Re-thinking the Agency of Human Remains: Haunting and the Struggle for Justice in the Restitution Process of Herero and Nama Skulls in 2011
MetadataShow full item record
In 2011, Germany returned human remains to Namibia for the first time. The skulls originated from a genocide committed by Germany’s colonial troops against Herero and Nama in its former colony between 1904 and 1908. The event received considerable media and political attention. Until then, very little attention was paid to Germany’s colonial past and the government ignored demands for acknowledgement and reparations by affected communities. While the restitution process did not yield the fulfillment of such demands, it was crucial in forcing a confrontation with the colonial past, one that ultimately led to an acknowledgement of the genocide in 2015. This paper investigates the role of the restitution process in this development. While other research in the area treats this event as secondary and does not connect the return of human remains with the wider context of the descendant’s struggle for justice, I try to fill this gap. I ask why a restitution of human skulls could create such political ramifications. Taking a material approach, I focus on the human remains as such and argue that they exerted a non-human and haunting agency that not only influenced their treatment and discussions on their objectification and human-ness, but also forced a negotiation of the silenced violent past of Germany’s colonial history. By drawing from interdisciplinary theories on agency, haunting, historiography and memory, the thesis offers an original perspective on the lingering effects of colonial violence and possible ways to overcome these.