- Finland returned sacred stone fragments that were stolen by a Finnish missionary in 1886
- Finland and Namibia are working to strengthen bilateral ties economically
- Former colonisers must do all that they can to compensate for Africa’s dreadful colonial past
In yet another European attempt to right colonial wrongs, Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö on Thursday returned two fragments from the Ondonga stone, which were stolen by Finnish missionaries in the 19th century.
The Ondonga stone is sacred to the Ovambo people, Namibia’s largest ethnic group.
In February 1886, Finnish missionary Martti Rautanen, alongside Swiss geologist Hans Schinz, encountered the ritual power stone and cut fragments from it so they could test if it was a meteorite.
Touching the sacred stone was strictly forbidden by the local law of the then Ondonga kingdom thus, both men were charged with a crime against the state. Rautanen and Schinz men were forced to pay large fines and the latter was banished from the country.
However, the stone fragments were not reclaimed from Rautanen and were later handed to the collection of the Finnish Missionary Society, and then to the National Museum of Finland.
Now over a century later, the sacred artefacts have finally returned to its rightful owners, following a 4-year negotiation.
They were presented to Anna Nghiphondoka, Namibia’s Education, Arts and Culture Minister, at an official handover ceremony at the State House in capital city Windhoek.
The ceremony was attended by a delegation from the Ondonga Traditional Authority, including King Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo.
The stone fragments will be kept at the National Museum of Namibia before being returned to the Ondonga community.
President’s Niinistö’s Other Business in Namibia
Niinistö, who was on his first state visit to Namibia, also spoke on the interest shared by several Finnish companies in the green hydrogen Namibia is developing.
He added that there were other companies who were interested in developing wave energy—what he believes to be a “fruitful source of energy”—off the Namibian coast.
During their discussion, Namibian President Hage Geingob gave reassurance about the long-standing relationship between Namibia and Finland.
Geingob said the two presidents also discussed Namibia’s ambitious plan to establish a green hydrogen industry.
“We told them about our enormous energy source, we have discovered oil. We talked about the green hydrogen project,” Geingob said.
Geingob shed light on Finland’s Africa strategy which, according to him, aims to diversify and strengthen the Nordic country’s relations with African countries, particularly with regard to political and economic relations.
Likewise, Geingob expressed the country’s desire to deepen trade and investment relations with Finland.
With the recent discovery of oil, Namibia’s economy is expected to experience radical development soon.
Namibia and Finland also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a centre of excellence in aviation training at Keetmanshoop, widely considered the capital of South Namibia.
Furthermore, Nghiphondoka shared upcoming plans to sign an MoU in education.
Will it Ever Be Enough?
Recent years have seen a number of former colonial powers return stolen artefacts of immense cultural and historical value to their rightful owners.
However, after decades of shamelessly profiting from displays of such artefacts at their museums or upscale auctions, it begs the question: is it too little too late?
Regarding the return of sacred Ondonga stones, President Niinistö said, “Well, time does not correct it, but I and my delegation are going to correct it.”
The septuagenarian president certainly got it right that time would not correct such wounds but even then, the much-too-late returns of prized possessions from African countries’ colonial pasts barely scratch the surface.
Finland was never even a colonial power and yet, several stolen artefacts from Namibia have wound up in museums across the European country.
In the past, the Finnish government has also returned other important cultural artefacts, including the power stone of the Oukwanyama Traditional Authority as well as the sacred ritual stone of the Ombalantu Traditional Authority.
Before then, Namibia’s former coloniser Germany sent back 20 of the 300 Herero and Nama skulls that had been captured for racial experiments over a century before, in 2011.
Last week, the Vanderkindere Auction House in Brussels removed 3 skulls removed from an auction, after facing massive backlash.
And in 2021, Germany agreed to pay Namibia upwards of €1 billion in reparations for the horrendous Herero-Nama genocide which claimed over 20,000 lives between 1904 and 1908.
Still, for many, such grand gestures are not nearly grand enough to compensate for the damage wreaked by Germany.
Speaking on this in 2021, Namibian Vice President Nangolo Mbumba rightfully said, “No amount of money in any currency can truly compensate the life of a human being.”
As several European countries rally round to disburse reparations for atrocities committed during the colonial and slave-trade era, thereby laundering their images, there must remain a real consciousness of the fact that such acts will never truly be enough.
Africa’s history has been tainted far too severely and the effects linger till this day. Notwithstanding, reconciliation efforts from our former colonisers are not a mere recommendation, but a necessity.
Sources: The Namibian, Heritage Times, YLE News