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Namibian Human Remains Discovered at the American Museum of Natural History Related to the German Genocide of 1904-1908

September 13, 2017 10:00 PM
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​The Association of the Ovaherrero Genocide In the USA Inc. ("the Association"), in conjunction with the Ovaherero Paramount Chief Adv. Vekuii Rukoro and Chief David Frederick, Chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association, confirmed today that the American Museum of Natural History ("AMNH") is in possession of Namibian human remains, some of which appear to be related to the German genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples during the period from German occupation of what was then South West Africa (now Namibia) from approximately 1885 to 1915.

The Namibian human remains were originally collected by Professor Felix von Luschan, a German anthropologist, and ethnologist at the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin from 1885-1910. He was also a member of the German Society for Racial Hygiene. Over the span of many years, von Luschan built up two large collections containing thousands of specimens: one for the Berlin museum and one in his own private possession. Both collections contained skulls and skeletons of Namibians that had been shipped from Namibia to Berlin during the German colonial period in Namibia.

According to Dr. Holger Stoecker, a historian at Humboldt University in Berlin familiar with the collection, after von Luschan's death in 1924, his widow sold his private collection to the AMNH in New York. It is believed that Felix Warburg, the German-born New York banker, donated the money for the transfer of the collection from Berlin to New York.

Kenneth F. McCallion, the attorney for the Association and the Namibian leadership of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples in their federal class action commented: "The discovery of Namibian human remains at the American Museum of Natural History highlights the fact that the Genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples continues to have repercussions not only in Namibia but also in places such as New York and the rest of the U.S., where many of the descendants of survivors of the Genocide have settled and still maintain their vibrant cultural and ethnic identities, despite the effort by the German imperial forces to wipe them out."

In addition to seeking compensation from Germany for the Genocide, the federal Complaint alleges that the leadership of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples have been unfairly excluded from ongoing negotiations between Germany and Namibia regarding the settlement of claims relating to the Genocide. The Complaint states that Germany and Namibia are parties to Sept. 13, 2007, U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides that indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves …"

As set forth in the Complaint, the Ovaherero and Nama indigenous people were robbed, during the German colonial occupation period, of virtually all of the grazing lands that provided the economic basis for their communities and cultural heritage. As a result, the surviving members of the Ovaherero and Nama indigenous communities have been condemned for generations to perpetual and institutionalized poverty, requiring as a matter of fundamental justice that their lawful representatives be included in the negotiations with Germany. Paramount Chief Rukoro, Chief Frederick, and other Ovaherero and Nama leaders and representatives from Namibia and around the globe will view the remains at the Museum on October 13, 2017, which is also the date of the next scheduled court appearance before Judge Laura Taylor Swain in federal court in downtown Manhattan.


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