SHARE
COPY LINK

RELIGION

Germany confronts colonial past through return of ancient cross to Namibia

A German museum was set to announce Friday that it would restitute to Namibia a key 15th-century navigation landmark erected by Portuguese explorers, as part of Berlin's efforts to face up to its colonial past.

Germany confronts colonial past through return of ancient cross to Namibia
The cross on display at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Photo: DPA

A German museum was set to announce Friday that it would restitute to Namibia a key 15th-century navigation landmark erected by Portuguese explorers, as part of Berlin's efforts to face up to its colonial past.

Placed in 1486 on the western coast of what is today Namibia, the Stone Cross was once considered to be such an important navigation marker that it featured on old world maps.

In the 1890s, it was removed from its spot on Cape Cross and brought to Europe by the region's then German colonial masters.

SEE ALSO: Art reparation: Colonial ghosts haunt German and other European museums

Since 2006, it has been part of a permanent exhibition of the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

But in June 2017, Namibia demanded the restitution of the cross, which stands 3.5 metres tall and weighs 1.1 tonnes.

After holding a symposium in 2018 with African and European experts on the issue, the museum's supervisory board was due to formally announce Friday its decision to return the monument.

Germany has pledged to accelerate the return of artifacts and human remains from former African colonies.

On the eve of the planned announcement, Germany's minister of state for international cultural policies, Michelle Müntefering, said: “The return of cultural objects is an important building stone for our common future with Namibia.”

SEE ALSO: Germany confronts colonial past through 'largest return' of Aboriginal remains

'Historical injustice'

In a column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the president of the museum's foundation, Raphael Gross, noted that the Cross “is one of the very few objects that documents the occupation of the country by the Portuguese and with that the slow beginning of colonial rule in present-day Namibia”.

“For the people in Namibia and their cultural and political self-image, it is today of great significance because it stands for the experience of colonial rule from the perspective of those who were subject to it.”

For Gross, a restitution would be an “important gesture” for both Namibia and the museum, which would serve as a “recognition of historical injustice”.

“In this respect, it can act as an intervention that allows a new chapter to be opened up in the consideration of the common history of both Germany and Namibia.”

SEE ALSO: Berlin to change street names which honour brutal colonial past

Berlin ruled what was then called South-West Africa as a colony from 1884 to 1915.

Germany has on several occasions repatriated human remains to Namibia, where it slaughtered tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people between 1904 and 1908.

The German government announced in 2016 that it planned to issue an official apology for the atrocities committed by German imperial troops.

But it has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations, citing millions of euros in development aid given to the Namibian government.

Beyond the former South West Africa, the German empire also held the colonies of Togoland, now Togo, Kamerun (Cameroon) and Tanganyika (Tanzania), as well as some Pacific islands.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ISLAM

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

SHOW COMMENTS