“They hanged our chief Mangi Meli and took the skull to Germany.”

Maximilian Chami


My name is Maximilian Felix Chami and I am coming from Moshi, Kilimanjaro. My origin is from Chagga ethnic group which is the third-largest ethnic group in Tanzania. From March 2021 through January 2023, I worked at the National Museum of Tanzania as secretary of the Restitution and Research Committee. It has been my responsibility to find a proper solution to repatriate the Tanzanian ancestors abroad back home. Our ancestors have been denied a peaceful rest thus promoting a spiritual and cultural disconnection with the current generation. This work helps to get the opinions and feelings of the Isanzu, Burunge and Rangi ethnic groups of Central Tanzania on the repatriation of their ancestors and the time has arrived to get restorative justice from the effect of colonialism.

Doing Research

Working with the collection

“So if we want to give them back, who is going to receive them?”

The index cards of the former Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg contain basic information about the human remains such as origin and collector. Together with the human remains, the index cards were handed over to the University of Göttingen in the 1950s.

Index cards / 1912 / Anthropological Collection

Starting my research in Göttingen, the only information I had was that the University owned the Ancestral human remains from Tanzania. I had this information since I was at the National Museum, where I was working as a Secretary of the Restitution Committee and Senior Research officer. In this regard, I came to Göttingen with a few questions: How many human remains from Tanzania are stored in the collections? What ethnic group do they come from? Do they have family names? From which area in Tanzania were they collected? Who collected the human remains? And what were the reasons behind the collection of these human remains to Göttingen?
With all these questions in mind, the only reliable primary source of information at the first hand was the index cards. Based on the information on the index cards, I was able to assign the human remains to ethnic groups of today’s Tanzania. I was also able to identify the collectors of the time. Although some answers to the questions were found, the cards still could not provide some crucial information. A big challenge was the lack of (family) names. This brought complications to whom the human remains are going to be returned. Due to this challenge, many other questions came to my mind: Will these ethnic groups accept the human remains from the University of Göttingen? Do they have information about the disappearance of their ancestors in the past years? Therefore, I found it necessary to start engaging the ethnic groups in the discussion.

Maximilian Chami

In October 2022, I arrived in Mkalama District, Singida Region, where the Isanzu ethnic group are the largest agro-pastoralist in the area. However, on my way to Mkalama, I was curious to find evidence of Germans’ existence in the Area or Germans’ contact with the Isanzu ethnic group. In this regard, my first research work was to survey the area and ask the communities if there are any existing German buildings. Some of the Isanzu elders then took me to the ruined administrative and military station BOMA, which was constructed in 1910. They also showed a hanging tree, the railway, old graveyard and food storage warehouses used during the German occupation in Isanzuland. After finishing the survey work, I interviewed the Isanzu elders to get their opinions and views regarding the presence of Ancestral human remains in Göttingen from their ethnic group. This information about the presence of the remains of their ancestors in Göttingen shocked them, and they could not believe the information. They suggested that not being told this information by their elders or forefathers hence very difficult to believe. However, after a lengthy discussion, they revealed to be ready to receive them. Still, they need to be compensated, as the colonial regime robbed and exploited their forefathers.

Maximilian Chami

The Isanzu local communities and Maximilian Chami surveyed the Mkalama Military station (BOMA/Fort) in the Mkalama district, Singida region, in October 2022. The ruined fort started to be constructed in 1902 and completed in 1910.

Discussion with the Burunge ethnic group elders regarding their awareness and restitution of their Ancestors‘ human remains at the University of Göttingen. The discussion held Jonatan Kurzwelly and Maximilian Chami (front) with Marta Mikael, Omari Bura, and Ramadhani Gido in Goima, Chemba District in Dodoma region in May, 2023.

Giving Context


“Each of this ethnic group needs to be consulted”.

With 71 individuals, human remains from Tanzania represent one of the largest groups in the Göttingen collections. The earliest acquisition goes back to the explorer Gustav Adolf Fischer, who took a skull with him near Klein-Arusha in 1883. In 1885, East Africa was declared a German colonial territory. Since then, it was mainly German colonial officials, so called “Schutztruppen” (colonial troops) members and explorers who stole human remains from Tanzania. Five skulls, for example, can be traced back to the “Schutztruppen” doctor Erich Arnold Schrecker, who brought them into the Blumenbach collection in 1911. 68 human remains from different ethnic groups in present-day Tanzania were excavated from graves by the geographer and geologist Erich Obst during the „East Africa Expedition“ of the Hamburg Geographical Society in 1910-1912 and handed over to the “Hamburg Museum für Völkerkunde”. Of these, 65 human remains are still preserved, most of which came to Göttingen from the 1950s onwards. Some are still in the Hamburg Museum and will be researched in a follow-up project.