(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 transmit parts of this research project in a more accessible way. It aspires to restore subjectivity and convey stories of resistance through polyphony.

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 researcher, I believe that working through these histories cannot be done productively without the voices of concerned people, and without the wish to re-unite ancestors and descendants.

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

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