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Finland Returns Sacred Stone To Namibia

Finnish Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jukka Salovaara to Namibia’s Education, Arts, and Culture Minister Anna Nghipondoka / Pasi Toiv...

Finnish Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jukka Salovaara to Namibia’s Education, Arts, and Culture Minister Anna Nghipondoka / Pasi Toivonen.
The negotiations for the returning of the Namibian artifacts started long time ago and on Thursday, 27 the Finnish Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jukka Salovaara handed over the fragments of the "Ondonga Power Stone" to Namibia's Education, Arts, and Culture Minister Anna Nghipondoka. 

The current King of the Ondonga, King Fillemon Shuumba Nangolo, was also present at the handingover ceremony that was a momentous occasion, marked by a solemn ceremony attended by high-ranking government officials from both Finland and Namibia. 

The Namibian President, Hage Geingob said that the return of the stone should serve as an example to all those who “stole things from Africa”. After years of anticipation, a significant moment arrived in 2014 when Finland first returned the sacred fragments of the "Power Stone" (Emanya lomundilo woshilongo) to the Kwanyama Traditional Authority. 

The stone was taken following the death of King Mandume yaNdemufayo in 1917. In the same year, Finland also returned the regal symbols (Omiya dhoshilongo) of the Ombalantu people to the Mbalantu Traditional Authority which had been taken during the colonial era by Finnish missionaries in the 19th century.  

Ondonga Power Stone's fragments will be kept at the National Museum of Namibia and will eventually be returned to the Ondonga traditional community . The return of these stones is a significant moment in the ongoing process of decolonization and reconciliation between Finland and Namibia.

The History of the Sacred Stones

The the Finnish Government and museum sector have shown sensitivity to the goodwill that can be generated by the repatriation of objects of importance.  Since its independence in 1990 several important artifacts have been returned to Namibia. The sacred stones that were taken from the Namibia were not merely ordinally objects; they were considered to hold spiritual power and were believed to be integral to the very essence of the kingdom. 

According to Ovambo's ancient beliefs, the stones possess ancestral power and are used in various rituals to communicate with spirits and invoke the rain. They also play a vital role in the coronation of new tribal kings, as they are used to consecrate the throne and bless the new ruler and the nation.

Indeed, the removal of Emanya lomundilo woshilongo was much more than just a violation of property rights. It represented a fundamental disruption of the spiritual connection between the Ovambo people and their ancestral spirits. The loss of these sacred stones was perceived as a curse upon the community, isolating them from their natural divinity and putting their spiritual and cultural identity at risk.

The sacred stones were believed to be imbued with a powerful spiritual energy that sustained the spiritual and physical well-being of the Ovambo people. Their removal was seen as a direct threat to the entire macrocosm of their spiritual connection with their ancestors, and the consequences were believed to be potentially catastrophic. Without the sacred stones, the Ovambo people were at risk of losing their spiritual and cultural identity, potentially leading to misfortune, chaos, and political inferiority.

The Impact of Colonialism on Namibia

Namibia's history is marked by a long period of colonization and foreign rule. The country was first colonized by Germany from 1884 to 1915, and was then placed under South African rule until it gained independence in 1990. During this time, the indigenous cultures and customs of Namibia were subjected to immense pressure and faced the threat of cultural erosion.

In February 1886, the Finnish missionary Martti Rautanen and the Swiss geologist Hans Schinz, also known as "Shongola", traveled to northern Namibia on a researching expedition. During their travels, they encountered the native people, who were in possession of mysterious objects with great spiritual significance.

In order to observe these objects and the rituals performed around them, Rautanen and Schinz found a way to get closer to the Ondonga's king. They embarked on an ox-wagon trip to the palace of King Nembungu lyaAmatundu, who had ruled the Ondonga kingdom from approximately 1750 to 1810. Nembungu's palace was located to the east of Olukonda, and the journey to go there took them several hours before they arrived at the palace.

Their attention to visit the palace was to see inside the palace's closet and get access to Emanya lomundilo woshilongo. When they asked some royal councils what it was, they were told that it was a fire stone used in making rain and it was forbidden to examine it.  Rautanen has learned to know where Ondonga Power Stone, kept and who guarding it. 

One young man, called Nambahu who was student in the Finnish mission station, said that he knew where it was kept and can take him there.  He guided Rautanen and Dr Schinz to the place. Part of the stone was visible.  Its even surface a few decimetres in extent, rose slightly from the ground. Dr Schinz wanted to confiscate so that he can test if it was a meteorite or quartzite. In order to study it closely, he and Rautanen cut a small piece from it and then covered the sides of the stone with clay sand.

Touching the mighty fire stone was strictly prohibited by the law of the Ondongo Kingdom, and the two Europeans were charged with a crime against the state. Rautanen and Schinz had to pay large fines and Schinz was later expelled from the country. However, Martti Rautanen hid the fragment taken from the power stone at his home in Olukonda. 

The fragment was later smuggled out of the country through the Finnish Missionary Society and ultimately ended up in the National Museum of Finland. "Martti Rautanen's act must be considered a violation of the values and norms of the Kingdom of Ondonga and therefore unethical," Elina Anttila said, the Director General of the National Museum of Finland.

The impact of colonialism on Namibia was significant, and the country's people and culture were profoundly affected. The Herero and Nama peoples, in particular, suffered greatly under colonial rule, with many losing their land and being subjected to forced labor. The removal of the sacred stones was just one aspect of the harm inflicted on the Namibian people during this time. The return of these sacred objects to Namibia represents a recognition of the importance of indigenous cultural heritage, and a step towards reconciliation and healing. 

The encounter between Rautanen, Schinz, and the local people was a pivotal moment in the history of Namibia. It marked the beginning of a long period of cultural assimilation, spiritual erosion, hristianization in Namibia as well as the removal of Ovambo's oomiya dhoshilongo from the country. 

Director of the National Museum of Namibia Esther Moombolah-Goagoses and Director General of the National Museum of Finland Elina Anttila / Pasi Toivonen.
The Finnish missionaries saw their mission as a way to "civilize" the indigenous people, introducing them to Christianity and Western values. This process of Christianization was not without controversy and resistance from the local people. The African people, like many other indigenous cultures around the world like Aboriginal Australians and peoples of Tasmania, had their own beliefs and spiritual practices that were deeply ingrained in their cultural identities.

The Eurepean missionaries sought to replace these beliefs with Christianity or with other spiritual dogmas, often using force and coercion to achieve their objectives. They saw the indigenous practices as primitive and in need of reform, rather than recognizing their value and significance to the local people.

The Christianization of Namibia had a profound impact on the culture and identity of the country. It led to the erosion of traditional beliefs and practices, and the imposition of Western values and ideals on the local people. While Christianity is now an integral part of Namibian heritage, the process of Christianization was not always a peaceful or respectful one, and its legacy is still felt today.

The removal of these stones was just one example of the harm inflicted on the Namibian people during the colonial era, even though Finland was never a colonizing country. Finnish explorers and scientists collected various artifacts and specimens from the country, including the sacred stones, and played a role in the mindset of slavery and conditioning that was part of the larger European colonial project in Africa.

The Movement Towards Decolonization

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the harm caused by colonialism, and efforts have been made to return stolen artifacts to their rightful owners and reconsitute the affected people like Hereros and Namas who murdered by the Germans between 1904 and 1907. The return of the sacred stones has symbolic significance beyond the specific stones themselves. 

It represents a broader shift in attitudes towards colonialism and recognition of the harm caused by European powers in Africa. The return of these stones is part of a larger movement towards decolonization and recognition of the rights and heritage of indigenous peoples. It is also a powerful gesture of reconciliation that seeks to heal the wounds caused by colonialism and promote understanding and cooperation between nations.

The negotiations for the return of the sacred stones were a long and complex process. Finland's National Museum returned the stones in 2014 after years of negotiations with the Namibian government. The return of these stones is a significant step towards reconciliation between Finland and Namibia and acknowledges the wrongs committed during the colonial era.

The Importance of Reconciliation

The return of the sacred stones of Namibia by Finland is a significant moment in the ongoing process of decolonization and reconciliation. The stones represent a larger history of colonialism and its impact on indigenous peoples. The return of these stones is a step towards recognizing and redressing the wrongs of the past and building a more just and equitable future for all peoples. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of acknowledging

The return of the sacred stones is just one example of the broader movement towards decolonization and the recognition of the rights and heritage of indigenous peoples. Many other countries have also returned stolen artifacts and treasures to their rightful owners in recent years, including France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. These efforts are an important step towards addressing the harm caused by colonialism and building a more equitable future.