Researchers in Germany, working at Berlin’s Museum of Prehistory and Early History have identified living relatives of victims whose remains were looted and taken to the European nation in the colonial era.
Since 2017, the scientists have been carrying out research on about 1,100 skulls from what was then known as the former colony of German East Africa.
Through a DNA analysis conducted together with Rwandan counterparts, the German scientists confirmed that 27 of these skulls have clear connections to living descendants of the Kenyan victims.
“Finding such a match is a small miracle and will probably remain a rare case, despite the most careful provenance research. We are all the more pleased and would also like to thank Konradin Kunze and Berlin Postkolonial for their support.” Hermann Parzinger, the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation said in the statement.
Entrance to Berlin’s Museum of Prehistory and Early History
As part of the project, the German museum analysed over 1,000 skulls collected from East Africa during the colonial era. The findings indicated that 904 of these skulls could be assigned to Rwanda, 197 to Tanzania, while 7 could not be assigned to a specific country or location.
As part of the research, sufficient information was gathered from eight skulls, showing promise in identifying specific descendants.
The museum, in collaboration with the University of Göttingen, conducted a molecular genetic test. Ten comparative descendants from Tanzania provided saliva samples for the study.
Following the genetic analysis, one of the skulls was found to be a complete genetic match with a living male in Tanzania.
This particular skull bore the inscription “Akida,” indicating that the deceased might have held a high-ranking advisory role to Mangi Meli, a Tanzanian Chagga King who was hanged by the German colonial government alongside his 19 constituents.
To confirm this theory, researchers collected a DNA sample from a direct descendant of Akida.
In another Chagga community family, two more of the eight skulls examined showed an almost identical genetic match.
Following these revelations, the museum has reported that German authorities are in the process of reaching out to the Tanzanian government and the living relatives of the deceased Tanzanians to address this matter. It is anticipated that an official apology will be issued, and arrangements for the repatriation of the remains will be made.
“The relatives and the government of Tanzania will now be informed as soon as possible,” the museum said in the statement.
The skulls in question are part of a larger collection of approximately 7,700 obtained by the museum from Berlin’s Charité Hospital in 2011.
This collection includes many remains that were initially assembled by the doctor and anthropologist Felix von Luschan during the era of German colonial rule.
Reports indicate that the remains were looted from cemeteries and other burial sites worldwide and brought to Germany for “scientific” experiments.
Currently, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History is currently collaborating with scientists from the countries of origin to re-identify around 500 skulls originating from the former German colonies in West Africa.
The results of this research are expected to be published by the end of 2024.
Hermann Parzinger, the President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
The British Academy
Over the last 20 years, Germany has confronted the atrocities committed by its colonial-era founding fathers.
In 2021, the country officially recognised its responsibility for the genocide in Namibia and pledged €1 billion in financial aid to the descendants of the victims.
Further, Germany has taken steps to repatriate skulls and other human remains that were taken to Berlin during that historical period.