West News Wire: Both Cambridge University and London’s Natural History Museum have stated that they are willing to work with Zimbabwe to help recover human remains that were removed during the colonial era.

The new statements follow discussions between a Zimbabwean delegation and representatives of both institutions.

The skulls of anti-colonial heroes from the late 19th century, which the Zimbabweans think may be in the UK, are being sought for.

However, they haven’t yet been located.

The authorities in Zimbabwe have long suspected that the remains of some of the leaders of an uprising against British rule in the 1890s known as the First Chimurenga were taken to the UK as trophies.

The most significant among them was a woman who became known as Mbuya Nehanda. She was executed in what is now the capital, Harare and is revered as a national heroine.

In doing a search of its archive, the Natural History Museum did uncover 11 remains “that appear to be originally from Zimbabwe” but its records do not connect them with Nehanda. These include three skulls taken in 1893, thought to be from Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, as well as remains uncovered in mineshafts and archaeological digs and later donated.

Cambridge University’s Duckworth Laboratory has not been so specific, simply saying it has “a small number of human remains from Zimbabwe”, but in a statement sent to a news channel it said it had not identified any of these as belonging to First Chimurenga figures.

The Natural History Museum, with 25,000 human remains, and the Duckworth Laboratory, with 18,000, have some of the largest such archives in the world.

These have come from a variety of sources including archaeological excavations of ancient sites, but for many the exact origins have been obscured by time.

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During the colonial era, body parts were sometimes removed from battlefields or dug up from graves either as trophies or for research into a now-discredited scientific field.

In the 19th Century, phrenology, which investigated the idea that human characteristics could be determined by the shape of the skull, was very popular in the UK and other parts of Europe. Phrenological societies would collect skulls to help develop the theory, which for some extended to racial classification.

Some researchers set out to show that skull shape indicated that people from different parts of the world were inherently inferior.

Some of the archives that now exist in the UK are amalgamations of what had been amassed by defunct phrenological societies as well as private collectors.

Zimbabwe’s government believes that somehow the skulls of the country’s heroes ended up in the archives of a British museum.

Chief among them were spiritual leaders, including Charwe Nyakasikana, who became known as Mbuya (Grandmother) Nehanda as she was the medium of the revered ancestral spirit Nehanda. She was arrested after being accused of murdering a British official.

Nehanda was then hanged and her body decapitated, it is believed. What happened next is not clear, but in recent years, Zimbabwean officials have made several public statements saying it ended up in the Natural History Museum.

With a death cry of “my bones will surely rise”, Nehanda became an increasingly potent symbol for those fighting against white-minority rule in what was then known as Rhodesia from the late 1960s.

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.


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