Accepted Paper:

The Exhibition 'Namibia − Germany: A shared/divided history. Resistance, violence, memory' (Cologne, Berlin 2004/2005)  
Clara Mayer-Himmelheber (Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum)

Paper short abstract:

A hundred years after the outbreak of a colonial war in former German South West Africa, the exhibition aimed to present colonial history as well as the contemporary relationships between Germany and Namibia, showing a 'shared' and a 'divided' history.

Paper long abstract:

The year 2004 was the centenary of a tragic event in Namibian history: the outbreak of the colonial war between the African population and the colonial power of Germany. During that war about 35-80 % of the Herero-speaking population of German South West Africa and up to 50% of the Nama-speaking population were killed. In historiography the war is described as genocide. Although of crucial importance for Namibian history, the war has never really entered public memory in Germany. In close co-operation with historians and social anthropologists of the University of Cologne, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum therefore developed an exhibition, which aimed at presenting this history to a broader German public.

With the title 'Namibia − Germany: a shared/divided history' we tried to look at the historical and the contemporary relationships between the two countries. The historical part of the exhibition dealt with the beginnings of colonisation up to the war of 1904-1908. The contemporary part showed different aspects of every day life in Namibia which are strongly linked to the consequences of the war. We included the latter part after discussions with Namibians who stressed that an exhibition not relating the past to the present, would give a wrong impression.

The exhibition layout aimed at showing a 'shared history' and a 'divided history' at the same time (see Conrad and Randeria 2003). Consequently, we re-constructed the past from two different points of view: from the perspective of Germans and German-speaking Namibians on the one hand, and from the perspective of Namibians of African descent on the other hand. These two points of view were contrasted in every section of the exhibition, with an intersection of common themes and objects in the middle. At the end the two perspectives branched out into a multiplicity of views. This arrangement was also a result of our co-operation with Namibian institutions and individuals of different political, cultural and social backgrounds.

The exhibition has been visited by approximately 80.000 people. The comments in our visitor's books showed that the exhibition touched many people and stirred a lot of thoughts. Moreover, it has been covered extensively by German and Namibian media. After initial problems of our use of the term 'genocide' expressed by interest groups in both countries, the exhibition has created a public debate which certainly supported the initiative of the German Minister of Economic Co-operation and Development to deliver an apology to the Herero and Nama people at the commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the colonial war in August 2004 in Namibia.

Panel IW06
Museums, anthropology and the representation of the colonial past