Interview with Johanna Kahatjipara on the Occasion the Repatriation of the Mortal Remains of Herero and Nama Genocide Victims

On the occasion of the repatriation of the mortal remains of Herero and Nama, who were killed by German troops during the Genocide of 1904-08, AfricAvenir spoke to Johanna Kahatjipara, whose grandmother and other relatives were subjected to the excesses of the German colonial troops. Nurse by education, she is today an independent researcher on the Namibian culture of oral history and collector of old and historical pictures, books, and artifacts from the German Colonial Era. She is member of the Oral History Association South Africa (OHASA) and was a speaker at the Centenary Commemoration of the Ohamakari Battle, 14 August 2004, on the role of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu women during the war of 1904. Johanna Kahatjipara is member of the Technical Committee for the Ovaherero Traditional Chiefs on the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu Council for Dialogue on the 1904 Genocide (OCD-1904), regularly attends international conferences on genocide and reconciliation as a speaker and consults media productions like TV documentaries on the German colonial past in Namibia.

As an introduction, we would like to ask you, personally, as a descendant of the victims of the German genocide of the OvaHerero people 1904-08, can you share your thoughts on the topic of the German colonial wars in Namibia in general?

It is painful thoughts to know that my ancerstors were treated in the most undignified manner, that they were so traumatised and scared and yet they were also brave to have brought us up. I sometimes ask myself how does it feel to be thirsty without water? How does it feel to die from poisoned water?  What kind of poison was it? So many questions run through my mind but there are no replies. My family is connected to the Skullls in that my grandmother’s uncle was also hanged and beheaded. My grandmother Auguste Kavetjurura-Kahatjipara was also confined to a concentration camp and made to wear a medal pass around her neck like a dog together with her first born half German daughter, my aunt Metha Kavetjurura.

In particular, what is your view on the Namiban skulls, currently still stored in German museums, archives and private collections, and their return in October 2011?

The skulls in the German Museums are so confirming horrible acts committed against my ancestors. The return of the Skulls is to me a way of acknowledging the cruelty committed against my ancestors. Their return is long overdue and I am happy that finally they are returning back home from were they were taken in the most undignified manner.

Do you have preferences/suggestions on how and where the skulls should be buried/displayed, once back in Nambia? We do understand, traditional regulations suggests a different handling than the one agreed upon by all stakeholders now.

In modern times that we now live in, I believe that the agreed upon manner in which the skulls will be kept is the most appropriate way. In this way the history of what happened will be kept alive for the young generation to know these past and to avoid repetition of such to happen again.

In the current discussion amongst the OvaHerero communities, the government, the two different committees of the royal house of Maherero and Riruako, the Joint Technical Committee, do you think, women view-points are represented and are recognized by these stakeholders sufficiently?

Women view-points in my opinion are not that much represented and recognised.. This is also clear in the number of women in the delegations.

As a last question, do you see a connection of the topic of the returning human remains from Germany, which will not end with the return of the skulls held at the Charité, to other cultural objects from Namibia in German archives, museums etc, and to broaden this debate, from other countries, which are stored, displayed, etc. in Germany but elsewhere in Europe?

Cultural object should be returned as well to their countries of origin. Wherever they are now kept is not serving any purpose. Back in their own country we can use them as teaching material to the young generation about the culture of our ancestors. They will serve as documentation of our history and culture and moral. Words cannot even start to describe the audicity of keeping cultural objects in museums of people who do not even live the culture of the very people to whom the objects belong.


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