands and thousands of Ovaherero and Nama were killed on official German orders meant to wipe them off the face of the earth, it is understandable that more than a century after, Namibian human remains are being unearthed, and shall continue to be unearthed.
The heads were severed from the bodies of those massacred, a gruesome act which survivors were usually forced to watch. How brutal? These skulls were shipped to Germany, - and where else who knows - even to the Americas as the discovery of the latest skulls is revealing. The latest skulls are said to have been bought from a certain private collector in Berlin, Germany, by the name of Felix Luschan. However, conscious of private collectors, one cannot but deduce that there must have been ulterior motives for such collections rather than the only purported racial scientific motive to show that Africans, or Negroids, were intellectually inferior to the whites or Caucasians.
Still the scientific motive could not have been a justification for the brutalities involved. Thus, one cannot but suspect a more widespread practice in the shipment and trade of the skulls of all Africans in general by Europeans, particularly Germans in the case of Namibia.
In this day and age, this abominable hobby by private collectors has been reduced to the collection of animal heads, which, in neo-colonial parlance, is referred to as trophy hunting. It is thus axiomatic, if the private collection of skulls is anything to go by, what the hobby of these collectors in the past was that of African human beings. Obviously, the trophies by then, it seems, were the skulls of Africans. Thus, one would not doubt that indeed there must be thousands of skulls of Africans in many a homes of the so-called civilised of this world, which may have been acquired as trophies.
But which may still be in the homes of these private collectors and still being seen and serving as trophies akin to today's trophies of wild animals. Because what else is an African, and could an African otherwise have been, in the eyes of some of these would-be civilised of the so-called first world other than animal, or savages? But back to the recent discovery of the skulls in the American museum, the question now begging is what to do with these skulls? The good thing is that the museum, from the first indications, is willing to cooperate with would-be claimant. Never mind the reason for claiming them. Already sentiments have been expressed in some quarters in Namibia, foremost among some traditional authorities, that these skulls rather not be repatriated to Namibia. As a teaser to a national debate on this matter, it is and cannot by any measure be a preposterous thinking. Already we have the first consignment of 21 skulls, which were repatriated from Germany in 2011. The initial excitement and euphoria having dissipated, five or six years thereafter, the essence of the initial repatriation cannot be but a matter of thinking in the heat of the then moment. Not to mention what has since been the purpose of these skulls, wherever they are in the storages of the National Heritage Council.
While a lot of ground may have been covered to conscientise, and educate the world about the dark history of Imperial Germany in Namibia, to a great extent the world remains ignorant of such, let alone about the extent of the harm inflicted by these dark chapter.
Thus, the best that can happen to this skulls discovered in the USA, is for them to lay necessary foundation for a memorial section on the genocides of the Ovaherero and Nama in this very American Museum of Natural History. Lest they become moribund and meaningless once repatriated to Namibia as the others are proving to have been. This, one understands, given the initial positivity of the American museum's authority, and the Namibian delegation that went to view the skulls and had discussions with it, something that the museum authority may be amenable to. Needless to say this may also be the prudent and right course for the Namibians to follow.