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A Place of Eclectic Remembrance : Visiting Luderitz's Shark Island Today

Title data

Lehmann, Fabian:
A Place of Eclectic Remembrance : Visiting Luderitz's Shark Island Today.
2017
Event: ECAS7. 7th European Conference on African Studies. Panel 133 – Towns build around and on concentration camps: The War in German Southwest-Africa and its urban trajectories , 29. Juni – 01. Juli 2017 , Basel, Schweiz.
(Conference item: Conference , Speech )

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Abstract in another language

In stark contrast to their sheer number, the concentration camps in German South-West Africa, installed during the German-Namibian War (1904–1908), today remain mostly undocumented. In Windhoek and its surrounding area alone, three sites are known, were Africans where interned (Katjavivi). But next to all larger towns – Okahandja, Karibib, Swakopmund and Lüderitz – concentration camps were installed to make use of forced labour (Wallace).
The development of the town of Luderitz is strongly connected to the German-Namibian War and the Shark Island concentration camp off the coast of Lüderitzbucht. Prisoners were used to construct the towns harbour and the railway line to Keetmanshoop – important infrastructure that supplied German military forces during the war. The living conditions on Shark Island were especially cruel. In addition to the hard physical labour, the low temperatures at the coast and the strong wind in combination with a lack of adequate shelter caused a particularly high death toll. According to historical sources, from the 2000 Nama- and Otjiherero-speaking prisoners in 1906 between 1500 and 1900 people lost their lives on the island (Erichsen).
Photographic documents of the historical site are rare but have become well known since their discovering. But what about the current appearance of the place? How is Shark Island today connected with the town and in what way is it used? What is done, to keep the remembrance of its history alive?
Shark Island, by now a peninsula directly connected to the town of Luderitz, has become a popular camping site for tourists. Although partly used as a memorial site, it hardly commemorates the victims of war, imprisonment and forced labour. Instead it presents an eclectic compilation of monuments for various personalities – most prominently for the towns founding father Adolf Lüderitz and the “first pioneer” Heinrich Vogelsang. Visitors however will also find a memorial for members of the German Schutztruppe or a plaque reminding of Amyr Klink, the Brazilian adventurer who crossed the ocean in a rowing boat. Finally, a symbolic grave represents Cornelius Fredericks and his Nama-people from Bethany. In what way the latter is connected to the peninsula will however remain unknown to most of the camping tourists.
In my presentation I will introduce Luderitz and Shark Island historically and show, how the former island today has become integral part of the town. I will then discuss Shark Island as a place of remembrance and oblivion and contrast the lack of remembering the island’s past with a recent project by the Namibian visual artist Nicola Brandt. In her work, Brandt documents current places directly connected to the German colonial occupation like the anonymous and unmarked graves of prisoners-of-war next to the railway line in Luderitz. With the means of photography and film she practices art as a strategy against oblivion.
I will support the presentation with recent photographs of Luderitz and Shark Island as well as material from Brandt’s work.

Further data

Item Type: Conference item (Speech)
Refereed: No
Keywords: Namibia; Lüderitz; Shark Island; memorial; concentration camp; German-Namibian War; Nicola Brandt; Herero; Nama
Institutions of the University: Research Institutions > Research Units > Iwalewa-Haus - Afrikazentrum der Universität Bayreuth
Research Institutions
Research Institutions > Research Units
Result of work at the UBT: Yes
DDC Subjects: 700 Arts and recreation > 770 Photography, computer art
900 History and geography > 940 History of Europe
900 History and geography > 960 History of Africa
Date Deposited: 02 Jan 2018 16:06
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2019 09:05
URI: https://eref.uni-bayreuth.de/id/eprint/41094