Germany Is Returning Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter During Its Colonial Rule

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 Geingobin.

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. 

Hendrik Witbooi is revered as a national hero in Namibia. Photo: Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

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 apologized for 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.

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.

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