Saturday, 8 October 2011

Charles Darwin’s Shadow Over the Herero Genocide

The traditional costume of a Herero woman includes a stylish hat. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. A century ago, German scientists did not believe that Hereros were as developed as Europeans.

Joel Kontinen

Last week, a 60-member Namibian delegation brought the skulls of 20 of their deceased forefathers to Windhoek from Germany, where they were kept on display in museums.

The Nazis did not invent human experiments. Over a century ago, German scientists inspired by Darwinian evolution examined the skulls of dead Africans. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species had been translated into German in 1875. In addition, Ernst Haeckel promoted evolution with his writings and Nietzsche proclaimed his view of Übermensch or superman.

German scientists wanted to show that light-skinned Europeans were more evolved than dark Africans.

Germany conquered South-West Africa or the present-day Namibia in 1884. The colonial masters treated their subjects so badly that they revolted in 1896 and 1904-1908. The German troops under Lieutenant General von Trotha put down the uprising ruthlessly. Roughly 60, 000 Hereros and over 10, 000 Namas died either in battle or from malnutrition or diseases in concentration camps.

Many skulls were sent to Germany for scientific purposes.

A hundred years ago, Charles Darwin’s shadow extended far from his homeland, bringing desperation, suffering and death to Africa.


Ambler, Marc. 2005. Herero Genocide. Creation 27 (3): 52-55.

Joy as Herero skulls arrive in Namibia. The Local. 4 October 2011.