The Call for Restitution from the Peoples of Kilimanjaro and Meru

Across Kilimanjaro and Meru in Tanzania, the legacy of resistance against the German colonial rule beats strong in the hearts of descendants. Only many ancestral witnesses and testimonies from that violent time are missing; waiting to be found languishing in German museum depots. In 1900, Colonial Officers publicly hanged leaders of the local communities and shipped dismembered body parts to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin for racist research. This was further compounded by the theft of personal belongings: local symbols of power, weapons, armory and jewellery.

For over 50 years, relatives have been demanding the return of their abducted ancestors. But how to locate them? How to re-memorise belongings of cultural heritage that had been gone for over a century? How to repair from the acts of dismemberment and rupture? What action do the descendants expect from Germany?

In 2022, MAREJESHO (Swahili for return, restitution) travelled to six villages across Kilimanjaro and Meru as a mobile research exhibition. The aim was to exchange multi-sourced knowledge and reduce the gap between German museums and communities. Pictures of misappropriated local cultural heritage and historical photographs were presented and information on collections with ancestral remains was shared. Tanzanian artists accompanied the exhibition with live drawings, filmmakers documented oral histories from the villages. Eventually, as a result of the project, the remains of few missing ancestors in Berlin and New York could be identified.

The Berlin iteration of MAREJESHO at TA T of Humboldt University focuses on the questions asked, the knowledge generated and the responses of the communities across Kilimanjaro and Meru. The films and artworks made in Tanzania show the necessity of repatriation and restitution, but also the rich oral histories and the complexity of (post-)colonial relations then and now.

A Flinn Works production with Berlin Postkolonial and Old Moshi Cultural Tourism Enterprise in cooperation with bafico and APC in collaboration with Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Staatliche Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen, Linden Museum Stuttgart and TA T / Humboldt University in Berlin.

Concept, research, curation: Konradin Kunze, Sarita Lydia Mamseri, Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Gabriel Mzei Orio Visual Arts: Amani Abeid, Cloud Chatanda, Masana Oral history documentation: Malik Saidi Msambaa, Chrispina Chrispin Nazael Architects:Comfort Mosha, Doreen-maria Mwanauta, Mufaddal Nagree (APC Architectural Pioneering Consultants Ltd) Assistance: Alice Harrison Management: Marit Buchmeier, Lisanne Grotz (xplusdrei Produktionsbüro), Gabriel Mzei Orio Translation: Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Neema Kasabo

Funded by TURN2 fund of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes. Funded by Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien. Further funding by between bridges


Germany 2023/24: TA T (Tieranatomisches Theater), Humboldt University Berlin: October 13, 2023 - June 29, 2024 / November 22, 2023: Public Talk with descendants, community representatives and experts (part of the Repatriation Days) / May 13, 2024: Talk with descendants on the restitution of ancestors to Tanzania

Tanzania 2022: Keni, Rombo, Kilimanjaro: August 11-14 / Marangu, Kilimanjaro: August 18-21 / Old Moshi, Kilimanjaro: August 25-28 / Kibosho, Kilimanjaro: September 1-4 / Machame, Kilimanjaro: September 8-11 / Poli, Meru: September 15-18


Auf der Suche nach den Vorfahren - wo ist Mangi Meli?

Radiofeature von Caroline Nokel, SWR

Part of the fight for justice has also been the campaign for continued investigations into what happened in colonial times and to educate people both in Tanzania and here in Germany. That's at the heart of an ongoing exhibition in Berlin, which is focusing on the missing human remains and looted artifacts from Tanzania in a call for their repatriation. [...] It's a mobile research project that's involved putting on displays to audiences in Tanzania, getting their verbal and artistic responses and adding them to the exhibition. It's called Marejesho, Swahili for return or restitution. The focus is on the brutality of colonial rulers in what was German East Africa. And the artifacts and human remains they took away with them.


Khalid Salewa had never seen a picture of his great-great-grandfather until September 2022, when a mobile museum winding its way through the mountain’s foothills arrived in his hometown of Moshi, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The exhibit, called “Marejesho” (the Swahili word for returns), displayed information about German colonial crimes in an open-air pavilion. Residents looked at drawings of cultural objects — necklaces, combs, shields — from their ancestors now held by German museums. They found in the exhibit proof of what they had previously only heard about from parents and grandparents. Berlin did not just have their art but also their bones: thousands of human remains. As a child, Khalid had learned from his mother, Janet, that she was the great-granddaughter of a king who ruled over the Siha area of the Chagga tribe, until he was publicly executed in 1900 for resisting the German occupation, a brutal campaign across East Africa between 1885 and 1919. After his body was left suspended from a tree for public viewing, it disappeared. In Chagga culture, the burial of a body after death is an essential ritual. Without a proper funeral and resting place, the soul cannot find peace. The legacy of not returning an ancestor to his roots meant illness, misfortune and continued suffering for the descendants: For Khalid and Janet, it meant growing up with a permanent absence.When Khalid learned of “Marejesho,” which was organized by Flinn Works, Berlin Postkolonial and the Old Moshi Cultural Tourism Enterprise, he took his family, including Janet, to view the exhibit. [...] “Marejesho,” the traveling exhibition, represents a rethinking of the imperial museum project, a transcontinental collaboration in which communities can glimpse the ancestral objects they cannot travel to view in German institutes. An earlier project by Kunze’s collective Flinn Works, “Mangi Meli Remains,” focuses on the story of Chief Meli, who was hanged and decapitated alongside Ngalami. A video installation that includes historical photos and material about his life was exhibited in Berlin and then in Dar es Salaam before its permanent installation in Old Moshi’s courthouse and as an interactive memorial online. Mboro, a member of Berlin Postkolonial who is also from the Kilimanjaro area, and was instructed by his grandmother to find Meli’s skull when he came to Germany to study, writes that the work of remembrance includes “bringing custodians and source communities together in ceremony, where epistemologies and forms of engaging with the dead might clash, but where greater knowledge on different histories and narratives of the past will emerge, where friendships might even develop.

The Dial - Isuue 3: Reparation

Erstmals sind menschliche Gebeine von Opfern der deutschen Kolonialzeit per DNA-Vergleich mit heute lebenden Nachfahren identifiziert worden. [...] Auf einer Videokonferenz mit Nachfahren von Anführern der Chagga und Meru Communities, die in der Region um die Stadt Moshi am Kilimandscharo im heutigen Tansania leben, berichtete Konradin Kunze von Flinn Works über die Ergebnisse eines Abgleichs von DNA heute dort lebender Menschen mit Schädeln im Depot der SPK. Bei zwei Familien konnte eine direkte Verwandtschaft mit insgesamt drei Individuen festgestellt werden, deren Häupter nach Berlin verschleppt worden waren. Dabei handelt es sich mutmaßlich um die Chagga-Anführer Mangi Molelia aus Kibosho und dessen Bruder sowie um den Akida (Minister) Sindato Kiutesha Kiwelu aus Moshi. Am 2. März 1900 waren 19 Mangis (Anführer, Chiefs) und Akidas in Old Moshi von deutschen Kolonialoffizieren wegen ihres Widerstands gegen die Besatzer öffentlich gehängt worden. Weil das Berliner Völkerkundemuseum in dieser Zeit brennend an Schädeln für rassistische Forschungszwecke interessiert war, wurden Teile ihrer Körper nach der Hinrichtung nach Berlin geschickt. „Es ist seither in den Familien mündlich überliefert, dass die Köpfe abgetrennt und nach Berlin geschickt wurden“, erklärte Kunze der taz. Die Familien forderten daher seit Jahrzehnten die Rückgabe. Unter anderem suchte der Aktivist von Berlin Postkolonial, Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, seit Langem nach einer Spur von Mangi Meli. [...] Die Initiative für den DNA-Vergleich ging [...] von den Nachfahren aus. „Wir haben im vorigen Jahr in der Region Kilimandscharo eine Wanderausstellung mit dem Titel ‚Marejesho‘ gemacht, das bedeutet Rückkehr, Restitution“, erzählt Kunze. Darin hätten sie von den Forschungen in Deutschland zu menschlichen Überresten und geraubten Kulturgütern erzählt „und mit Nachfahren der Mangis gesprochen, um deren Erinnerungen zu hören – und ihre Forderungen“. Als die Menschen dort von der ersten DNA-Probe – von Isaria Meli – erfuhren, hätten sie auch ihre DNA abgeben wollen. „Wir sind also mit diesem Wunsch an die SPK herangetreten“, so Kunze. Dass ein Vergleich von 10 DNA-Proben mit 8 ausgewählten Schädeln nun tatsächlich drei Treffer gegeben hat, sei mithin auch weniger ein „kleines Wunder“, wie Parzinger es darstellt, sondern das Ergebnis sorgfältiger Vorarbeit vor Ort.


2022 organisierte Kunze mit Berlin Postkolonial und der tansanischen Organisation Old Moshi Cultural Tourism eine Wanderausstellung zu den menschlichen Überresten und geraubten Kulturgütern. Das Museumsprojekt »Marejesho« (Swahili für: Rückkehr, Restitution) wurde an mehreren Orten in der Region Kilimandscharo präsentiert, ab Oktober wird es im Tieranatomischen Theater der Berliner Humboldt-Universität zu sehen sein. Als die Menschen in Tansania durch »Marejesho« erfuhren, dass 2018 in Deutschland bereits ein DNA-Abgleich erfolgt war, um den Schädel des Chagga-Volkshelden Mangi Meli zu identifizieren, wünschten sie sich weitere Genanalysen, um ihre Ahnen zu finden. Flinn Works und Berlin Postkolonial stellten den Kontakt zur SPK her. »Provenienzforschung muss unter Einbeziehung der Communitys geschehen und die Oral History als Quelle berücksichtigt werden«, betont Theatermann Kunze. Besonders wichtig sei der jetzt erfolgte DNA-Abgleich als »weiterer Beleg dafür, dass sich eben auch Hingerichtete unter den Ahnen in der SPK befinden«.


Felix Kaaya, a member of the Meru people of Tanzania, spent decades searching for his grandfather’s bones. Mangi (“Chief”) Lobulu was among the 19 Indigenous leaders hanged from a single tree on March 2, 1900, during Germany’s brutal suppression of the Meru’s resistance to colonization of East Africa. After that, his body disappeared. Kaaya, who is now in his early 70s, suspected that Lobulu was one of the many dead African individuals whose remains were shipped to German universities and museums for study and experimentation. Konradin Kunze, a German performer and director, met Kaaya while preparing an exhibition advocating for the return of these remains. Kunze promised to help Kaaya find Lobulu. His research in German archives revealed that Lobulu’s skeleton had indeed been sent to the Berlin anthropologist Felix von Luschan and that Lobulu’s bones were among the 200 skeletons and 5,000 skulls the American Museum of Natural History purchased from von Luschan’s widow in 1924.


In order for any return to happen, the skulls needed to be identified. This was a seemingly impossible task, given the vastness of the Von Luschan collection and the lack of documentation. The SPK, which had the large collection of human remains, said it was committed to finding out where they came from. While researchers may have been able to figure out their approximate origins, to identify who the skull once belonged to was thought to be near impossible. Some of the descendants of those hanged thought that a DNA comparison might help, and they approached Mr Kunze from the arts company Flinn Works, which had mounted an exhibition about the remains, to see if this could be organised. He then helped get the swabs in Tanzania and, with pressure group Berlin Postkolonial, persuaded the SPK to conduct an analysis on some of the remains.


Pressemitteilung vom 11.09.2023 von Flinn Works, Berlin Postkolonial, Old Moshi Cultural Tourism, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR):

Nach DNA-Abgleich: Angehörige am Kilimanjaro fordern baldige Rückkehr ihrer identifizierten Ahnen und Entschuldigung von Deutschland.
Nach einem von der Recherche-Ausstellung „Marejesho“ initiierten Abgleich sind erstmals menschliche Gebeine von Opfern der deutschen Kolonialherrschaft per DNA identifiziert worden. Die Nachfahren in Tansania fordern nun eine zeitnahe Rückführung, eine Entschuldigung Deutschlands für Kolonialverbrechen und Verhandlungen über Reparationen. Auch persönliche Gegenstände sollen zurückkehren. Die Ausstellung „Marejesho“ ist ab 12. Oktober 2023 im TA T in Berlin zu sehen.

Download Pressemitteilung