Camagu

(isiXhosa for “praise the ancestors”)

In the nineteenth and twentieth century European anthropologists and colonial officers engaged in a macabre trade of human remains in the name of anthropological science. They wanted to be able to classify humans in “stocks” or “races” based on the measurement of their skulls. Thousand of those human remains still lie in museum collections in Europe, the US, and beyond. These ancestors have seen their skulls and bones stolen and were thereby denied peaceful afterlives. Some of them have been returned to their respective lands and people to be at last reunited with their descendants.

This is a (web)site of remembrance weaving together stories and memories of colonial violence, oppression and dehumanisation undergone by African people under colonial rule. This website has been developed during a PhD project, and tries to make parts of this research project more accessible. It aspires to restore subjectivity and convey stories of resistance through polyphony.

🡲 Link to the PhD thesis

The bodies and spirits of the dead participate in rewriting colonial history, and calling for political change. Their stories touch upon issues of adequate reparations for genocide, murder, and colonial violence in general. In this project, remembrance is understood as more than memory: it is an effort to reunite what has been broken, or damaged by colonial violence. Not only bones, teeth or bodies, but also histories, communities, sovereignty and self-determination. Remembering means accepting the “poetics and politics” of repatriation (Clifford & Marcus; Gilroy; Eckstein) and the entanglements of German, French, British forms of colonialism with Herero, Nama, Xhosa, Khoisan, Chaga, Hehe stories of anticolonial movements. The sites and communities at the heart of this study have been marked by violent forces of European imperialism, colonial expansion, missionary work and scientific racism. As a white European researcher and activist at Postcolonial Potsdam, I believe that it is important to work through these histories and that this work cannot be done productively without the voices and perspectives of those whose ancestors were killed, and without the wish to re-unite ancestors and descendants.


Do not hesitate to post comments below the different articles to share your knowledge on those histories and your interests. I look forward to your feedback on this blog as well.

Yann LeGall
(Berlin Postkolonial, Postcolonial Potsdam & RTG Minor Cosmopolitanisms – University of Potsdam)

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