RETURN OF STONE CROSS TO NAMIBIA:GERMANY ON RIGHT PATH TO A VERY LONG JOURNEY.
Stone cross to be returned to Namibia, erected by Diogo Cão in 1486 at Cape Cross ,Namibia, removed in 1893 by German sailors and brought to German Historical Museum ,Berlin.
Germany is returning to Namibia a navigation landmark, a stone cross, padrão, which the Portuguese seafarers under Diogo Cão erected in 1486 when they reached Namibia. The navigators were under instructions from their king to erect such stone crosses wherever they reached new land. The stone cross served to indicate Portuguese sovereignty and presence. We leave aside the arrogance involved in sailing to somebody’s land and claiming it as yours. The Germans removed the stone cross in 1893 when they were in charge of the area then known as South West Africa as a result of the notorious Berlin Conference of 1884.
Press and media have been full of reports on this gesture of the Germans. (1) At the handing over of the stone cross that had been in the Museum of German History, President of the museum’s foundation, Raphael Gross, declared that this restitution was an important event for both Namibia and the museum, that would serve as "recognition of historical injustice". "In this respect, it can act as an intervention that allows a new chapter to be opened up in the consideration of the common history of both Germany and Namibia."
Germany's Minister of State for International Cultural Policies, Michelle Muentefering Germany is reported to have said that Germany was returning the stone cross to Namibia even though it was originally of European origin, as ‘gesture of reconciliation’. She declared that "The return of cultural objects is an important building stone for our common future with Namibia. Given the differing dramatic pasts of Germany and Namibia, how does anybody begin to envisage a common future, especially as Germany is not even willing to apologize for the genocide of the Herero and the Nama?
Culture Minister Monica Gruetters also said that Germany’s returning the cross at Namibia’s request was a sign that Germany takes responsibility for its colonial past.
So much grandiloquent statements were made concerning this handing over of the stone cross which only reveal Germany’s unwillingness to face its colonial responsibilities. If Germany really wants to indicate a willingness to accept its colonial responsibility, the first action would be to issue an apology and ask for forgiveness for the horrendous genocide Germans committed against the Herero and Nama and to pay corresponding compensation not only for the slaughter of the peoples of Namibia but also for the confiscation of their cattle and other property. The lands that the German colonial oppressors seized from Africans are still in the hands of Germans in Namibia. (2)
The return of the stone cross is not enough to be considered as opening or allowing the opening of a new chapter in the relations between Germany and Namibia. It only indicates that not much has been done during the past decades despite claims by the Namibians, including legal process in the United States. (3)
To say that Germany was returning the stone cross to Namibia even though it was of European origin shows clearly that many in the German government have not understood why certain objects should be returned to their former colonies. Objects that have been wrongfully taken from the former colonies have to be returned irrespective of their origin because they were illegally taken. For example, the Tangué of Lock Piso, the bow of a ship, has to be returned to Cameroon not because of its African origin but because it was wrongfully taken from Lock Piso. Lock Piso, was the only Cameroonian king who refused to sign a German treaty of 12 July 1884, so-called treaty of protection that imposed colonial rule. A consequence of this refusal and resistance to colonialism was an attack by German forces that was preceded by the German consul Max Buchner, stealing the artefact from the residence of the king. Prince Kum’a Ndumbe has been asking for decades for the return of his great grandfather’s symbol and has met only with negative and irrelevant responses from the German authorities. The Five Continents Museum, Munich, formerly Völkerkunde Museum, has so far refused to return the Tangué, to Professor Kum’a Ndumbe III and his people, the Bele Bele, Douala, this royal artefact of Ndumbe’s grandfather, Kum’a Mbape. (4) One wonders why Germans need this artefact. To show perhaps that they conquered the area and its people who refused to submit to colonial rule?
Tangué of Lock Piso, Cameroon ,now in Five Continents Museum, Munich, Germany.
Demands for restitution of African artefacts are based on the fact that those artefacts were illegally seized and brought to Germany and not because they were of African origin. Those who cannot grasp this fundamental principle also tend to think that Africans want all African objects to be returned. Clearly an absurd proposition that has not been made by those seeking restitution but by those opposing restitution. Thus, opponents of restitution easily try to avoid the question of the illegality of European seizures in Africa and assume the legality of their presence in Europe, contrary to all historical evidence. But can ministers not see this distinction?
Germany could show its willingness and desire for reconciliation with Africans by returning the thousands of human remains that are still in German institutions. (5)
If German authorities really wish for better relations with Africans, they would hurry up with the restitution of the thousands of looted African artefacts in German museums and institutions. They should abandon all the baseless excuses they present for not restituting looted African artefacts. The excuse based on the need for provenance research should be abandoned because even when German museums have established that certain artefacts were clearly looted, they still do not return them to the rightful African owners but transfer them to another institution that has more looted artefacts.
When recently, the Museum for Arts and Craft (Museum fur Kunst and Gewerbe) Hamburg established that 3 Benin bronzes in its collection were indeed looted, they were simply transferred to the Völkerkunde Museum, Hamburg, now called Museum at Rothenbaum, Hamburg on the grounds that the latter museum had more of the looted Benin artefacts, and could offer the three bronzes a more appropriate frame of display. Nobody seemed to realize the absurdity of this explanation. (6) It was not considered at all to return the Benin artefacts to the Oba of Benin from whose palace they were forcefully removed in 1897 by an invading British army that later on sold them to European and American institutions in the same year or shortly thereafter.
The test of Germany’s willingness to reconcile with Africans will come in November 2019 when the Humboldt Forum officially opens and looted African artefacts are presented there instead of using that occasion to return the objects. We learnt recently that the Benin Bronzes might not be on display in 2019 but later in 2020. We are not aware of the reason or reasons why they will not be on display. Are they preparing them for shipment to Benin? It is not likely. A more plausible reason may be to avoid protests by activists that may disturb the formal opening of the Forum. (7) It has also been suggested that they want to use the area previously designated for the Benin bronzes now for restaurants and shops.
Surviving Herero returning starved from the Omaheke Desert where they had been driven by German troops after The Battle at Waterberg; Two women in front were unable to stand.
Germany should be congratulated for returning the stone cross to Namibia after all the decades of illegal holding but it should not expect more, after doing what it should have done long ago. Germany cannot expect to receive honours for correcting her wrongdoing. It should have been obvious to all that the stone cross which the Portuguese planted in Namibia, in1486 belongs to Namibian history and not German history. It signified the beginning of European colonization of Namibia, with all the sufferings and tribulations that we now know. Germany should also return all the administration archives, geological reports, maps and other reports made in the course of its occupation of Namibia (1884 -1915) so that a full history of the country and its peoples can eventually be written. So should all the colonial powers return records and archives that relate to the colonies they administered. Colonial records and monuments are necessary for writing the history of colonialism since they are evidence of European intrusion on the African continent. How many people would believe that the Danes, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedes and Norwegians were ever in Ghana if we did not have the castles and forts along the coast of Ghana as enduring landmarks of their intrusive presence there?
Returning the stone cross to Namibia is a good gesture but it is not enough. An apology for genocide against the Herero and corresponding compensation as well as restitution of human remains and the precious African artefacts would be better and more convincing of Germany’s recognition of its responsibility for colonial atrocities and looting. Germany is on the right path, with the return of the stone cross but the journey will be very long.
We are grateful to the German Historical Museum that it did not propose to loan the Stone Cross to Namibia but simply returned it. Germany could perhaps persuade its friends in the Benin Dialogue Group to abandon the idea of temporary loans of looted artefacts to those from whom they were stolen.
1. Germany returning Stone Cross artifact to Namibia | News | DW | 17.05 .https://www.dw.com/cda/en/germany-returning-stone-cross...namibia/a-48768706
Germany to return ancient stone cross to Namibia - AP News https://www.apnews.com/b36e9ba79d504f90b3b11aa234fd1f0c
Germany to return 500-year-old monument to Namibia - CNN - CNN.com https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/17/africa/germany-to-return-namibia.../index.html
Have Germans finally acknowledged the Namibian Genocide ...
According to this newspaper, the German Foreign Office stated that the demand by Namibia in 2017 for the stone cross was the only official demand for restitution ‘Laut dem Auswärtigem Amt handelt es sich um das derzeit einzige Kulturgut aus kolonialen Kontexten, für das eine offizielle Rückgabeforderung bei der Bundesregierung vorliegt‘ It is amazing how often Western States report that there has been no demand for restitution of looted artefacts. They often resort to this explanation when they are unwilling to return looted artefacts. We have often written about this cheap way of avoiding to deal with the demands by declaring there has been no demand. See K. Opoku,
4. Kwame Opoku: Can An Italian Maritime
Museum Help Repatriate ...www.africavenir.org/.../kwame-opoku-can-an-italian-maritime-museum-help-repatriat... Feierliche Erklärung Zum Geraubten Tangué Von
Kum'a Mbape (Lock ...