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Ethnologisches Museum: Restitutions to Namibia and Tanzania

29.06.2022
Ethnologisches Museum

Under a new agreement, twenty-three objects from the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum are able to remain permanently in Namibia. There are also plans to reach an agreement on the return of objects from Tanzania that have been identified as having been looted during the Maji Maji War and other conflicts during German colonial rule.

The Restitution of Objects to Namibia

Twenty-three objects from the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Ethnologisches Museum will remain permanently in Namibia. The Foundation Board of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz has authorised SPK President Hermann Parzinger to reach an agreement with the relevant authorities in Namibia over the future home of individual objects, or indeed of the whole group. The objects travelled to the African nation in late May as part of the research project Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures, carried out in partnership with the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN), where they will be the subject of research. The group includes historical objects of everyday use, jewellery, tools and items of fashion. The project is supported by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, and is based on a model of collaborative provenance research between experts from Namibia and Berlin.

The Restitution of Objects to Tanzania

The Foundation Board has likewise authorised the President to reach an agreement on returning objects from Tanzania that were identified as having been looted during the Maji Maji War and other conflicts during German colonial rule. In recent years, these looted objects and other items from Tanzania have been the subject of collaborative projects carried out with partners in Tanzania, including colleagues from the University of Dar Es Salaam and the National Museum of Tanzania. The pilot project Tanzania/Germany: Shared Object Histories?was focused on researching the provenance of colonial-era collections from present-day Tanzania. It led to the production of a travelling exhibition, which was also shown at the Maji Maji Memorial Museum in Songea. There are currently a number of other research collaborations underway that are expanding upon this provenance research and looking into the significance of the collections from Tanzania, such as the projects Collaborative Provenance Research on Collections from Tanzania at the National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam and the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin(in collaboration with the National Museum of Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung) and Umstrittenes Eigentum (Contested Property), part of the DFG’s special research area “Affective Societies”, which is focused primarily on objects belonging to the Masai people.

The History of Tanzania at the Humboldt Forum

To mark the opening of the eastern wing of the Humboldt Forum in September 2022, an exhibition will take a critical look at the Tanzanian collection and its colonial contexts. The objects from the Maji Maji War and from other violent contexts are slated to be exhibited in 2024 as part of a presentation on the “history of Tanzania”, which is currently being developed together with partners in Tanzania, in particular with the National Museum of Tanzania. Both sides are in agreement that particular attention will be paid to conveying the events of the colonisation of Tanzania and the Maji Maji War – which are largely forgotten in Germany but play a crucial role in the collective consciousness of Tanzania – to German and international audiences. The restitution of the objects to Tanzania will take place after the conclusion of the exhibition.