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Publication on Research into the Provenance Histories of Skulls from German East Africa: “Human Remains from the Former German Colony of East Africa”

18.01.2023
Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Following the conclusion of research into the provenance histories of human skulls from German East Africa, a comprehensive book about the pilot project has now been published: Human Remains from the Former German Colony of East Africa, edited by Dr Bernhard Heeb, curator at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, who is responsible for investigating the museum’s anthropological collection, and Professor Charles Mulinda Kabwete, a historian working at the University of Rwanda. The SPK has expressed its intention to immediately return the remains and is currently awaiting word from the relevant countries of origin.

In a project launched in 2017, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin worked together with researchers from Rwanda to investigate the provenance of around 1,100 skulls  from the former colony of German East Africa. The findings of this pilot project, which was funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, have now been published in book format. The publication lays the foundation for determining how best to return these human remains to their countries of origin.

Human Remains from the Former German Colony of East Africa
Recontextualization and Approaches for Restitution

Bernhard S. Heeb & Charles Mulinda Kabwete (eds.), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Language: English, 472 pages, 13 black-and-white images and two full-colour maps, hardcover
Böhlau Verlag Köln, 1st edition,
2022, €69.00, ISBN: 978-3-412-52344-2

The first chapter of the book provides an overview of the history of the anthropological collections that are currently held by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin. Chapters 2–5 provide a reconstruction of the colonial context, look at the public debate surrounding the human remains from Rwanda that are currently housed in Germany, and sketch out some of the colonial networks connected to these histories. Chapter 6 documents the provenance of these human remains, while also presenting Rwandan elders’ recorded memories of German colonial rule and Rwandans’ labour experiences during the colonial era. Chapter 7 complements the contents of the preceding chapters by presenting the findings of the evaluation of historical documents and contemporary sources, while Chapter 8 explores the issues of restitution, financial reparations, and the culture of remembrance. The final two chapters focus on the findings of provenance research conducted into human remains from Tanzania and Kenya.