Germany to return Portuguese cross to Namibia

Germany to return Portuguese cross to Namibia

Germany is set to return a 15th-century stone cross it took from Namibia as part of its ongoing efforts to address its colonial legacy, in contrast to the UK and France, which face a far longer list of imperial sins. 

Culture minister Monica Grütters said: “A clear signal that we are committed to reappraising the colonial past. The rapprochement with Namibia is clearly, and visibly taking place.”

She said that dealing with the colonial legacy in Namibia had been a “blind spot” for Germany for too long.

Grütters said the restitution planned for August was a “clear signal that we want words to be followed by deeds.”

The 1.1-tonne, 3.5-metre high navigation landmark, known as the Stone Cross of Cape Cross was erected by Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão and first placed on the Namibian coast in 1498.

It was removed in 1893 while the region was a German imperial protectorate and is currently on display at the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

The museum acknowledged the “outstanding significance which an artefact like this pillar has to the people of Namibia and the special contribution it can make on site in the future to understanding Namibia’s history”.

The cross signified Portuguese territorial claims, as well as being a navigational marker. It showed the Portuguese coat of arms with inscriptions in Portuguese and Latin. The Portuguese crosses featured on Martin Waldseemüller’s world map from 1500.

In 1893 sailor Gottlieb Becker found the cross and sailed it back to Wilhelmshaven.

Kaiser Wilhelm II used it as evidence of Germany’s naval superiority and had the inscription replaced with the German imperial eagle and a new inscription.

Namibia, known as then German South-West Africa, was a German colony from 1884 to 1915.
Although Germany has acknowledged the genocide of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama tribespeople between 1904 and 1908, it has refused to pay reparations, saying it has given large sums to Namibia in development aid.

Academics last year recommended that French museums return African treasures to their countries of origin. French President Emmanuel Macron announced that 26 thrones and statues taken from Benin would be returned.

Some UK museums have also decided to repatriate a tiny proportion of their artefacts to African countries.

The National Army Museum said it would return a lock of Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II’s hair in March. But the Victoria and Albert Museum will only loan its Ethiopian treasures in November.


Portuguese crosses still on the Namibian coast. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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