Living Relatives of Skulls Pillaged During Colonial Era in Tanzania Identified

Living Relatives of Skulls Pillaged During Colonial Era in Tanzania Identified

Researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery in Berlin’s Museum of Prehistory and Early History. Through DNA analysis, they have identified living relatives in Tanzania of people whose skulls were pillaged and taken to Germany during the colonial era. This discovery is being hailed as a “small miracle” and marks an important step towards justice and reconciliation.

The research on the skulls began in 2017, with the aim of eventually returning the remains to the relevant countries. The Museum of Prehistory and Early History has been studying around 1,100 skulls from what was known as German East Africa. These skulls were part of a collection of approximately 7,700 acquired by the museum from Berlin’s Charite hospital in 2011.

Many of the skulls were collected by doctor and anthropologist Felix von Luschan during German colonial rule. Others belonged to the skull collection of the hospital’s former anatomical institute. These remains were thought to have been looted from cemeteries and burial sites around the world and brought to Germany for so-called “scientific” experiments.

German East Africa encompassed present-day Burundi, Rwanda, mainland Tanzania, and part of Mozambique. Through extensive research, the museum was able to gather enough information on eight of the skulls to initiate a search for specific descendants. To everyone’s astonishment, a complete genetic match was found with a living man. The skull, labeled “Akida,” indicated that it belonged to a high-ranking advisor to Mangi Meli, a prominent leader of the Chagga people. The DNA sample provided a direct match with a descendant of Akida.

Two more of the examined skulls also showed an almost complete match to descendants of the Chagga people. This incredible discovery has been described as a “small miracle” by Hermann Parzinger, president of the museum. Despite meticulous provenance research, finding such a match is rare and holds immense significance.

Germany has been slowly acknowledging the crimes committed during its colonial era. In Namibia, it was responsible for mass killings of indigenous Herero and Nama people, often referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century. Germany has already returned skulls and other human remains to Namibia, and in 2021, it officially acknowledged the genocide and promised financial support to the victims’ descendants.

The return of cultural artifacts looted during the colonial era has also begun. Last year, Germany started returning items from its collection of Benin Bronzes, ancient sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, to Nigeria. These highly regarded works of African art were looted by the British at the end of the 19th century and are now scattered across European museums.

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