Sun, 28 Jul 2019 Feature Article

Revised Guidelines On Colonial Collections: Germany Not Advanced With Restitution Of Looted African Artefacts

Two ancestor figures, Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea.Two ancestor figures, Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea.

“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.”

Richard Kandt, Resident of the German Empire in Ruanda, wrote in 1897 to Felix von Luschan, Deputy Director of the Ethnology Museum, Berlin. (1)

Readers may recall that we dealt with the German Guidelines for handling collections from colonial contexts both the original German text and its English version. (2) A new revised version of this document has been issued recently. (3) We shall deal very briefly with aspects of the document that seem to us to indicate that despite contributions from foreign scholars, and a bold label on the cover, International Perspective, the Guidelines seem to retain some of the very basic views that we criticised as not conducive to solving the basic problems of restitution of artefacts looted during the colonial regime and the rules seem to reflect largely a German perspective, despite references to French, Dutch sources as well to publications from other States and the inclusion of contributions by foreign scholars. (4)

We read with great interest the contribution by Jürgen Zimmerer entitled ‘ European Colonialism: Political, Economic and Cultural Aspects of Earlier Globalization’ in which he explains the nature of colonialism and mentions some of the exploits of German colonial rule. He defines colonialism as a system of domination between two peoples in which a culturally different minority decides the fundamental questions of life for the majority principally serving the external interests of the rulers, convinced of the superiority of their own culture. In recent times ideological justifications based on alleged superiority of the culture of the rulers have been advanced .(5)

The definition already gives an idea about the violent and oppressive nature of colonialism and would be sufficient for forming an opinion about colonialism as a system that could by no means be seen as a blessing to the colonized. Everywhere in Africa the colonial implantation was met with resistance and counter violence from the colonized. Zimmerer gives us some examples of German colonial violent exploits. We read about the notorious Vernichtungskrieg, extermination war of the Germans in South-West Africa, now Namibia, in which some 80% Herero and 50% Nama populations lost their lives. Paul von Lettow’s defence of German East Africa, during the First World War cost 700,000 Africans, mostly civilians their lives. Once you read these accounts it becomes clear that colonization was not there for the benefit of the Africans but for the Europeans who, especially in settler colonies such as South West Africa, involved not only seizures of land and other properties but also forced labour for both African men and women. (6)

It becomes difficult to understand how some of the writers of these Guidelines could state that Africans and the German colonizers dealt on basis of equality or that some sales must have been done on basis of equality. This must be due to a failure to consider the effects of structural violence that was the basis of most transactions, especially where objects of great value were involved. The African was always in an inferior position. White people represented not simply another race but the ‘master race’ that could make every African uncomfortable, especially if the German did not like his or her conduct. In the German colonies any whiteman could punish an Africa by whipping him. Often a threat of punishment or a sign of displeasure would be enough to secure the behaviour which the European desired. A reading of Michel Leiris, Afrique fantôme would provide instances where even anthropologists have used violence, subterfuge and threat to obtain artefacts they wanted. (7)


Whilst we agree that as a matter of principle one must apply to cases the law applicable at the time, they took place, we believe that in deciding cases relating to acquisitions in the colonial period one cannot do justice if one simply applies the laws of the colonial oppressor. All laws would have been made to favour the oppressor. In settling cases involving Nazi confiscations, one would not apply Nazi laws to Nazi seizures.

Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum/Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum/Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

We had commented on the earlier version of the Guidelines that not much was said about the pre-existing African laws before the Germans came and that a new look at the situation could end in the conclusion that in many situations the colonialist could not have acquired legal title to most of the seizures because, for example, the property was considered sacred or as belonging to the community or that acquisition of property was only possible with the consent of a specified official person. An approach that considers only the law of the conquering colonialist is bound to lead to approval of most colonial acquisitions. The notion of conflict of laws finds no appreciation here. That there existed laws before the Germans came and imposed by force their legal system is admitted by the writers on legal aspects of the Guidelines, but they state that it was difficult to find these laws and where they were found they differed from German conceptions. This seem to be sufficient explanations for those writing in our times not to look for those rules. They take entirely the point of view of a German magistrate who may be under pressure of time. But should legal scholars not take a broader view? These statements about its being difficult to find laws of African peoples should not be accepted easily. If there is a will to find our laws, one can find them. Certainly, there is enough information on the legal systems of countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Namibia and other African States that is not too difficult to find that would give the German reader an insight to the general nature of African Law. (8)

Oba Esigie on horseback with retainers, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum/ Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. What do Germans still need to know about him that they have not yet discovered in hundred years? Oba Esigie on horseback with retainers, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum/ Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. What do Germans still need to know about him that they have not yet discovered in hundred years?

We pointed out in our earlier comments that one cannot simply take for granted the application of German rules of prescription, ‘Verjährung’ and that one must ask whether the rule of prescription applies at all in cases involving colonial acquisitions since the basic conditions for their application may be missing. The rule of prescription was made to encourage claimants to bring action as soon as they are aware of the violation of their rights and have possibility to sue. Most Africans even today do not know where their looted artefacts are. How can they sue? Whom can they sue? Could Africans have sued during the colonial regime? Some reflections on such issues should find a place in discussions on colonial laws and justice. Instead, the authors state that the colonial acquisitions precisely demonstrate why we should have such rules. (9)

They declare that the judge should not have to deal with cases where it is difficult to establish the facts or where applicable rules are difficult to find. All these excuses would not be presented in dealing with cases involving Nazi confiscations.

So far no one has won a case before the German courts concerning looted African artefacts. As the writers point out, a plaintiff would even fail in trying to establish that he was the previous owner of the object and proving that the defendant had stolen/looted his object.

Interestingly, some of what is missing in the part written by jurists, appears available in what is written by an ethnologist that comes after the contribution of the jurists, entitled ‘On the question of law from the perspective of an ethnology with historical perspective’. The author asks what norms and rules the colonized had relating to ownership, property, their understanding about law, property ,ownership and how they considered objects as stolen or robbed. In any case, the colonized resisted colonial attempts to deprive them of their property and even some petitioned the German authorities in Berlin.

Pwo Mask, Chokwe, Angola, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany. Pwo Mask, Chokwe, Angola, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.

The comments from the ethnologist should in our opinion have preceded those of the jurists since an understanding of the laws existing before German occupation would facilitate our understanding of the extent of German imposition and the consequent injustice that Africans necessarily suffered through the imposition of a foreign system by uninvited outsiders who were convinced of their own superiority and came with a determination to employ violence to achieve their ambitions.


The authors have adopted a wider conception of provenance research that goes far beyond the concept as we know it, and has always been applied, and is still applied to tracing Nazi confiscations and despoliations.

They would even apply provenance research to objects with clear provenance, such as the looted Benin objects in German museums since their main concern would not be establishing how artefacts came to the museum but would be busy with the many aspects of provenance research that have no direct relevance to restitution. Moreover, provenance research is not to be considered as a finished process since the result can always be added to when new knowledge is available. Provenance research is not necessarily linked to restitution demands. We firmly believe that provenance research must be returned to its original function of tracing essential facts of ownership and transfers. It should not be extended so as to become coterminous with general research about the object and the conditions of the producers, whether they were artists or indented workers. Provenance research should be linked to restitution where the research has been provoked by demands for restitution and those seeking restitution must not be made to wait for the result of provenance for this would be another denial of justice.

King’s throne, mandu yenu, Bamum, Cameroon, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany. King’s throne, mandu yenu, Bamum, Cameroon, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.

We can all understand that different situations may all call for provenance research, e.g. sale or purchase, loan or transfer to another institution or restitution. But do all these situations call for the same lengthy and expensive research? Should there not be specified research procedures for specific types of objects? Could there be objects with histories that make provenance research lees needed or at any rate less indispensable as the specialists make it appear? We think for instance that Benin artefacts do not require, at least for the purpose of restitution, any lengthy provenance research since we know where most of them came from. How does one explain to the Edo people that their objects looted in 1897 still need to be subjected to provenance research? Provenance research should not be used as excuse for not restituting or for delaying restitution. It does not sound convincing for those who have been holding looted objects for more than hundred years to say now that they need time for research and at the same time complain they have few resources and personnel for the necessary research. It seems another hundred years will be required for the completion of provenance research on the looted artefacts in German museums, bearing in mind that alone the Ethnologists Museum in Berlin has some 500,000 artefacts, most of them looted.

My real disappointment with the revised version of the Guidelines however concerns the statements and suggestions on restitution.

As in the previous edition, the revised edition tries to downplay what in our opinion, and in the view of many, is at present the most important question of our times: restitution of looted African artefacts. At the very beginning of the section on restitution is a bold statement that:

Demands for restitution of cultural objects stand prominently in the centre of public discussions on colonialism. But restitution should not be an end in itself.

Rather it constitutes an important building block when the question is how to work out together with people from former colonized countries our common history, compensation for committed injustice, and to find ways for overcoming the effects of colonialism that still exist. There have been isolated demands from source countries and source States for restitution of cultural objects - perhaps due to absence of access to inventory lists and publications of German museums‘ stocks but so far they are not on the agenda. One must from the beginning exercise sensitivity. One must bear in mind that a solution must not necessarily lead only to restitution. Many source countries do not want to receive any objects from European museums, others have interest in certain group of objects, for example ,religious objects or the restitution is disputed within the relevant circles. Sometimes, there is a wish for long-term access to the objects, capacity building or that the digitalized objects be available to them rather than the restitution of the physical object.

Even when there is a wish for restitution, there can at the same time be an interest in further cooperation and exchange. Also, further different wishes, e.g. compensation demands instead of restitution or in addition to restitution may be requested. To this extent, in discussion, one should find out the needs and interests of the discussion partner. The authors of these guidelines recommend therefore that museums must at the beginning of discussions make it clear that they are ready to discuss restitution but are also ready to discuss other solutions.(10)

The state of mind revealed by this statement is remarkable. Even though the revised rules apparently have been done with the help of international scholars, the position defended in this text clearly represents those of German scholars and authorities who cannot bring themselves to accept that other people also want to recover their looted cultural artefacts that are in German museums. Everything is to be done to prevent source countries from requesting restitution. Restitution is relevant for finding means to overcome existing effects of colonialism and for working out common history with the colonized people? Restitution should not be an end in itself? Demands for restitution are presented as rare even though all the papers are talking about restitution, the authors say. But why are the authors also talking about restitution if it were such a rare matter? Why do they refer to Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy whose report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethic, clearly cannot be said to be dealing with a rare subject of restitution? The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational.Ethics.

Throughout the text it becomes clear that everything should be done to prevent restitution, as if it were an unspeakable disaster. The authors refer to the report of Sarr and Savoy, but it does not seem that any of the suggestions of the French art historian and Senegalese economist has been adopted for recommendation to the German authorities.

Regarding suggestions that since most African objects in Europe were looted, the burden of proof should be on the holder to establish that her object was legally and legitimately acquired instead of asking the African plaintiff to establish that her object was stolen, the authors of the Guidelines reject the reversal of burden of proof.

From the fact that colonialism was a system of structural violence, it is sometimes concluded that acquisitions in the colonial period were unjust. The majority of the working group cannot share this view .Already at the very early contact, certain objects were specially made for European demand. Moreover, even in a colonial setting of structural inequality there were transfer of objects on basis of equality of all actors involved, partly anchored in an indigenous system of exchange and reciprocal gifts. To deny the indigenous people any power of acting and present them as victims is considered by the authors as problematic. (11).

Relief panel with a battle scene, Benin, Nigeria, transferred recently to Museum at Rothenbaum from Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, after provenance research showed it was looted. Relief panel with a battle scene, Benin, Nigeria, transferred recently to Museum at Rothenbaum from Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, after provenance research showed it was looted.

This is a surprising reasoning from the authors of the Guidelines. Most people believe that many of the important African artefacts, at least those in the museums and such places, have been stolen or acquired through force or intimidation. The various raids, including scientific raids and expeditions such as described by Michel Leiris in Afrique fantôme (1953), the military attacks at Abomey, Benin, Kumasi, Maqdala, Segou, and other places brought large numbers of African artefacts to Europe. This much is established knowledge. It would therefore seem reasonable to request the holders to establish their legitimacy and legal acquisition. A European purchaser is in any case in a better position to prove her purchase than an African seller to trace her loss. (12) The authors of the Guidelines have not established and cannot establish that the majority of African artefacts in European museums were not looted, stolen or acquired through intimidation. This does not mean that every single object was stolen or looted. A legal presumption must be based on majority of cases and instances and not on single exceptions.

The various attempts to suggest there were some situations of equality between Africans selling artefacts to Europeans or exchanging gifts with European colonizers fail lamentably when one recalls that in the German colonies, even in the ‘model colony’ of Togo almost any European could whip Africans as a corrective measure.(13)

The inability of the authors of the Guidelines to accept a reversal of burden of proof as well as for the authors on Legal Aspects to envisage laws other than colonial laws, stems from one basic factor: they do not consider the colonial regime as a regime of violence and oppression, as a context of injustice.

Could they have defended their rights in German courts on basis of equality with German colonizers?

Surviving Herero returning starved from the Omaheke desert where they had been driven by German troops after the battle at Waterberg in; two women in front were unable to stand.Surviving Herero returning starved from the Omaheke desert where they had been driven by German troops after the battle at Waterberg in; two women in front were unable to stand.

This is also the problem of the German authorities who are not willing to apologize to the Herero and Nama and pay the necessary compensation for the confiscations of property, stealing of cattle and forced labour. They do not share the view of President Macron and most of us that colonialism was a crime against humanity and oppressive system. They are thus handicapped from taking any necessary action as in the case of the Nazi victimization. They may deplore certain acts of colonialism; they may even put it in their coalition agreement to eradicate colonialism and its effects, yet they cannot take effective action because of lack of a strong political will. This is amply demonstrated by the recent meeting of the culture ministers of all the 16 German Federal States 13 March 2019.(14) They declare a wish to move swiftly on human remains and state the present laws are adequate for restitution. If, however they turn out to be inadequate, there would be changes.

Die rechtlichen Voraussetzungen für eine mögliche Rückführung von Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten sind abhängig vom jeweils für die Einrichtungen geltenden Bundes-, Landes- und Organisationsrecht, insbesondere den Haushaltsordnungen des Bundes, der Länder und der Kommunen. Danach sind Rückgaben grundsätzlich möglich. Sofern rechtlicher Handlungsbedarf besteht, um die Rückführung von Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten zu ermöglichen, wird dem nachgekommen

But everyone knows that there is no general law in Germany that provides for effective restitution. So why do they not work towards a general law for the whole of Germany? What are they waiting for? They leave political decisions to museums that have no power to dispose of State property. The German situation proves once again that restitution is a political matter with legal implications and not a legal matter with political implications.

If only the Germans would pay to victims of German colonization as much as half the attention they pay to the victims of Nazi atrocities and spoliations, we would be further advanced on this matter. We have stated often that the victims of German colonization are mainly ‘black’ Africans whereas the victims of Nazi atrocities and spoliation are mainly ‘white’ Europeans. This may be the key to understanding the differentiation of treatment. Even in discussing principles on restitution of African human remains and looted artefacts, Germans do not concentrate on Africans. They are more solicitous of Nazi victims. They think more of the victims of Nazi oppression. Hence in the declaration of principles by the Culture Ministers of the Lander, representatives of the Federal Government and Local Government of 13 March 2019, with the title Conference of Culture Ministers: Principles on Handling Looted Colonial Goods, (Kulturministerkonferenz: Eckpunkte zum Umgang mit kolonialer Raubkunst ) they felt obliged to assure the victims of Nazi rule that funds and efforts to effect restitution of looted African artefacts would not affect help for victims of Nazi rule. They felt the need to add that the colonial situation cannot be compared to that of the Nazi atrocities and that the holocaust was unprecedented and incomparable.

‘Die Staatsministerin des Bundes für Kultur und Medien, die Staatsministerin im Auswärtigen Amt für internationale Kulturpolitik, die Kulturministerinnen und Kulturminister der Länder und die kommunalen Spitzenverbände verstehen die Aufarbeitung von Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten als einen klar von der Aufarbeitung NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturguts zu trennenden Sachverhalt. Sie wird nicht zu einer Reduzierung der Bemühungen und Maßnahmen zur Aufarbeitung des NS-Unrechts führen. Der Holocaust ist präzedenzlos und unvergleichbar.‘

An extraordinary statement in a document of principles dealing with colonial loot. Could anyone imagine a similar statement on African victims of German colonialism in a document of principles dealing with the victims of Nazi oppression? Here they were dealing with Africans and do not need to exercise more caution. To be declared anti-African is no great damage! What message are they sending to African victims of German colonialism? They are in effect saying: You may have suffered from the atrocities of German colonialism, but victims of Nazi domination suffered more. Your suffering cannot be compared to theirs. We shall ensure that our spending on your suffering does not affect or reduce our spending on victims of Nazi rule.

Are the problems resulting from the cruel German colonial rule, with its massacres and extermination wars under Lothar von Trotha and Paul von Lettow, not complicated enough to require concentrated German attention so that no one can afford at the same time to ponder over another terrible period in German history? Must Germans raise Nazism when they talk about the cruel German colonial oppression?

The high German officials do not seem to be ready to accept that the atrocities of the Nazi were based on experience with similar activities in the colonial period. They would want to present the Nazi regime as a phenomenon suddenly coming from outside German history and culture. Aimé Césaire has expressed in Discourse on Colonialism the view that Hitler’s brutal methods had been applied to colonial subjects without much objection but that only when they were extended to white people were serious objections raised. Jürgen Zimmerer has underlined, in a study entitledWar, Concentration Camps and Genocide in South-West Africa: The First German Genocide’, the similarities and continuities between the German atrocities in South West Africa and those of the Nazis:

‘The genocide in German South West Africa is also significant as a prelude to the Holocaust. One need only consider notions such as concentration camps and genocide to relate these events to the mass crimes committed during the Third Reich. Although one must be aware of making precipitate comparisons, it cannot be denied that there are actual structural similarities between the genocide committed on the Herero and Nama and the Holocaust which reward further reflection. As less than 40 years elapse between the first and the second genocides carried out by Germans, the lack of a link would be more surprising than its existence.’ (15)

Lothar von Trotha’s notorious extermination order-Vernichtungsbefehl of 2 October 1904 could have come from any Nazi general or Adolph Hitler himself:

‘I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Herero. The Herero are German subjects no longer. They have killed, stolen, cut off the ears and other parts of the body of wounded soldiers, and now are too cowardly to want to fight any longer. I announce to the people that whoever hands me one of the chiefs shall receive 1,000 marks, and 5,000 marks for Samuel Maherero. The Herero nation must now leave the country. If it refuses, I shall compel it to do so with the ‘long tube’ (cannon). Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people’. The great General of the mighty German Kaiser”. (16)

The evil Dr. Eugen Fischer whose pseudo-scientific theories of racial purity were practised on Namibians, at his desk with photos of African women. The evil Dr. Eugen Fischer whose pseudo-scientific theories of racial purity were practised on Namibians, at his desk with photos of African women.

What would we expect from the German government if it took Africans seriously?

1. Settle outstanding issues with Herero and Nama, i.e. acknowledge the genocide, apologize, pay compensation and beg for forgiveness;

2. Make a clear commitment to restitution of looted African artefacts and abandon futile attempts to convince us that temporary loans of looted artefacts to the original owners would be enough as the Benin Dialogue Group, where 6 German museums are represented, are trying to do. (17)

3. Make a bold gesture of restitution of looted artefacts, for example Benin artefacts which we know came from the 1897 invasion of Benin by the British. without pleading any excuse such as the need for provenance research. Now that the formal opening of the Humboldt Forum has been postponed, they will have more time.

Nama prisoners, evidently children, captured after Nama uprising against German colonial exactions. From Helgard Patemann, Namibia-Deutsche Kolonie 1884-1915, Peter Hammer Verlag,1984, p.121.Nama prisoners, evidently children, captured after Nama uprising against German colonial exactions. From Helgard Patemann, Namibia-Deutsche Kolonie 1884-1915, Peter Hammer Verlag,1984, p.121.

It is noted with regret that the German authorities have not been able to issue a clear policy of commitment to restitution even after the Sarr-Savoy report which is a milestone in the discussion on restitution. This work has set standards by which henceforth all policies on restitution will be assessed.

Instead of being an instrument for aiding restitution, provenance research has become independent of restitution and risks dominating restitution which it may well postpone. The Guidelines declare that restitution should not be an end in itself, but they make provenance research an end in itself.

These Guidelines which have undergone a second revision after a year of publication may again undergo another revision. Meanwhile Africans will be waiting for concrete restitutions whilst the scholars keep us busy with their provenance research and revisions of Guidelines. One wonders what German institutions were doing in the last hundred years. (18)

“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.” Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause (19)

Kwame Opoku.

Nefertiti, Egypt, now in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. Will the new German Guidelines let her go home to Egypt? Nefertiti, Egypt, now in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. Will the new German Guidelines let her go home to Egypt?


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 Gegenwart- Jahrbuch des Landesarchivs Berlin, (Ed.) Hans J. Reichhardt, Siedler Verlag, 1986, p.77.


Rezensionen zum Leitfaden zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus ...

Brief comments on german guidelines on handling objects acquired in ...

3. Leitfaden zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten ...

Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten – Vorstellung ...

4.The Sarr-Savoy report is mentioned several times in the Guidelines.

5. Ganz grundsätzlich lässt sich mit Jürgen Osterhammel sagen: „‚Kolonialismus‘ ist eine Herrschaftsbeziehung zwischen Kollektiven, bei welcher die fundamentalen Entscheidungen über die Lebensführung der Kolonisierten durch eine kulturell andersartige und kaum anpassungswillige Minderheit von Kolonialherren unter vorrangiger Berücksichtigung externer Interessen getroffen und tatsächlich durchgesetzt werden. Damit verbinden sich in der Neuzeit in der Regel sendungsideologische Rechtfertigungsdoktrinen, die auf der Überzeugung der Kolonialherren von ihrer eigenen kulturellen Höherwertigkeit beruhen

Leitfaden, p.41.

6. Jürgen Zimmerer and Joachim Zeller (eds.), ‘Genocide in German South-West Africa’, First published in 2003 by Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin. First English Edition published in 2008 by The Merlin Press.

7. Michel Leiris, Afrique fandom. An entry in Leiris dairy for 7 September 1931 reads as follows:

7 September,1931

‘Before leaving Dyabougou, we visit the village and make off with a second kono, which Griaule found by slipping surreptitiously into the special hut. This time, Lutten and I carry out the operation. My heart is beating very loudly because, since yesterday’s fiasco, I am more keenly aware of the enormity of our crime. With his hunting knife, Lutten cuts the mask from the costume adorned with feathers onto which it is sewn, passes it to me to be wrapped in the cloth we have brought, and gives me, upon my request - for it is another one of those bizarre shapes that so strongly intrigued us yesterday - a sort of suckling pig, nougat made of the same brown (i.e. coagulated blood) and weighing at least 15kilos, which I wrap up with the mask. We quickly carry the whole thing out of the village and return to our cars through the fields. When we leave, the chief wants to return the 20 francs we have given him. Lutten let him keep them, naturally. But this doesn’t make things any less ugly…

In the next village, I spot a kono hut with a ruined door. I point it out to Griaule and we decide to take it. Like the last time, Mamadou Vad announces brusquely to the village chief, whom we have brought to the hut, that the commandant of the Mission has ordered us to seize the kono and that we are prepared to pay compensation of 20 francs. This time I carry out the operation alone and slip into the sacred retreat carrying Lutten’s hunting knife in my hand in order to cut the cords of the mask. When I notice that two men - not at all threatening, to be honest - have entered behind me, I realize in a dazed stupor, which only later transforms into disgust, that you feel pretty sure of yourself when you’re a white man with a knife in your hand’

Very soon after this theft, we arrive in San for lunch, then make contact in a neighbouring village with some Bobo Oulés, who are charming people. Idyllic nudity and straw or cowry ornaments, young people with most attractively plaited hair and women, often with shaven heads (especially the old women), all of it more than enough to lull me, to make me forget all the piracy and divert my mind to the worlds of Robinson Crusoe and Paul et Virginie’’.

Michel Leiris, Afrique fantôme (1953) has finally been translated into English as Phantom Africa by Brent Hayes Edwards,( Seagull Books, 2017). With the English version, Phantom Africa now available for the first time, English readers have the possibility to appreciate the significance of this historic book by Leiris. This is an important and indispensable classic of French literature, an absolute must for anybody interested in colonialism, postcolonialism, and above all, in the questions of restitution of artefacts looted during the colonial era. The Dakar-Djibouti Mission and Marcel Griaule, head of the mission, are generally considered to have made very important contributions to ethnology and its development as science in Franc

The German translation of the French original, Afrique fantôme is entitled, Michel Leiris, Phantom Afrika Tagebuch einer Expedition von Dakar nach Djibouti 1931-1933, Band 1 und Band II, 1980, Syndikat Autoren-und Verlagsgesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main. The Portuguese version is entitled África Fantasma,2007 published by Cosac Naify, Sao Paulo, Brasil.

The Spanish edition is entitled: El África fantasmal, by Tomás Fernández AZ and Beatriz Eibar Barrens, 2007, Ed. Pre-Text’s. The Italian edition is entitled, L’ Africa fantasma by Aldo Pasquali, Rizzoli Editore,1984.See Who Is Afraid of Phantom Africa? - Modern Ghana

8. See Rüdiger Voigt/Peter Sack (Hrsg.), Kolonialisierung des Rechts, Arthur J. Knoll, An Indigenous Law Code for the Togolese. The Work of Dr. Rudolf Asmis, pp. 247-269; Harald Sippel, Verwaltung und Recht in Deutsch Ostafrika, pp.271-292, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, Baden-Baden,2001.

9. Leitfaden, p. 114. Andererseits zeigt gerade das Beispiel von Erwerbungen im kolonialen Kontext den Sinn von Verjährungsvorschriften: Diese haben nicht nur den Zweck, eine gewisse Rechtssicherheit oder „Rechtsfrieden“ herzustellen. Vielmehr sollen sich die Gerichte auch nicht mit Klagen auseinandersetzen müssen, bei denen der Sachverhalt kaum noch eruierbar und das anwendbare Recht nur noch mit größten Schwierigkeiten zu ermitteln ist, wodurch die Gefahr einer unzutreffenden Entscheidung groß ist. Leitfaden, p. 114.

10. Leitfaden, p. 158.

11. Leitfaden, p. 142.

12. Sarr-Savoy recommends reversal of burden of proof in some instances. Objects from ‘scientific missions’: ‘It is our recommendation to respond favorably and grant restitutions concerning objects collected in Africa during these types of “scientific expeditions”, unless there is explicit evidence or information witnessing to the full consent on the part of the owners or initial guardians of the objects at the moment when the objects were separated from them.’

Sarr and Savoy add in a foot note: 71 This recommendation takes into account the evolution of the international juridical debate about the the reversal of the burden of proof regarding the displaced or looted cultural goods. It widens to the colonial context a principle stated by the UNIDROIT Convention 1995, adopted by the European directive 2014/60/UE of May 15, 2014.

Gifts from private collectors: We recommend receiving requests for restitution that could relate to objects donated to French museums by the colonial administration or their descendants favourably, unless the consent of the seller (commission of copies, purchase at craft markets) can be ascertained. The main task for this category of objects is to determine who the donors were, beyond their first and last names (involvement in the colonial apparatus? descendants of colonial agents or military personnel?)

13. German colonizers had the right to whip colonized Africans. A sentence from the very interesting book from Bettina Zurstrassen’s book, Ein Stuck deutscher Erde shaffen-Koloniale Beamte in Togo1880-1914 (Campus Verlag,Frankfurt/New York,2008) gives us a good idea:

‘ Der Schutzgebiet Togo hatte den Ruf, eine Prügelkolonie zu sein. In Anbetracht der häufig verordneten 23 Peitschenhiebe, die ursprünglich als höchstes Strafmaß für Vergehen gedacht waren, wurden die deutschen auch als die‘‘25er Kolonien’ bezeichnet. In einer Petition, die Kolonialstaatssekretar Solf während seiner Afrika-Rundreise von den afrikanischen Einwohnern Lomes am 12 Oktober 1913 überreicht wurde, beklagten diese, dass sie von den Bewohner der Nachbarkolonien als, Kinder der Kette und des Prügels bezeichnet wurde‘. Nach seiner Rundreise zog, Solf das Resümee, dass die Prügelstrafe die Prügelstrafe in den deutschen Schutzgebieten weit verbreitet sei, weil sie neben ’Schimpfen‘ als die natürliche Verkehrsform‘ zwischen Afrikaner und Eroberem gesehen werde.‘ p.163.

Corporal punishment was also freely administered by colonial employers against domestic personnel, by police, road constructors but were not officially recorded.

Zustrassen gives us a table of punishments in Togo from 1900 to 1912/1913.


14. Kulturministerkonferenz: Eckpunkte zum Umgang mit kolonialer ...

Eckpunkte zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten

15. J. Zimmerer and J. Zeller, op. cit. p.59.

16.‘Vernichtungsbefehl (Extermination Order) by the German commander, General Lothar von Trotha. Kommando der Schutztruppe. J. Nr. 3737.

"Ich, der große General der deutschen Soldaten, sende diesen Brief an das Volk der Herero. Die Herero sind nicht mehr deutsche Untertanen. Sie haben gemordet und gestohlen, haben verwundeten Soldaten Ohren und Nasen und andere Körperteile abgeschnitten, und wollen jetzt aus Feigheit nicht mehr kämpfen. 11 Ich sage dem Volk: Jeder, der einen der Kapitäne an eine meiner Stationen als Gefangenen abliefert, erhält tausend Mark, wer Samuel Maharero bringt, erhält fünftausend Mark. Das Volk der Herero muss jedoch das Land verlassen. Wenn das Volk dies nicht tut, so werde ich es mit dem Groot Rohr dazu zwingen. Innerhalb der Deutschen Grenzen wird jeder Herero mit und ohne Gewehr, mit oder ohne Vieh erschossen, ich nehme keine Weiber oder Kinder mehr auf, treibe sie zu ihrem Volke zurück, oder lasse auf sie schießen. Dies sind meine Worte an das Volk der Herero. Der große General des mächtigen Deutschen Kaisers."; Herero_and_Namaqua_Genocide

17. Jörg Häntzschel , Suddeutsche Zeitung, 9. Juli 2019, Ethnologische Museen Deutschlands Verseucht, zerfressen, überflutet,

‘Oft heißt es, die Museen in den Herkunftsländern seien nicht in der Lage, Raubkunst aus der Kolonialzeit sachgemäß aufzubewahren.

Dabei befinden sich die Bestände deutscher Museen oft in katastrophalem Zustand: Sie stehen in knöcheltiefem Wasser, sind zerfressen oder sogar vergiftet.

Die Museumsdirektoren wissen oft selbst nicht, was in ihren Depots liegt, manche lassen sich nur mit Kittel und Atemschutz betreten‘.

Kolonialismus - Der Tod in den Museen - Kultur - Sü

This is probably one of the best articles written about German museums in recent years. The interview with Bonaventure Ndikung reveals other important aspects of the problem with German museums and restitution.

18. The following German institutions and museums are in the Benin Dialogue Group:

Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen, Leipzig and Dresden,Germany

Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany

Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK), Hamburg, Germany,

Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

The above-named 6 German institutions are in the Benin Dialogue Group which has decided not to restitute the Benin artefacts but only to lend them. How is this to be reconciled with pretence in the German Guidelines that restitution of looted African artefacts is a possibility? We have expressed our objections to the idea of loaning to the Edo people and their government artefacts made by them and looted by the British in a violent invasion in 1897. We find the idea of loaning to owners their own looted artefacts unacceptable. If the Benin people do not deserve to have their looted objects restituted, which other African States would finally recover their artefacts? Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana or Zimbabwe?

We Will Show You Looted Benin Bronzes But Will Not Give Them Back ...

Kwame Opoku -Nigeria To Borrow Looted Nigerian Artefacts From ...

Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution Of Benin Artefacts From ...

18. We will not comment on the image on the cover of the publication. Everybody can make up her own mind what it indicates about German understanding and estimation of non-European cultures.

I was surprised by this statement which was also in the earlier version: ‘For the sake of better readability, the masculine form will be used mainly in this publication in designating people. The designations are to be understood as neutral with respect to gender’. (Aus Gründen der besseren Lesbarkeit wird in dieser Publikation überwiegend die männliche Form in der Bezeichnung von Personen verwendet. Die Bezeichnungen sind geschlechtsneutral zu verstehen.)

Such a statement from a group that can be assumed to be well-versed in questions of gender discrimination shocked me. Are words no longer important? The working group included many women. Why did the group not choose to use the feminine form for all?

19. “Die Rückgabe jener Kulturschätze, die unsere Museen und Sammlungen direkt oder indirekt dem Kolonialsystemverdanken und die jetzt zurückverlangt werden, sollte ebenfalls nicht mit billigen Argumenten und Tricks hinausgezögert werden.” Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause, p. 185, C. Bertelsmann, Munich, 1984.

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024