On 25 September 1911 the battleship Liberté exploded in
Toulon harbour. This tragedy is just one of the many disasters that the French
fleet suffered at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth
centuries and also represents the peak of these calamities, since it is
undoubtedly the most deadly suffered by a French Navy ship in peacetime. The aim
of this article is to study how the navy managed this disaster and the resulting
deaths of service personnel, which were all the more traumatic because the
incident happened in France’s main military port and in circumstances
that do not match the traditional forms of death at sea.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Kabye country, some heads of enemies – those of men foreign to the group – were buried in a mound of earth referred to as hude, meaning ‘manure’. In each locality, this mound is situated inside a wooded sanctuary where the spirit of the mythical founding ancestor resides. In order to understand this practice, this article examines how it fitted within the overall logic of the male initiation cycle, contextualising it in relation to past and present practices. Because it was a highly ambivalent element of the bush, the head of an enemy renewed the generative power of this original ‘manure’ prodigiously, so as to ensure the group’s survival in their land. The burial of the heads of strangers appears to be an initiatory variant of other forms of mastery of the ambivalence of wild forces, entrusted in other African societies to the chief and his waste heap.
The fate of Namibian skulls in the Alexander Ecker Collection in
This article explores the history of the Alexander Ecker Collection and situates
it within the larger trajectory of global collecting of human remains during the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is then linked to the specific
context of the genocide in then German South West Africa (1904–8), with
the central figure of Eugen Fischer. The later trajectory of the collection
leads up to the current issues of restitution. The Freiburg case is instructive
since it raises issues about the possibilities and limitations of provenance
research. At the same time, the actual restitution of fourteen human remains in
2014 occurred in a way that sparked serious conflict in Namibia which is still
on-going four years later. In closing, exigencies as well as pressing needs in
connection with the repatriation and (where possible) rehumanisation of human
remains are discussed.