Namibia’s Herero ethnic group, incensed by German settlers stealing their land, cattle and women, launched an uprising against their colonial rulers in January 1904.
Around 300 skulls were taken from the Herero and ethnic Nama, who died in German-run prison camps over the four-year conflict, according to some estimates. Many are still stored at the Medical History Museum at the Charité teaching hospital in Berlin.
“We are finally bringing our ancestors and heroes back home,” Herero Chief Kuiama Riruako told AFP before departing for the airport.
“We will perform traditional rites as we arrive on German soil Monday morning and when we receive the skulls,” he said.
In 2008, Namibia’s former ambassador to Germany, Peter Katjavivi, said getting the skulls back was “a question of regaining our dignity” for the southern African nation.
Namibia’s embassy in Berlin plans to hold a memorial on Thursday, led by the head of the Church of Namibia, Bishop Zephania Kameeta. The official handover is set for Friday at the Charité hospital.
“For us it means the return of our relatives, grandmothers and great-grandfathers,” said Ida Hoffmann, a member of a technical committee preparing the trip.
Also in the delegation is Chief Alfons Maharero, a direct descendant of Samuel Maharero, the Herero chief who led the 1904 uprising.
The delegation plans to bring the skulls back home on October 4, and hold a memorial in Windhoek the following day.
In the days after launching their uprising 107 years ago, Herero warriors massacred about 200 German civilians and were quickly met with a ruthless response from the German forces.
General Lothar von Trotha, who was under the direct command of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, later issued a notorious “extermination order.”
The figures for the total Herero population alive at the time range from 50,000 to 80,000.
It is estimated that tens of thousands were butchered, with only some 15,000 surviving when the campaign ended in 1907. Many historians called the killings the first genocide of the 20th century.