Graverobbers surrender

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Nov 4 07:29:26 MST 2000

NY Times, November 4, 2000


Bones in Museum Cases May Get Decent Burials


CAPE TOWN — For decades the ugly secrets slept in the dusty storerooms of
South Africa's museums, hidden with the bones of a forgotten people whose
bodies were defiled in the name of science.

The bones in Box 144 at the McGregor Museum belonged to a black woman known
as Griet, who was dead only three years when her body was stolen for
scientific study in 1911. The corpse of a black man named Kouw was boiled
and dismembered over the wails of his elderly widow four months after his
death in 1909.

When missionaries protested that blacks expected their dead to be treated
with respect, scientists ignored them. "The woman is friendless," Maria
Wilman of the South African Museum wrote in 1906 as she vied for the
skeleton of a sickly black woman who was soon to die. "And the government
may do what the missionary dares not."

Today, more than 2,000 skeletons of the Khoisan people lie in South
Africa's museums and universities. Soon the institutions plan to publicize
how hundreds of the bones were acquired, offering the first detailed
accounting of the role that scientists and museums played in buttressing
the ideology of white superiority.

For the museums it is an act of penance, a frank condemnation of their
feverish race to collect and classify the bones of so-called "primitive
races" including the Khoisan — known then as Bushmen and Hottentots — in
the early 1900's.

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Louis Proyect
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