After DNA-matching: Relatives at Kilimanjaro demand early return of their identified ancestors and apology from Germany


After an analysis initiated by the research-exhibition "Marejesho", ancestral remains of victims of German colonial rule have been identified by DNA for the first time. The descendants in Tanzania are now demanding prompt repatriation, an apology from Germany for colonial crimes, and negotiations on reparations. Personal belongings are also to be returned. The exhibition "Marejesho" can be seen at TA T in Berlin from October 12, 2023.

Descendants informed about results

A meeting of descendants of leaders of the Chagga and Meru communities with the civil society organizations Flinn Works, Berlin Postkolonial and Old Moshi Cultural Tourism (OMCT) was held in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania on 09 September 2023. The meeting was organized by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The organizations from Germany were connected via video. Konradin Kunze (Flinn Works) presented the results of a comparison of the DNA of descendants with ancestral remains (skulls), which are kept in the depot of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) in Berlin: In the case of two families, a direct relationship with a total of three individuals whose heads were taken to Berlin could be established with certainty or with high probability. These are presumably the Chagga leaders Mangi (chief) Molelia of Kibosho and his brother, as well as the Akida (minister) Sindato Kiutesha Kiwelu from Moshi, who all were executed during the German colonial period.

Project "Marejesho" made matching possible

The DNA matching was carried out at the request of the descendants as part of the Tanzanian-German research-exhibition "Marejesho," which was shown in August/September 2022 in six villages on Kilimanjaro and Meru. The goal of "Marejesho" is to exchange knowledge about human remains and looted cultural property from the region that were abducted during the German colonial period and are in German museum repositories. "Provenance research projects - including that of the SPK - are often carried out without the communities concerned. The wishes and knowledge of potential descendants are ignored," said project director Konradin Kunze. "With 'Marejesho' we are trying to bridge the gap between institutions and communities. We have actively sought exchanges with potential descendants." The saliva samples collected from the descendants on site were then handed over to the SPK, which had the DNA matching carried out at the University of Göttingen. As part of Marejesho, Kunze already succeeded in locating the remains of Mangi Lobulu Kaaya of Meru at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York a year ago.

Search for executed leaders

A total of 19 Mangis (chiefs) and Akidas (ministers) had been publicly hanged in Old Moshi on March 2, 1900 by colonial officers for their resistance to the occupiers. At the request of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, parts of their bodies were subsequently sent to Berlin for racist research. For over 50 years, their families have demanded their return. In particular, the search for the head of Mangi Meli of Moshi has gained international attention in recent years. The whereabouts of his head could still not be clarified. For a long time, institutions with so-called skull collections did not respond to inquiries from Tanzanians. It was only through the pressure of civil society initiatives that the SPK, for example, showed itself ready for provenance research and repatriation of ancestral remains. Except for the private return of a tooth of Chief Mkwawa to his descendants, no repatriation has yet taken place in Tanzania.

Demands of the descendants

At the meeting, the descendants demanded a speedy repatriation of the identified ancestral remains to their respective families. The unidentified ancestral remains who could be assigned to the Chagga or Meru communities should also be repatriated. The descendants shall be involved in the repatriation process and their wishes shall be respected. The costs of repatriation and burial are to be borne by the government of Germany. The relatives also demanded an official apology from the Federal Republic of Germany to the families and communities concerned for the colonial crimes and the displacement of the ancestors. This is also expected from the museums and universities involved. In addition, personal objects of the Mangis, which are kept in museums in Germany, are to be returned. Following the repatriation, the descendants demand talks with the German government for reparations. A joint statement from the families said: 
“We, the descendant families, have received the DNA results of our ancestors. We are thrilled to hear about the fate of our ancestors who died more than 100 years ago. We commend all the institutions and individuals responsible for achieving this vital milage. We urge the Tanzanian government to speed up the communication process with the German government so that the formal procedures for the return of our ancestors' remains can proceed faster. Our families are ready to receive them, and we have identified places for their final rest.”

Germany does not comply with human rights standards

The German government must now prove that it is committed to the rights of ancestors and their descendants, chooses the path of fundamental and human rights-based repatriation, and sufficiently involves the affected descendants in their wishes and demands from the very beginning of the related processes. "Because Germany's practice to date does not meet human rights standards. There is an urgent need for action, both in the practical, research and legislative fields," said Sarah Imani (ECCHR). The drawing organizations also argue this before the Committee on the United Nations Convention against Racism, among others.

Marejesho in Berlin

The exhibition "Marejesho" will be shown at TA T of Humboldt University in Berlin from October 12, 2023. It will focus on the reactions, demands and questions of the communities. "Marejesho" is a project of Flinn Works, Berlin Postkolonial and Old Moshi Cultural Tourism, supported by the TURN2 fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. As part of the exhibition, there will be an event with representatives of the descendants in November.


Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Berlin Postkolonial e.V., +49 1525 1755370
Konradin Kunze, Flinn Works, +49 177 2723827
Sarah Imani, ECCHR, +49 176 32983183


01_Exhibition Marejesho at Kilimanjaro – Picture: Konradin Kunze
02_Mangi Meli (center) mit Akida Sindato Kiwelu (right) – Picture: SLUB/Deutsche Fotothek
03_Descendants Zablon Kiwelu (left) und Isaria Meli (right) at the memorial for the hanged leaders in Old Moshi – Picture: Konradin Kunze
04_Family Molelia receives DNA-report in Moshi – Picture: Adam Graphics


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