Skinned cattle head is not a ‘caricature’

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war of words seems to be brewing between a resident of Swakopmund and his councillor, both descendants of the victims and perpetrators, respectively, of the 1904 to 1908 genocide committed against the Namibian people by armed forces of Imperial Germany.

This is because a skinned cattle head had been added to a monument in the Swakopmund cemetery. This in honour, among others, of those who perished in a concentration camp in Swakopmund during the 1904 to 1908 genocide and lately in honour of Ovaherero Paramount Chief, the late Dr Kuaima Riruako.

Not that the late Paramount Chief may have been laid to rest there. But because of his championing campaign to have those who perished in the 1904 to 1908 wars and attendant genocide forever be remembered and honoured, and to get successive governments of the Federal Republic of Germany acknowledge the atrocities of their predecessor Imperial regime, and ultimately have this government atone to such atrocities, especially to the descendants of the victims.

Yes, one would understand that monuments must have a certain standard and they must be maintained, kept and preserved. And are of sentimental-cultural value, variously so to different residents, and visitors alike. Thus ordinarily there should have been consensus and the necessary understanding among the residents of the town of Swakopmund in view of the cosmopolitan culture that may exist in this town before ritualising this monument ala the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu culture with a skinned cattle head.

However, ritualising the monument with a skinned cattle head can and should not be seen as a malicious act – this being a cultural practice common among the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu to honour the spirits of their ancestors and their heritage.

In this instance this skinned cattle head is honouring the spirits of thousands of Namibians who perished in the concentration camps in Swakopmund. Thus, other than this skinned cattle head being a ‘caricature’ as the aggrieved resident dismisses and ridicules it, insisting on its removal, it is a cultural practice of great sentimental value to a section of the residents of Swakopmund. Yes, there may have been an oversight on the part of those who engineered that this skinned cattle be added to the monument, in not consulting fellows from other cultural backgrounds other than the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu because this monument is a national heritage representing many others than only Ovaherero and Ovambanderu who perished in the concentration camps. Thus, there must have been that sensitivity in the beginning. But as much those to whom such a cultural practice may be alien, and who are now agitating for its removal as seeing it as ‘unsightly’, they must show the necessary sensitivity rather than bluntly and blindly in an emotive rage, which may be racially inspired and motivated, gunning for its removal.

For like the concerned resident seems to suggest, it is by no means meant as a desecration of this monument but to enrich it ala the culture of a section of people, who are for that matter part and parcel of the sad history that this monument may represent and cannot be disowned and alienated from this history and monument.

One cannot agree more with the concerned resident that before the skinned cattle head was put on top of the monument, those who wanted this to be done should ordinarily have applied to the town council for the necessary addition to the monument they had wished. But to describe this skinned cattle head as a ‘grotesque unsightly caricature’ is not only an exaggeration but also being insensitive to the culture of fellows. Fellows who very much share this common history in no less measure. As much the language in which the complaint is couched is as much irresponsible, insensitive and non-reconciliatory. Especially in this month when a section, if not the whole country, is commemorating the first anniversary since the departure of the late Ovaherero Paramount Chief. The ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude which is not the right approach given the sensitivity of the matter.

Simply, two wrongs do not make a right. All the parties in view of their shared history must just come around the table and address this matter the way it needs addressing, with the necessary wisdom and camaraderie rather than unnecessary polarising it!

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