Return of colonial object: The pillar of Cape Cross goes back to Namibia - culture

The board of trustees of the German Historical Museum (DHM) in Berlin has agreed to return to Namibia a more than 530-year-old royal column with a Christian cross and a Portuguese coat of arms. This was announced on Thursday evening after the board meeting. On Friday, the official announcement of the unanimous decision took place in front of the three-and-a-half-meter column of Cape Cross: Museum Director Raphael Gross, Namibian Ambassador Andreas Guibeb and Minister of State Monika Grütters were together happy about this "signal for the future", like Raphael Gross wants to know the restitution understood.

In Namibia, the pillar is considered an important symbol of colonialism

The column has been part of the permanent exhibition in the DHM since 2006. In 1894, when Namibia was declared a German colonial territory, the German navy, under Emperor Wilhelm II, spent the 1.1-ton monument in Wilhelmshaven. In Namibia, the column is considered one of the few surviving symbols that directly testify to the beginning of colonialism.
In late summer, Monika Grütters and Raphael Gross want to set out together to return the pillar, which was erected in 1486 in the name of the King of Portugal on the coast of today's Namibia, as a landmark but also as a symbol of domination, back to Africa. Restitution is a sign of reconciliation with Namibia, says Grütters. In addition, Ambassador Guibeb affirms that much progress has been made between the two governments in the joint review of the genocide of the Herero and Nama, which is severely damaging the relationship between Namibia and Germany.

Public debates about the topic are still rare

In June 2017, Namibia once again called on the federal government to return the pillar of Cape Cross. Only the question remained: who is responsible? What is the legal basis? In a symposium, museum director Raphael Gross invited representatives from Europe and Africa to a public discussion. It was the first time that such a debate was publicly held. The conclusion at that time: The current law does not help. At the time, legal scholar Sophie Schönberger made it clear that the question of owning the pillar had to be clarified with the law that applied at the time the pillar was taken. On this basis, no justice is possible. The second finding was: the museum is responsible for the return, not the government. In turn, it must create the framework and climate for returns. It is due to the courageous actions of Gross, that now so quickly a solution was brought about. The pillar could now go first to Swakopmund in western Namibia. In the future, it will be displayed near Cape Cross, where it was once set up, in a new memorial or a new museum, says Guibeb.

What will be in the DHM instead of the column?

In Berlin, however, one should notice that something has changed in the historical judgment. "The pillar does not belong here," says Gross. Therefore, the space should not be simply filled with a copy of the column. Especially since there is a copy of the pillar in the Technik Museum in Berlin, which also belongs to the DHM. When the original column under Kaiser Wilhelm II was removed from the Kreuzkap in 1894, a column of identical shape and size was added there, supplemented by a German inscription and a imperial eagle as coat of arms. Some find a copy of this imperial granite column in the DHM in order to clarify the underlying entanglements.

In February Baden-Württemberg had returned a whip and a Bible from the Linden Museum Stuttgart to Namibia. Nevertheless, these restorations can only be the beginning. In the Humboldt Forum, which will open in the autumn of 2019 at Berlin's Schlossplatz, numerous Benin bronzes will be on display, which have been stolen from the Kingdom of Benin in today's Nigeria.

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