Central figure Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, the Oberbefehlshaber (Supreme Commander) of the protection force in German South West Africa, in Keetmanshoop during the Herero uprising, 1904.
With news from the grapevine about the possible third repatriation from Germany of the remains of 1904-1908 genocide victims later in August this year, a debate has ensued among a section of the victim communities.
The first issue of concern to these communities is whether, like with the first repatriation in 2011, the affected communities should go to Germany, to conduct the requisite traditional rituals and escort the remains back to Namibia. The second, and perhaps the most cardinal concern, is what to do with this remains once they have been repatriated back in Namibia. There seems to be two schools of thought among the victim communities in this regard.
One is that the remains should be interred and another that the remains be preserved for posterity, and as a historical testimony.
But after the first repatriation, and the rituals done, in 2011, one cannot but wonder whether such rituals would still be of any consequence and of any material essence now especially to the substantive issue of reparation, if not only to expiate the souls and psyches of the victim communities. Yes, one understands that the substantive issue is about acknowledgement, apology, and eventually reparation and repatriation, or repatriation followed eventually by reparation, or the latter two happening concurrently. Meaning while the talks about reparation are ongoing, there’s no reason repatriation of the human remains and other cultural artefacts cannot take place.
Because this cannot be anything but a signal of and to the good intentions of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany that eventually it would own up to its historical responsibility of atoning for its colonial injustices, and genocide. This is not a matter of choice for the German government. It is only a matter of time of when she awakens to the reality of her historical responsibility and honour its due to the victim communities, in whatever form as these communities themselves may demand.
Thus the repatriation of human remains and cultural artefacts is only a precursor and a signal to Germany’s good faith in this regard, but cannot be the ultimate. The ultimate is reparation, period. That is why the victim communities cannot and should not dangle the repatriations of human remains and cultural artefacts in the way of restorative justice. Reparations cannot and should not be hold to ransom by ingredients such as the conducting of rituals in Germany. One would have an understanding if the souls and spirits of the ancestors are to this day hovering in Germany, if some of the ancestors may have been caused to perish in that foreign land.
In the case of Botswana and South Africa, where many forebears who escaped genocide vanquished, there were every reason to believe that their souls and spirits are much alive there, and crying for redemption, hence the need for rituals. The essence of such rituals is to appeal to such souls and spirits. But in the case of Germany, could it be a matter of the souls and spirits from Namibia where they perished, having followed the human remains transported to Germany?
Is it a matter of these souls and spirits being somehow still connected to the human remains there until these human remains ultimately find eternal rest home?
Unless the imperative, besides rituals in their own intrinsic essence and for cultural beliefs and aesthetics of the victim communities, is the publicity such rituals could come to bear on the substantive issue of reparation in Germany, such rituals could just as well be effected back on Namibian soil once having been repatriated, when and where they can properly spiritually reconnect with the souls and spirits of the vanquished victims.
On burying or not, it is really incomprehensible that energy should be expended on this matter if both can be done. Some remains can be buried and some can be preserved, depending on the exigencies, which can really be a compromise. What higher honour, and recognition of genocide, can there ever really be then for some of these remains to be designated a genocide grave at Heroes Acre? Not all human remains must and should be repatriated from wherever they are and may be. Instead some must be kept and preserved where they are and may be, in the museums of those foreign lands as may be, for the posterity of genocide history. Provided such retention and preservation is accompanied by text and historical facts written, vetted and endorsed by the victim communities and their historians.