Thu, 21 Dec 2017 Feature Article

Humboldt Forum And Selective Amnesia: Research Instead Of Restitution Of African Artefacts.

Saltcellar, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on its way to Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.Saltcellar, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on its way to Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

“It is especially difficult to procure an object without at least employing some force. I believe that half of your museum consists of stolen objects.” (1)

Richard Kandt, Resident of the German Empire in Ruanda, wrote in 1897 to Felix von Luschan, Deputy Director of the Ethnology Museum, Berlin.

We have often referred to the sheer unlimited inventiveness and amazing energy of the supporters of the so-called universal museums in creating or inventing new, mostly weak, arguments and strategies for defending the illegal and illegitimate holding of the artefacts of others, especially from Africa, Asia and the Americas.(2) However, we must openly confess that the latest invention in this series, equally as weak as the others, but more devious, took us completely by surprise even though we had been familiar with its constituent elements and subordinate arguments. Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov, members of the Humboldt Forum, have published a new book, Unvergleichlich-Kunst aus Afrika im Bode-Museum, catalogue of an exhibition with the same title (Beyond Compare- Art from Africa in Bode Museum) which advances some interesting arguments and ideas which concern the enormous number of African artefacts, mostly looted or illegitimately acquired, that are in the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, but will soon be transferred to the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, when it is ready in 2019.(3) In the meanwhile, some of these illegally procured objects are being displayed in the Bode Museum, Berlin, and are the subject of an exhibition comparing African artworks and European works.

When I first received a copy of the new book, I was impressed even though I did not like the cover image which combines four half images of four different objects to create an image of a non-existing object. It was in looking at the text that I became worried. The authors advance an argument and strategy against the idea that Western museums and specifically, the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, and the Humboldt Forum, are obliged to return any of the looted or illegally acquired cultural artefacts back to their owners. Unlike previous defences of the illegal holders, the new strategy is not openly and evidently directed against restitution but sets out conditions the absence of which should make restitution unthinkable or superfluous. The argument built up in stages, in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue (4) runs as follows:

  1. All the works in this exhibition were made by human beings and not by ’cultures’, ’tribes’, ’ethnic groups’ or ‘peoples.’ When the curators are not sure of the person who made an object, they avoid generalising description such as ‘anonymous artist’ and leave an empty space instead of a fictitious attribution. A fictitious attribution would draw attention away from the empty spaces they intend to leave and thus create false impressions. In many cases, according to the authors, one does not know who created a work, nor the circumstances under which the individuals worked or whether they regarded themselves as artists, hand workers or ritual experts. They hope future researches may give us some clues.
  2. Another aspect relates to the origin of the works in the exhibition. The curators state that the information given in the legends to the objects includes the names of modern States, in brackets, in the areas where the objects probably came from. In many cases, these States did not exist as the works were created or when the Berlin museum acquired them. For example, in the 16th century there was no Federal Republic of Germany or Nigeria. The names that precede these bracketed State names, are a mixture of names of ethnic groups, geographic regions and names of localities. They are largely taken from entries in catalogues and object tags from museums and represent a historical growth of information, conclusions and attributions that the museums have established and used to categorize and classify objects. The writers advise the reader or visitor to take them with some scepticism. For example, ‘South Germany’ was never the identity of the people who lived there.
  3. The authors assert that many of the ‘ethnic groups’ in Africa were the inventions of the colonial administration. Besides, the attribution of a work to a town, region or an ethnic category was not always a fact but a question of interpretation and conclusion.
  4. The authors explain the type of provenance research they have adopted even though provenance in not a main theme of this exhibition, but the question runs through the exhibition. They realized during their preparations how much provenance research still has to be done, especially as regards sculptures from Africa. How did the works, over a century or decade, go through different hands, sometimes with violence or forced dispossession and how did they land in the Berlin museum? For this, they state that we need a continuous provision of financial resources, personnel, and time. Provenance means more than a string of possession links. The histories that are necessary for their understanding, are more than a simple listing of names and dates.
  5. An appropriate form, for displaying short tags regarding the provenance of objects in museums has yet to be developed. For the time being, they have decided for each object to mention the name of the person who gave the object to the museum and when the museum acquired it, knowing that this does not solve the problem. Where the issue is especially relevant, they have decided to take the matter up in the catalogue. Consequently, the information in the catalogue and in the exhibition, must be taken with scepticism, bearing in mind that the history of the object cannot, in all its complexity, be given. The information given, and the resulting interpretation should be, like all research results, open to questions and new interpretations.

The principles enunciated by the authors cover many subjects that deserve detailed discussion, but we will comment very briefly here, reserving the right to come back to the subject later.

A. Nobody ever doubted that art works or for that matter any works in Africa were done by individual human beings, alone or with others. Attribution of a work to a group, ethnic or regional was never understood to imply that the group created the work. Besides, individuals do not, generally, create art works, out of nothing and for no purpose. Work is created for a purpose or for an individual or individuals. The work could be made for a king or other patron, for a celebration or commemoration or some religious or family or social purpose. Criticism that European collectors (and looters) of artefacts never bothered about the identity of the African artist is no doubt justified but this criticism in this context, is intended ultimately to deprive the relatives and peoples of the artists, of any rights in the art work. B. It is true that modern States such as Nigeria or Federal Republic of Germany were not in existence when many of the artefacts were created or acquired by the Ethnology Museum, Berlin. But is this a serious argument? This reminds us of James Cuno’s argument that Nok sculptures were not made for present Nigeria. We reply that this is true but equally true is that Nok works were not made for Western museums. Conveniently forgotten is that the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,1970 in its article 4(b) makes cultural property found within the national territory of a State part of its cultural heritage. Moreover, if the argument that a State cannot hold artefacts produced before the modern State was born, were applied to Western States, they would be deprived of most of the valuable artworks, Western as well as non-Western, they now hold in their museums and galleries .

C. The colonialists may have invented designations for some African peoples and set up regions, towns and cities. But most African peoples were in their present areas before colonization which divided certain nations and put them into different States but art productions went on as before as far as they had traditional functions and significance, in serving religious or social purposes. The colonialists did not create the Edo(Benin), Yoruba, Asante etc. These great nations carried on their traditions despite colonial interference and provocations.

D. True that there is need for research into African art and artworks about which a lot of information is missing. The history of many artefacts may not be clearly and firmly established and to that extent research would be useful. What the Humboldt-Forum authors are trying to do is to transpose the difficulties and views which relate to provenance research as concerns Nazi confiscation of artworks and other property of German Jews in Germany and other parts of Europe. Many of these owners were murdered by the Nazis or were forced to leave Germany after they had been obliged to sell their artworks and other property at prices dictated by the Nazis. The difficulties in tracing the owners or their successors, most of them having left Germany or having died in the meanwhile, pose enormous problems. African artefacts looted under colonial domination or invasions are in a different context.

The relevant facts for restitution of African artefacts are not in doubt and are easy to establish. No one doubts that the British invaded Benin in 1897 and stole over 3500 artefacts from the palace of the Benin king, Ovonramwen. The relevant problem here is identifying the objects and their whereabouts. This is fairly easy: many are in Western museums and institutions. Moreover, various exhibitions on African art and the publications of many institutions such as the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, offer sufficient information unless we doubt the solidity of the works of previous museum scholars and professors. Others familiar with Benin art can assist the scholars if they have any problems here.

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Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, on its way to Humboldt Forum Berlin, Germany. How much more do German scholars still need to know about her before she can return to Benin, Nigeria, after an exile dating to 1897?

The authors have stated that provenance is not a main theme of the exhibition but in preparing for this exhibition, they realized that a great amount of provenance research is needed for African artefacts. Were they realizing this for the first time even though some of them have been teaching ethnology for some time? They also state that enormous resources, personal and financial, would be needed for provenance research on African artefacts. But the type of provenance research they prefer has no direct relevance to the question of restitution of African artefacts in Western museums. No doubt, for scholarly purpose, there is still a lot of work to be done on African artefacts that Western museums have kept for more than hundred years. These artefacts were not made for the pleasure of Western scholars but for use by the African peoples who do not need to wait for completion of research before they seek the return of their artefacts. They must continue their lives and social development without waiting for scholars in Berlin to finish their provenance research. Life must go on at the same time as research and there should be no question of postponing restitution until research which is largely irrelevant to the issue of restitution and to the lives of the people, is complete. Do we need to know whether those who made the Benin bronzes considered themselves as specialists or as ordinary workers before any decision can be taken on the Benin artefacts in Berlin?

We must distinguish provenance research from research generally. No one doubts that there is still a need for research into various aspects of African art but is this relevant or helpful in solving the specific issue of restitution of African artefacts by Western museums and institutions? For example, do we need to know the name of the particular person who created a specific Benin object before we can seek its return from Berlin, knowing surely that the object is among those artefacts the British stole in 1897 from the palace of the Oba of Benin?

Some may argue that provenance research should be viewed not only from the perspective of restitution but should be extended to other aspects. As far as we know, provenance has so far been largely related to questions of restitution to rightful owners and their successors who were wrongfully disposed of their property by the Nazis and other evil regimes and also to illicit traffic in artefacts or where there was reason to doubt the source of the object in question. Careful purchasers are always cautious to ensure they were not buying looted or stolen objects that may later lead to claims of ownership. The Humboldt scholars are suggesting that the concept be extended to many aspects of artefacts which are important but, in our view belong to research generally. Is restitution not important and complicated in itself? Is it accidental that suggestions to widen provenance research arises now mainly in connection with African artworks?

In all the discussions we have read regarding restitution of Nazi stolen object and provenance research, nobody seems to have required that before an object, known to have been illegally seized by the Nazis, is returned, that one must first establish under which conditions the producer of the artwork worked or lived and whether he regarded himself as an artist or a ritual specialist. Such questions are not relevant to the ownership question even though they evidently interest scholars. The Humboldt Forum scholars must clarify first the purpose of the provenance research they are proposing. Is it to help settle the provenance of African artefacts which they say is not a major theme of the exhibition but runs through it like a thread or is it to support general research on African art or perhaps, to postpone restitution indefinitely without appearing to be doing so?

What the Humboldt Forum authors have tried to do, is to set up conditions that are so difficult to fulfil that the question of restitution of African artefacts may not even arise at all in the absence of knowledge on the issues they have raised. Thus, the opposition to restitution here is more sophisticated than other arguments that confront the issue directly. They do not even mention the word restitution. It is an indirect attack on the right to restitution and a fundamental or radical opposition to UNESCO and United Nations resolutions that urge restitution of the looted/stolen artefacts to their home countries. As usual, they write on these issues as if UNESCO and the United Nations did not exist. The countless resolutions urging return of artefacts to their countries of origin since 1972 are apparently not relevant to scholars who want to extend research on provenance to all aspects of artefacts. (5)

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Chockwe mask, Angola, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany

It is noteworthy that those who want to extend provenance research to cover questions concerning the living conditions of artefact makers and whether they considered themselves as artists, do not appear to be interested in questions of legality and legitimacy of the looted African artefacts in Germany. (6) They are not interested in finding out the desire of the people of Benin to have back some of the 507 artefacts in Ethnology Museum, Berlin, that are now at the disposition of the Humboldt Forum. These appear to be moral questions that do not concern our scholars. Is this science without conscience?

Critics of the Humboldt Forum have seen through this ploy and have published the history of acquisition of artefacts in the Berlin museum. (7)

The Humboldt Forum scholars have sought to create maximum doubt. They have denied any certainty to previous knowledge accumulated over hundred years and more. They proclaim that what the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, has amassed over the decades, like their own statements, should be taken with scepticism. (8)

By putting into question their own statements as well as statements and information of their predecessors, they hope to raise general scepticism about all information concerning African artefacts, no matter where they come from. The result they are probable aiming at is that African claims for restitution would be doubted by many, including the Africans themselves. This indirect opposition to restitution is perhaps more effective than direct negation. Added to all this, is the time and resources they say would be required for the provenance research they are suggesting, probably with financial assistance from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation! The call for more funds for provenance research has been heard by many institutions. For example, the Federal Culture Foundation has already decided to allocate to three museums, Ethnology Museum, Hamburg, Grassi Museum, Leipzig, and Linden Museum, Stuttgart, each 1 million Euros over a period of four years. (9) Among the subjects envisaged is, in cooperation with source countries, provenance research since the Foundation realises that debate on the colonial origin of artefacts in ethnology museums will increase in future. We are glad that ethnology museums are getting funds for research on the artefacts they illegitimately and illegally hold. But the main problem, we maintain, is not the lack of knowledge concerning the provenance of these artefacts as such but the unwillingness on the part of German authorities to envisage restitution to the owners. No amount of resources or research will solve this problem which is a question of law and morality, two areas the provenance researches do not seem to want to hear about.

One can imagine the speed with which all this provenance will be done. Another hundred years and in the meanwhile the looted African objects remain where they are until further and certain knowledge is acquired. But what did the museums do in the last 120 or so years during which they held these artefacts? And do we have any certainty that they will discover the knowledge and information they are seeking in the next hundred years? And what about the legitimate African owners? Incidentally, is there any reason to think that research into African art cannot continue after the objects have been returned to their owners? And who really needs now all the knowledge that the Humboldt Forum thinks can be gathered through provenance research? The owners of the artefacts would prefer to recover their artefacts and not seek any further knowledge. After all, before these artefacts were stolen by Europeans, nobody in Africa complained that there was lack of knowledge and about the artefacts they used. Would the Humboldt Forum now send professors to teach in Benin City about the looted artefacts they are illegally holding?

That the Humboldt Forum scholars have felt obliged to resort to radical language and ideas, shows how desperate Western museums have become regarding the restitution of African artefacts. In order to achieve the aim of not discussing or at least postponing discussions, these scholars, from a discipline with history and traditions, are prepared to throw overboard the knowledge and information from the past, accumulated by their predecessors in ethnology and in the museums. The extent to which they are prepared to go, is shown for example, by their decision sometimes not to offer any information on displayed objects. This demonstrates the determination of Western museums to do everything, including putting into doubt the teachings and experience of their predecessors, equally acclaimed scholars, and accumulated wisdom of ages with nothing in replacement, if this helps in avoiding restitution of looted African artefacts. What is it in African artefacts that drives these Western scholars to this extremism and away from the path of ordinary decency and morality?

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Chibanda Ilunga, Chokwe, Angola, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on its way to Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

That more knowledge and provenance research about artefacts have nothing to do with the question of restitution is clearly demonstrated by cases where practically all useful information is available about particular group of artefacts. The museums have enough knowledge, for example, about the Benin artefacts but none of them is prepared to envisage an eventual restitution of these artefacts. The Humboldt Forum, for example, has at its disposal 507 Benin artefacts but is unwilling to envisage sending even one to the Oba of Benin who has less Benin artefacts that the Berlin institution. Greed seems to be the creed here.

What happened to Franco - German collaboration in this area? Are German scholars not communicating anymore with French scholars? We should not envisage a situation where the French are returning African artefacts and the Germans are saying we need more knowledge and information about African art and therefore cannot contemplate restitution now. What different interests are being protected in Germany that are now exposed to restitution in Germany?

Whatever may be the differences in approach here, it is clear that after the historical Ouagadougou Declaration of 28 November 2017 by Macron, one can no longer advance old arguments used to justify the retention of African artefacts in the Western world. (10) The reasons advanced by Macron in his declaration - presence of African artefacts in Europe and their absence in Africa- applies to all the so-called universal museums - British Museum, Louvre, Musée du quai Branly, World Museum, Vienna, Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Tervuren Museum, Belgium. They are now on the defensive. They cannot use the old arguments again. They must be on the same level as Macron or do better by returning quickly some African artefacts. The post Ouagadougou period has begun.

Sooner rather than later, Germany and other Western States will also accept the principle in the Ouagadougou Declaration for they cannot afford to be seen as holding onto colonialist ideology after France, a leading colonialist power, besides Britain, Belgium, Holland, Portugal and Spain, has abandoned the racist line on African artefacts.(11) Berlin, where the division of the African continent amongst European States was finalized in 1885, cannot afford for too long to be saddled with the infamous image. Will the Humboldt Forum help in that effort or re-open all the old wounds?

A greater part of the 507 objects that constitute the Benin-Collection of the Ethnologisches Museum was acquired between 1897 and 1925 from the art market in London, and partly in Lagos. The Government and the Foundation Preussischer Kulturbesitz are of the view that these objects were legally acquired and that there is no International Law basis for demands for restitution”. (12)

Whatever may be the final assessment of the exhibition Unvergleichlich-Kunst

aus Afrika im Bode Museum, it must be clearly stated that we Africans have never doubted that our artefacts were as good as artefacts from other parts of the world. These are the only ones we know, created by our peoples and reflecting our societies and our beliefs. It is good to hear others affirm this but now our main problem is that these artefacts have been stolen/looted by Western States who are keeping them and, contrary to all legal and moral rules, are adamantly refusing to return them. A plea for more provenance research on African art, as suggested by the curators of the exhibition in Bode Museum, may appear in this context to be an excuse to hold on longer to stolen African objects.

Kwame Opoku

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Mask, Chibanga, Gabon, now in Bode Museum, Berlin, on its way to Humboldt Forum, Berlin.

1.‘‘Dass der Erwerb von Ethnographica in der Kolonialzeit auf der Grundlage mehr oder minder “struktureller Gewalt” erfolgte, soll hier in diesem Rahmen nicht näher verfolgt werden. Einzelnen Zeitgenossen war diese Tatsache im Übrigen durchaus bewußt. So schrieb der Afrikareisende und Resident des Deutschen Reiches in Ruanda, Richard Kandt, 1897 an Felix von Luschan, den stellvertretenden Direktor des Berliner Völkerkunde-Museums: Überhaupt ist es schwer, einen Gegenstand zu erhalten, ohne zum mindesten etwas Gewalt anzuwenden. Ich glaube, daß die Hälfte Ihres Museums gestohlen ist“.

Cornelia Essner, Berlins Völkerkunde-Museum in der Kolonialära: Anmerkungen zum Verhältnis von Ethnologie und Kolonialismus in Deutschland in: Berlin in Geschichte und GegenwartJahrbuch des Landesarchivs Berlin, (Ed.) Hans J. Reichhardt, Siedler Verlag, 1986, p.77. See also K. Opoku, Benin To Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin Bronzes Made In ... 2. Kwame Opoku: Dr. Cuno Again - Reviving Discredited Arguments To ...

Africa: Looted Artefacts Now Declared a "Shared Heritage" - allAfrica ...
Is the declaration on the importance of Universal Museums still valid?

Declaration on The Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of An Arrogant Imperialist Project... ..

Will Humboldt – Forum Defend Holding Looted Artefacts with Misleading Statements and Self-serving Arguments?

Defence Of “Universal Museums” Through Omissions and Irrelevancies

3. Unvergleichlich-Kunst aus Afrika im Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 2017.

4. Ibid. pp.17-18.
5. See annex below. 6. K. Opoku, ‘ Germans Debate Legitimacy And Legality Of Looted Artefacts In Ethnology Museum, Berlin. ..


8 ‘ Folglich sollten die Objektinformationen im Katalog und in der Ausstellung mit Vorsicht and auch mit einem gewissen Maß an Skepsis gelesen werden- immer in dem Bewusstsein, dass sie die Komplexität der Objektgeschichten in ihrer Ganze nicht vermitteln können. Die enthaltenen Informationen und die ausgelosten Interpretationen sind, wie alle Forschungsergebnisse, stets offen für Hinterfragungen und neu Interpretationen. Unvergleichlich, p.18.


10. Since the Humboldt Forum seems to be very interested in further research and provenance research, they may be able to explain to us the discrepancies about the number of Benin artefacts that are at their disposal in Berlin. I reproduce below, a note I made on the issue of how many Benin artefacts the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin has, from my article, 'Benin to Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin Bronzes Made in Berlin?',

The discrepancies in numbers, between 507 the Berlin government states and the 580 which Luschan and others give, require explanation from the Museum. Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin Drucksache 17 / 12 360 Kleine Anfrage 17. Wahlperiode Kleine Anfrage derAbgeordneten Clara Herrmann (GRNE) vom 28. Juni 2013 (Eingang beim Abgeordnetenhaus am 01. Juli 2013) und Antwort (Postkoloniale) Auseinandersetzung mit dem Humboldt Forum

We know, of course, that the British sold some of the looted Bronzes not only in 1897 but in fairly recent times. See Martin Bailey, 'BBC Sold Benin Bronzes' Did the Germans also sell some Benin Bronzes? What happened to the Benin artefacts in the museums of the former DDR (German Democratic Republic)?

Barbara Plankensteiner states in her latest book Benin, 5 Continents Editions, 2010, p48, ' Felix von Luschan, the curator at Berlin's Museum für Völkerkunde, played a major role, encouraging his colleagues to collect, and he himself amassing the largest collection in the world, consisting of some more than 550 pieces.'

'Paula Ivanov, 'African Art in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin', African Arts, Vol.33, No.3, p.21. Ivanov mentions in this article, that the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin has 482 Benin objects (p21) but P. Roese in his article, 'Felix von Luschan (1854-1924) und Benin - Hans Grimm gewidmet', (Tribus, Vol.48, 1999, pp.173-182) states that Felix von Luschan secured for the Museum 580 pieces. Anja Laukötter, in her excellent book, Von der 'Kultur' zur 'Rasse' - vom Objekt zum Körper: Völkerkundemuseen und ihre Wissenschaft zu Beginn des 20.Jahhunderts (Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2007, p.160), cites Luschan as follows:

'Im Ganzen sind rund 2400 Benin Stűcke zu meiner Kenntnis gelangt: davon sind 580 in Berlin, 280 im Brit.Museum, 227 in Rushmore (die von Pitt Rivers hinterlassene Sammlung), 196 in Hamburg,182 in Dresden, 167 in Wien, 98 in Leiden, 87 in Leipzig, 80 in Stuttgart, 76 in Cőln und 51 in Frankfurt a.M.'

What explains this difference of some 73 pieces? Perhaps the Ethnologisches Museum kept the best 507 and distributed the remaining 73 to the other German museums? If so, we need detailed information.

11. “I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for that, but there are no valid justifications that are durable and unconditional. African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums. African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou. In the next five years, I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa. This will be one of my priorities.”

Emmanuel Macron Says Return of African Artefacts Is a Top Priority ...

Will French Museums Return African Objects ? Emmanuel Macron ...

See also in Annex 2 below the attached open letter to Chancellor Merkel on the question of restitution.

12. Der überwiegende Teil der heute 507 Objekte umfassenden Benin-Sammlung des Ethnologischen Museums wurde zwischen 1897 und 1925 auf dem Kunstmarkt in London, teilweise auch in Lagos erworben. Der Senat und die Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz sind der Auffassung, dass die Objekte rechtmäßig erworben wurden und es für eine Restitution dieser Sammlung keine völkerrechtliche Grundlage gibt.“

Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin Drucksache 17 / 12 360 Kleine Anfrage 17. Wahlperiode Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Clara Herrmann (GRNE) vom 28. Juni 2013 (Eingang beim Abgeordnetenhaus am 01. Juli 2013) und Antwort (Postkoloniale) Auseinandersetzung mit dem Humboldt Forum

UNESCO is concerned with the issue of Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the Country of Origin.

The United Nations General Assembly is also involved in this field. Indeed, since 1972, many resolutions on the Protection and the Return of Cultural Property, as part of the Preservation and Further Development of Cultural Values, have been adopted.

  • Resolution 3026 A (XXVII) of 18 December 1972
  • Resolution 3148 (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973
  • Resolution 3187 (XXVIII) of 18 December 1973
  • Resolution 3391 (XXX) of 19 November 1975
  • Resolution 31/40 of 30 November 1976
  • Resolution 32/18 of 11 November 1977
  • Resolution 33/50 of 14 December 1978
  • Resolution 34/64 of 29 November 1979
  • Resolutions 35/127 and 35/128 of 11 December 1980
  • Resolution 36/64 of 27 November 1981
  • Resolution 38/34 of 25 November 1983
  • Resolution 40/19 of 21 November 1985
  • Resolution 42/7 of 22 October 1987
  • Resolution 44/18 of 6 November 1989
  • Resolution 46/10 of 22 October 1991
  • Resolution 48/15 of 2 November 1993
  • Resolution 50/56 of 11 December 1995
  • Resolution 52/24 of 25 November 1997
  • Resolution 54/190 of 17 December 1999
  • Resolution 56/97 of 14 December 2001
  • Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 by the Security Council of the UN concerning Iraq
  • Resolution 58/17 of 3 December 2003
  • Resolution 61/52 of 4 December 2006
  • Resolution 64/78 of 7 December 2009
  • Resolution A.67/L.34 of 5 December 2012
  • Resolution A/RES/70/76 of 9 December 2015

Resolutions adopted by the United Nations General ... - Unesco ..

Here below is an open letter addressed to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her, following the declaration on 28 November 2017 by Emmanuel Macron, President of France, on the issue of restitution of African artefacts and human remains, to take

action. I need hardly add that I agree fully with the contents of the open letter which reminds the Chancellor, of Germany’s role in these matters. We hope others would also request their governments and authorities to take a stand on these matters and act quickly on issues that should have been solved in the last century. Kwame Opoku.

Offener Brief an die Bundeskanzlerin Dr. Angela Merkel / Open Letter / Lettre ouverte (English/French below)

Berlin, 18.12.2017
Betreff: Rückgabe von Kulturobjekten und menschlichen Gebeinen nach Afrika

Sehr geehrte Frau Bundeskanzlerin Dr. Angela Merkel,

mit großem Interesse haben wir die am 28. November 2017 in Ouagadougou gehaltene Rede des französischen Präsidenten Emmanuel Macron zur Kenntnis genommen, in der er erklärte, nicht länger „akzeptieren zu können, dass sich ein Großteil des Kulturerbes mehrerer afrikanischer Länder in Frankreich befindet“. Wir begrüßen, dass die französische Regierung innerhalb der nächsten fünf Jahre in Zusammenarbeit mit den betroffenen afrikanischen Ländern eine „zeitweilige oder dauerhafte Rückgabe des afrikanischen Erbes“ ermöglichen will. Wir würdigen zudem Emmanuel Macrons Ankündigung, menschliche Gebeine, die einem kolonialen Unrechtskontext entstammen, nach Algerien zu restituieren.

Frankreich reagiert damit auf die sich intensivierende, kritische Debatte zum kolonialen Erbe, der sich auch die anderen Länder des Globalen Nordens nicht länger entziehen können. Denn es sind nicht nur französische Museen und Privatsammlungen im Zuge der Kolonisierung in den Besitz von hunderttausenden Kulturobjekten und von zehntausenden menschlichen Gebeinen aus allen Regionen Afrikas gekommen. Die Anzahl der afrikanischen Artefakte in den großen ethnologischen Museen Nordamerikas und Europas ist so hoch, dass über 90% aller Exponate noch nie gezeigt werden konnten. Die Menge an menschlichen Gebeinen aus Afrika ist so groß, dass die Museen nach eigenen Angaben auch 100 Jahre nach ihrer Aneignung noch immer nicht ermitteln konnten, von wo und auf welche Art und Weise sie in die Sammlungen gelangt sind.

Zur selben Zeit werden insbesondere die rituellen Objekte und die Gebeine der Vorfahren und Ahnen von Angehörigen der afrikanischen Herkunftsgesellschaften schmerzlich vermisst.

Deutschland kommt in dieser Situation eine Schlüsselrolle zu. Denn nicht nur findet sich hier die größte Dichte an Museen mit Kulturschätzen und menschlichen Gebeinen aus allen Teilen des afrikanischen Kontinents. In seiner Hauptstadt Berlin fand 1884/85 – auf Einladung der Französischen Republik und des Deutschen Reiches – die berüchtigte Afrika- oder Kongo-Konferenz statt. Dabei wurden die Regeln zur fast vollständigen Aufteilung Afrikas unter den europäischen Kolonialmächten ausgehandelt und damit erst die Voraussetzung für die systematische Aneignung von afrikanischen Kulturobjekten und sterblichen Überresten geschaffen.

Zum Beginn des Europäischen Kulturerbejahres 2018, das unter dem programmatischen Titel „Sharing Heritage“ steht, möchten wir Sie in Ihrer Funktion als deutsche Regierungschefin daher ersuchen, sich zur historischen Initiative des französischen Präsidenten zu positionieren. Im 100. Jahr nach dem Ende des deutschen Kolonialismus in Afrika darf die Bundesregierung zum Thema Restitution von rituellen Objekten und menschlichen Gebeinen aus kolonialem Unrechtskontext nicht schweigen.

Ohne eine transparente, transnationale und kritische Auseinandersetzung mit dem kolonialen Erbe wird eine vertrauensvolle Zusammenarbeit von Menschen afrikanischer und europäischer Herkunft auch in Zukunft nicht möglich sein.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro & Christian Kopp
Berlin Postkolonial
AfricAvenir International
Antirassistisch-interkulturelles Informationszentrum ARiC Berlin

Arbeitskreis Panafrikanismus München
Arca-Afrikanisches Bildungszentrum
Berliner Entwicklungspolitischer Ratschlag (BER)
Deutsch-Afrikanische Gesellschaft (DAFRIG)
FuturAfrik – Forum für Globale Gerechtigkeit

Hamburg Postkolonial
Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD-Bund)

IDB | Institut für diskriminierungsfrei Bildung

Interkulturelles Frauenzentrum S.U.S.I.
iz3w Informationszentrum 3. weit Freiburg
Joliba – Interkulturelles Netzwerk in Berlin
Köln Postkolonial
Mainzer Arbeitskreis Südliches Afrika (MAKSA)
[muc] München postkolonial
Netzwerk Rassismus- und Diskriminierungsfreies Bayern

OvaHerero, Mbanderu and Nama Genocides Institute (ONGI)

Solidaritätsdienst International (SODI)
Southern Networks for Environment and Development (SONED) …

Millicent Adjei (Hamburg), Aischa Ahmed (Berlin), Joshua Kwei Atkins (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Iman Attia (Berlin), Josephine Apraku (Berlin), Marie-Luise Bartz (Bochum), Prof. Dr. Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst (Köln), Prof. Dr. Heike Becker (Cape Town/Berlin), Dr. Daniel Bendix (Kassel/Berlin), Josepha Bittner (Berlin), Prof. em. Dr. Helmut Bley (Hannover), Dr. Jule Böhnkost (Berlin), Andreas Bohne (Berlin), Dr. Anna-Maria Brandstetter (Mainz), Markus Braun (Köln), Clementine Burnley (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Nikita Dhawan (Insbruck), Tahir Della (Berlin), Prof. Dr. María do Mar Castro Varela (Berlin), Hamado Dipama (München), Prof. Dr. Lars Eckstein (Potsdam), Ginga Eichler (Berlin), Laurence Favre (Genf/Berlin), Jahn Georg Fischer (Berlin), Olga Gerstenberger (Berlin), Prof. Olivier Graefe (Fribourg), Prof. PhD Lerke Gravenhorst (Ahrensburg), Prof. Dr. Anne-Marie Grundmeier (Freiburg), Dr. Noa Ha (Berlin), Adina Hammoud (Berlin), Mareike Heller (Berlin), Dr. Anja Henebury (Zürich), HMJokinen (Hamburg), Dr. Natasha A. Kelly (Berlin), Horst Kleinschmidt (Cape Town), Sonja Knees (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Reinhart Kößler (Berlin), Michael Korbmacher (Münster), Dr. Carolin Kunze (Berlin), Dr. Jürgen Kunze (Leipzig), Dr. Brigitta Kuster (Berlin), Lucilla Lepratti (Berlin), Dr. Claudia Liebelt (Bayreuth), Hans-Christian Mahnke (Windhoek), Prof. Dr. Christoph Marx (Duisburg-Essen), Prof. Dr. Henning Melber (Uppsala), Prof. Dr. Angela Mickley (Berlin), Dr. Kavemuii Murangi (Silver Spring), Anna Neubauer (Dresden), Katharina Neumann (Berlin), Jefta Nguherimo (Kensington, MD), Katharina Oguntoye (Berlin), Sharon Dodua Otoo (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Bernhard Pfletschinger (Rösrath), Prof. Dr. Ciraj Rassool (Cape Town), Anke Reule (Berlin), Winni Rust (Freiburg), Regina Sarreiter (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Regina Römhild (Berlin), Nicolai Röschert (Berlin), PD Dr. Ulrich Roos (Augsburg), Prof. Dr. Albert Scherr (Freiburg), Prof. Dr. Michael Schnegg (Hamburg), Alexander Schudy (Berlin), Eric Van Grassdorf (Berlin), Anna Lena Sabroso-Wasserfall (Windhoek), Prof. Dr. Helen Schwenken (Osnabrück), Dr. habil Tilman Schiel (Bayreuth), Ilona Schleicher (Berlin), Dr. Hans-Georg Schleicher (Berlin), Michael Seitz (Petersaurach), Prof. Dr. Katrin Sieg (Washington), Ueriuka F. Tjikuua (Windhoek), Prof. Dr. Gloria Wekker (Utrecht), Sylvia Werther (Berlin), Dr. Christa Wichterich (Bonn), Prof. Dr. Markus Wissen (Berlin), Siegfried Wittig (Berlin), Dagmar Wolf (Bochum), Enrique Zaragoza (Berlin), Dr. Joachim Zeller (Berlin) …

Open Letter
Berlin, 18/12/2017
Subject: Restitution of cultural objects and human remains from Africa

Dear Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,

with great interest we have noted the speech given on 28 November 2017 in Ouagadougou by the French President Emmanuel Macron, in which he stated that he was no longer "able to accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France". We welcome the fact that the French Government, in cooperation with the African countries concerned, wants to enable a "temporary or permanent restitution of the African heritage" within the next five years. We also pay tribute to Emmanuel Macron's announcement of restoring human remains from a colonial context of injustice to Algeria.

France is responding to the intensifying and critical debate on colonial heritage, which concerns the other countries of the Global North as well. After all, it is not only French museums and private collections that have come into possession of hundreds of thousands of cultural objects and tens of thousands of human remains from all regions of Africa as a result of colonisation. The number of African artifacts in the major ethnological museums of North America and Europe is so high that more than 90% of all cultural treasures have never been shown. The amount of human remains from Africa is so great that, according to the museums, even 100 years after their acquisition, it has still not been possible to determine where and how they came into the collections.

At the same time, especially the ritual objects and the remains of their ancestors are sorely missed by members of the African source communities.

Germany has a key role to play in this situation. For it is not only here that the greatest number of museums with cultural treasures and human remains from all parts of the African continent can be found. In 1884/85, at the invitation of the French Republic and the German Reich, the infamous Africa or Congo Conference took place in its capital Berlin. The rules for the almost complete division of Africa among the European colonial powers were negotiated, thus creating the preconditions for the systematic appropriation of African cultural objects and human remains.

At the beginning of the European Cultural Heritage Year 2018, which will be entitled "Sharing Heritage", we would therefore like to ask you, in your capacity as German Head of Government, to take a stance on the historic initiative of the French President. In the 100th year after the end of German colonialism in Africa, the Federal Government must not remain silent on the subject of restitution of ritual objects and ancestral remains from a colonial context of injustice.

Without a transparent, transnational and critical examination of the colonial heritage, trustful cooperation between people of African and European descent will continue to be impossible.

With kind regards
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro & Christian Kopp
Berlin Postkolonial
[email protected]
Mobile: 01799 100 976
Further Signatories:
AfricAvenir International
Antirassistisch-Interkulturelles Informationszentrum ARiC Berlin

Arbeitskreis Panafrikanismus München
Arca-Afrikanisches Bildungszentrum
Berliner Entwicklungspolitischer Ratschlag (BER)
Deutsch-Afrikanische Gesellschaft (DAFRIG)
FuturAfrik – Forum für Globale Gerechtigkeit

Hamburg Postkolonial
Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD-Bund)

IDB | Institut für diskriminierungsfreie Bildung

Interkulturelles Frauenzentrum S.U.S.I.
Joliba – Interkulturelles Netzwerk in Berlin
Köln Postkolonial
Mainzer Arbeitskreis Südliches Afrika (MAKSA)
Netzwerk Rassismus- und Diskriminierungsfreies Bayern

OvaHerero, Mbanderu and Nama Genocides Institute (ONGI)

Solidaritätsdienst International (SODI)
Southern Networks for Environment and Development (SONED)

...Millicent Adjei (Hamburg), Aischa Ahmed (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Iman Attia (Berlin), Josephine Apraku (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst (Köln), Prof. Dr. Heike Becker (Kapstadt/Berlin), Dr. Jule Böhnkost (Berlin), Andreas Bohne (Berlin), Dr. Anna-Maria Brandstetter (Mainz), Clementine Burnley (Berlin), Tahir Della (Berlin), Hamado Dipama (München), Prof. Dr. Lars Eckstein (Potsdam), Ginga Eichler (Berlin), Jahn Georg Fischer (Berlin), Olga Gerstenberger (Berlin), Prof. PhD Lerke Gravenhorst (Ahrensburg), Dr. Noa Ha (Berlin), Adina Hammoud (Berlin), Mareike Heller (Berlin), Dr. Anja Henebury (Zürich), HMJokinen (Hamburg), Dr. Natasha A. Kelly (Berlin), Sonja Knees (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Reinhart Kößler (Berlin), Dr. Brigitta Kuster (Berlin), Lucilla Lepratti (Berlin), Hans-Christian Mahnke (Windhoek), Prof. Dr. Christoph Marx (Duisburg-Essen), Prof. Dr. Henning Melber (Uppsala), Dr. Kavemuii Murangi (Silver Spring), Katharina Oguntoye (Berlin), Sharon Dodua Otoo (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Ciraj Rassool (Kapstadt), Anke Reule (Berlin), Regina Sarreiter (Berlin), Prof. Dr. Albert Scherr (Freiburg), Prof. Dr. Michael Schnegg (Hamburg), Alexander Schudy (Berlin), Eric Van Grassdorf (Berlin), Dr. habil Tilman Schiel (Bayreuth), Sylvia Werther (Berlin), Sigfried Wittig (Berlin), Dr. Joachim Zeller (Berlin) ...

Lettre ouverte
Objet : Restitution des biens culturels et restes humains provenant d’Afrique

Berlin, le 18 décembre 2017
Madame la Chancelière,
C’est avec beaucoup d’espoir et d’intérêt que nous avons reçu le discours du président de la République Française tenu le 28 novembre dernier à Ouagadougou. Ce jour là, Emmanuel Macron expliquait ne plus pouvoir « accepter qu’une large part du patrimoine culturel de plusieurs pays africains soit en France. » Nous nous réjouissons de la volonté du gouvernement français de mettre en place dans les cinq prochaines années les conditions nécessaires « pour des restitutions temporaires ou définitives du patrimoine africain en Afrique. » Nous honorons de surcroît l’engagement de M. Macron pour la restitution des restes humains d’Algériens acquis lors de la période coloniale française en Algérie.

La France réagit ainsi aux débats intenses issus de la critique grandissante concernant l’héritage colonial des institutions culturelles en Europe, laquelle de nombreux musées dans les pays occidentaux se doivent désormais de prendre en compte. Car ce ne sont pas seulement les musées de France et collectionneurs privés français qui ont hérité de centaines de milliers d’objets culturels et d’œuvres d’art ainsi que de dizaines de milliers de restes humains en provenance de diverses régions d’Afrique. Il y a en effet tellement de biens culturels africains dans les musées ethnographiques d’Amérique du Nord et d’Europe que 90 % d’entre eux n’ont encore jamais été exposés au grand public. En outre, la mesure des collections anthropologiques provenant d’Afrique est telle, que même les collections du siècle dernier n’ont pu être précisément répertoriées jusqu’à présent. Les musées détenteurs de ces collections à caractère sensible sont ainsi incapables de fournir des informations claires quant aux contextes d’acquisition d’un grand nombre de ces restes humains.

En parallèle, il ne faut pas oublier que la longue absence de certains objets sacrés essentiels aux pratiques culturelles locales et la disparition des sépultures ancestrales se font pesantes pour beaucoup de peuples africains.

Dans ces circonstances, l’Allemagne se doit de jouer un rôle clef. Non seulement présente-elle la plus haute densité de musées détenteurs de trésors culturels et de restes humains provenant des quatre coins d’Afrique ; sa capitale, Berlin, fut aussi le théâtre de la sordide partition du continent africain entre les puissances impériales européennes lors de la Conférence de Berlin en 1884-1885. Rappelons que cette conférence fut organisée suite à l’appel de la République Française et de l’Empire Allemand. Cet événement marqua le début d’une appropriation officielle territoriale qui ouvrit la voie au pillage d’œuvres d’art et de sépultures en Afrique.

Puisque 2018 sera l’Année Européenne du Patrimoine Culturel et que les prochaines journées européennes du patrimoine auront pour thème « Patrimoine européen : L’art du partage, » nous vous invitons, en tant que chef du gouvernement allemand, à prendre position à l’égard de l’initiative du président français. Cent ans après la chute de l’empire colonial allemand en Afrique, il est grand temps que le gouvernement se prononce sur le sujet de la restitution des objets d’art et sur le rapatriement des restes humains acquis pendant la colonisation.

La volonté de reconsidérer le passé colonial européen d’une façon intègre sera un des moteurs pour de futurs partenariats culturels transnationaux. Sans esprit critique et sans transparence, il ne peut malheureusement y avoir de confiance réciproque entre les peuples africains et européens.

Veuillez agréer, Madame la Chancelière, nos sincères salutations.

Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Christian Kopp
Berlin Postkolonial e.V.
Berlin, 18. December 2017
Ethnologisches Museum Returns Objects to Alaska Natives

The Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) is going to return nine objects from the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) to the Chugach Alaska Corporation. The Foundation Board approved a proposal to this effect from the President today.

The items concerned are grave goods of indigenous peoples from southwestern Alaska. They were among the objects brought to Berlin by Johan Adrian Jacobsen, who traveled along the American northwest coast and in Alaska between 1882 and 1884 on behalf of the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Royal Museum of Ethnology), which was the forerunner of the Ethnologisches Museum.

Hermann Parzinger, the SPK's President, stated: "At the time, these objects were taken without the consent of the Alaska Natives and were therefore removed unlawfully from the graves of their deceased, so they do not belong in our museums. We will now be returning them to the Chugach Alaska Corporation, with whom we have been working to re-examine our collection since 2015."

The objects are grave goods from Chenega Island and a place named as Sanradna, whose location is no longer known. Among them are two broken masks and a child’s cradle, as well as a wooden idol. Masks were usually burned after use or laid in graves, which is why not many masks of the Chugach people exist today. The red color on these ones indicates a funereal context. The wooden idol is probably a shamanic figure, meant to protect people from danger and death.

In November 2015, a delegation from the Chugach Alaska Corporation visited the Ethnologisches Museum with the aim of initiating cooperation on future projects. One of the reasons for this was their interest in creating a virtual presentation of all the Chugach objects around the world. Following the visit, the Corporation asked the Ethnologisches Museum for assistance in repatriating any grave goods that had come from the region. The Chugach Alaska Corporation (, created in 1972, is an organization representing the interests of the indigenous peoples of the Chugach region of Alaska. Among other activities, it works to preserve the

Berlin, 18. December 2017
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cultural heritage of these groups. The US federal government presented a diplomatic note in support of the request for return.

The SPK diligently investigated the original context of the grave goods identified in the Ethnologisches Museum, doing so in accordance with its general policy on dealing with its non-European collections and on research into their provenance. In the present case, all the indications are that the objects were obtained through grave robbery and not by an approved archaeological excavation. From Adrian Jacobsen's travel journals, it is clear that the graves were opened solely for the purpose of removing their contents. There were no government or local authority permits to do so, nor was there any documentation to show that consent had been granted by the community of origin. In view of these facts, it was decided to return the objects.

General policy of the SPK on dealing with its non-European collections and researching their provenances: dokument-detail/news/2015/06/09/grundpositionen-der-spk-zum-umgangmit-ihren-aussereuropaeischen-sammlungen-und-zur-erforschung-derpr.html

Johan Adrian Jacobsen traveled along the American northwest coast and in Alaska at the end of the nineteenth century. He did so on behalf of the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Royal Museum of Ethnology) in Berlin. The director of the museum at the time, Adolf Bastian, had commissioned him to collect objects that were as "original" as possible, untainted by European culture, with the aim of building up a collection. Jacobsen returned to Berlin with around three thousand objects from the northwest coast and around four thousand objects from Alaska. His account of the journey is an impressive historical document. It is characterized, however, less by accurate ethnographic observations than by tales of derring-do, told by a hard-nosed adventurer. With this in mind, the travels of the self-proclaimed "captain" will also be at the center of an exhibition module in the Humboldt Forum, serving as a critical examination of the history of the collection from today's perspective.