The Empty Grave

Film premiere “The Empty Grave”

Since October last year, the exhibition “MAREJESHO: The Call for Restitution from the Peoples of Kilimanjaro and Meru” has been running successfully at the Tieranatomisches Theater. In addition, on February 19th 2024, the political documentary “The Empty Grave” celebrated its world premiere at the “75 Berlinale”.
“The Empty Grave” documents John Mbano’s search for the human remains of his great-grandfather Songea Mbano, who was executed by the German colonial army in Tanzania. The filmmakers show great empathy for the protagonists and have managed to give a voice to the descendants of the executed, whose remains are still kept in European and American museums. A film about the colonial past and restitution – and a call for political action. Many thanks to Agnes Lisa Wegner and Cece Mlay.

Across Kilimanjaro and Meru in Tanzania, the legacy of resistance against the German colonial rule beats strong in the hearts of descendants. Only many ancestral witnesses and testimonies from that violent time are missing; waiting to be found languishing in German museum depots. In 1900, Colonial Officers publicly hanged leaders of the local communities and shipped dismembered body parts to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin for racist research. This was further compounded by the theft of personal belongings: local symbols of power, weapons, armory and jewellery. For over 50 years, relatives have been demanding the return of their abducted ancestors. But how to locate them? How to re-memorise belongings of cultural heritage that had been gone for over century? How to repair from the acts of dismemberment and rupture? What action do the descendants expect from Germany?

Together with the exhibition at the Tieranatomisches Theater and the documentary film, these questions are brought to light anew, and call for a first step towards coming to terms with German colonial history.

Image: Filmstill „The Empty Grave” (c) Salzgeber/kurhaus production/Kijiweni Productions