Chief Mangi Meli’s skull not in collections of Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

News from 09/20/2019

The genetic investigations on six skulls from the collection of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin) have been completed. There was no match with the DNA of Mangi Meli.

Mangi Meli (1866-1900) was executed by the German colonial rulers in what was then "Deutsch-Ostafrika" (today: Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda). From 1891 he was chief of the Chaggaof Moshi, who lived in the region around Kilimanjaro. Mangi Meli fought against the German colonial rulers until he was arrested in Moshi and hanged on 2 March 1900. It is often surmised that his skull was taken to Germany after the execution. The grandson of Mangi Meli, who founded a foundation to search for the skull, turned to Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) in 2016. He asked to verify whether the skull was in the collection of human remains that the SPK had taken over from the Charité a few years before.

Research was conducted regarding a group of six skulls as it seemed possible that one of them could be the skull of Mangi Meli. The probability of this being the case had, however, already been evaluated as being relatively low, based on the information contained in the extant written documentation. The six skulls that were examined were the only ones which seemed possible due to their geographical allocation and the time when they had entered the collection. In order to rule out any doubts, SPK commissioned the Institute for Historical Anthropology and Human Ecology of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen with a DNA comparison. In this context research was also conducted to find out whether the skulls could be those of two other men who were executed together with Mangi Meli: Lobulu Matinda Kaaya (chief of the Meru of the village Kimudo) and Sindato Kiutesiha Kiwelu (member of the Chagga). These two were also among the 19 men who were sentenced to death by Captain Kurt Johannes (1864-1913), captain of the German military presence in Moshi and commander of the so-called protection force which was deployed there, were executed in Old Moshi on March 2, 1900. According to oral tradition, they were beheaded and their skulls were sent to Germany. Also for these DNA samples there was no match with the skulls in the Museum for Pre- and Early History.

The skulls that were examined are part of the collection of human remains that was transferred from the Charité to SPK in 2011. The collection consists of around 5500 skulls collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the physician and anthropologist Felix von Luschan for research purposes. They are now kept and scientifically supervised in the Museum of Prehistory and Early History. Since October 2017, a project sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation has been running to investigate the provenance of around 1000 skulls from the former colony of Deutsch-Ostafrika. Initially, the largely lost primary documentation of the collection and the sources scattered all over the world were evaluated. In addition, the scientists collaborate with colleagues from the countries of origin. Their research also includes oral traditions. In the course of processing the collection, the researchers also searched specifically for the skull of Mangi Meli. The project will be completed in winter 2019.

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