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Tanzanian Families Appeal to the Govt to Expedite Repatriation of Ancestor’s Remains from Germany 

These families include notable figures like Mangi Meli of Moshi, Mangi Lobulu Kaaya of Meru, Chief Songea Mbano of Songea, and Sindato Kiutesha Kiwelu of Moshi.

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Mwanza. Families of Tanzanians advocating for the repatriation of their relatives’ remains from abroad have criticised the government for failing to expedite the process despite some countries holding the remains, such as Germany, agreeing to return them to Tanzania for proper procedures.

These families include those of notable figures like Mangi Meli of Moshi, Mangi Lobulu Kaaya of Meru, Chief Songea Mbano of Songea, and Sindato Kiutesha Kiwelu of Moshi. Their relatives have been fighting for the return of the remains, particularly skulls, from Germany, where they were taken after being executed by the brutal colonial rulers who governed Tanganyika for nearly four decades.

The remains are among thousands of others that Germany holds in its museums, universities, and some private institutions. These remains are at the centre of a global movement and campaign pressuring Germany to return them to the relatives of those killed during its colonial rule in Tanganyika and other parts of Africa.

Relatives of these families, especially those who have identified the locations of their ancestors’ remains through DNA testing, told The Chanzo that German authorities have assured them they are ready to return the remains to Tanzania. They are now waiting for instructions from the Tanzanian government and are urging the relevant authorities to provide these instructions to speed up the process.

“Since Germany is ready to return our ancestors’ remains, we believe it will be faster if the government intervenes than if we handle it ourselves,” John Mbano, a great-grandson of Chief Songea Mbano, told The Chanzo in a phone interview. “There are many skulls there. We can’t ask the government to bring them all at once; that’s not feasible. The government should work with us, the families of these people. I think it will be much easier to achieve this.”

John Mbano (left), the great-grandson of Chief Songea Mbano, is seen here in Germany as part of his family’s efforts to locate and repatriate their grandfather’s remains to Tanzania. PHOTO | CHARLOTTE WIEDEMANN/X.

The German Embassy in Tanzania stated that it could not comment on the matter, directing the reporter to seek answers from the Tanzanian government. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, January Makamba, who is responsible for the issue, was unavailable for comment despite several attempts.

Despite the slow progress, the government has occasionally held meetings with stakeholders, including representatives of the families whose ancestors’ remains are in Germany, to facilitate the repatriation and conclude decades of distress and sorrow.

These families’ efforts come nearly a year after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Tanzania on October 30, 2023, where, among other things, he apologised for the atrocities committed by his people during their colonial rule in Tanganyika.

READ MORE: Germany ‘Sorry’ for Colonial Wrongs It Committed in Tanzania: President

Not losing hope

John Mbano, 36, is the great-grandson of Chief Songea Mbano, a leader of the Ngoni people who the Germans hung along with 66 other traditional leaders for refusing to betray their people and submit to German colonial rule.

Chief Mbano was believed to have had a significant influence on his people, so the Germans thought that if he accepted their rule, their colonial mission would be more straightforward. However, the courageous leader joined his people in resisting the German invasion.

Mbano told The Chanzo that despite struggling for many years, his family has yet to locate their ancestor’s remains, but he said this does not discourage them. They will continue their efforts until they find the remains and return them to Tanzania.

“Other Tanzanians may not understand the importance of these remains, but we as a family are the ones who are really affected and know their significance to us,” said Mbano. “What surprised us is that many Germans do not even know about the atrocities their ancestors committed, and we have collaborated with an organisation in Germany to produce a documentary on what really happened.”

The documentary, titled Kaburi Wazi or The Open Grave, directed by Agnes Lisa Wegner of Germany and Cece Mlay from Tanzania, highlights Mbano’s efforts to repatriate his ancestor’s remains from Germany. 

The Open Grave is a collaboration between filmmakers from Tanzania and Germany that promotes the repatriation of Tanzanian ancestors’ remains to their homeland. PHOTO | KABURI WAZI.

The film, released in 2024 and shown in Tanzania on June 28, 2024, at Ajabu Ajabu, also covers Felix Kaaya’s efforts to repatriate the remains of his grandfather, Mangi Lobulu Kaaya.

Continued struggles

Unlike Mbano, Felix Kaaya told The Chanzo that their efforts to locate the remains of their grandfather have been successful, and now the goal is to ensure they are returned to Tanzania for proper burial according to their customs.

READ MORE: Mr Steinmeier, Thanks for Your Apology. Now, Let’s Talk About Reparations

“We’ve been fighting for over 40 years to find out where the body was taken,” Felix Kaaya, 70, said. “I went to Germany to follow up after being assigned this task, but I had no success. Then I decided to collaborate with a German organisation to conduct research, and it was revealed that Mangi Kaaya’s body was taken to the United States.”

Lobulu Kaaya was the successor of Mangi Matunda Kaaya of Meru, who died in 1896. However, Lobulu was hanged by the Germans in 1900, and his skull was taken to Germany.

Felix Kaaya, Lobulu Kaaya’s great-grandson, told The Chanzo that since they now know where their ancestor’s remains are, the governments of Tanzania, Germany, and the United States must work together to ensure the skull is returned to the family.

“We’ve struggled a lot and raised funds among ourselves until the Germans provided us with answers that our ancestor’s remains were taken to the United States,” Felix said. “So now we wait for diplomatic steps, and I think our government will be able to help us.”

Costs involved

These families urge the government to expedite the repatriation process because, among other reasons, they are facing high costs in their efforts to locate and bring back their relatives’ remains to Tanzania.

READ MORE: There Are More Similarities Between Samia and Merkel Than There Could Ever Be With Machiavelli

When family members go to Germany to follow up on their relatives’ remains, they incur significant expenses for travel, food, and accommodation. While they sometimes receive donations from well-wishers, the families largely bear these costs.

A street in Berlin, Germany, named after the Maji Maji Rebellion in honour of the victims of the German suppression of the anti-colonial uprising. PHOTO | IMANI NSAMILA/X.

Anaeli Gerlad Moshi is the great-grandson of Mangi Meli of Old Moshi. His family has spent the past 60 years looking for the skull of their grandfather, who in 2024 has completed 124 years since he was hanged by the Germans and his skull was sent to Germany.

Anaeli, who has already gone to Germany three times to trace the remains of her grandfather without success, is asking the Tanzanian government to prioritise the issue because, as a family, they have spent a lot of money to trace the remains of their grandfather without success.

“There are German organisations that have been helping us a little, but we mostly pool our resources to fund all these efforts I’m telling you about,” Anaeli told The Chanzo. “We would be very happy if the government intervened because we have been handling this matter as a family.”

This call is also supported by Zablon Kiwelu, a great-grandson of Akida Sindato Kiwelu, who was an advisor to Mangi Meli. The Germans also killed Kiwelu, and his skull was taken to Germany. Unlike Mangi Meli, Kiwelu’s skull’s location is known, and the family is now awaiting the completion of procedures to bring it home.
Matonyinga Makaro filed this story from Mwanza. He’s available at

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