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Special Blog – Treaty of Versailles Clause 246: The Tale of a Tanzanian Skull

June 28, 20199:43 amOctober 5, 2023 9:36 amLeave a Comment

On 28th of June 1919, 100 years ago, after six months of negotiations, the document which was meant to ensure peace for Europe was signed. The Treaty of Versailles officially ended the First World War. Written almost exclusively by the Allies it resulted in creation of the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but it is also seen as a reason of the Second World War. Germany was forbidden to join the League of Nations until 1926. The Treaty blamed Germany for the war, and as a result Germany was obliged to recompensate for allies’ losses and damages and many other financial liabilities were imposed. Moreover, the Treaty limited German military forces and air force and submarines were forbidden.  New borders were assigned, stripping Germany from 13 percent of its territory and ten percent of population: Eupen-Malmedy was given to Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine returned to France, eastern districts to Poland, Memel to Lithuania, and part of Schleswig to Denmark. It also lost all of its colonies in Africa: Togoland, Cameroon, German East-Africa and German South-West Africa.

However, these nations did not become independent. Togoland, now known as Togo and part of Ghana, was divided between France and Britain. The same happened to Cameroon. German South-West Africa became a part of South Africa. Britain received German East-Africa (Tanzania).

But why does the treaty include a clause referring to a skull?

Amongst the many technical clauses relating to how the world would now be structured after the war, the Treaty also includs a clause referring to the skull of a Tanzanian chief decapitated in the late 19th century. Article 246 (below a photo from the copy possessed by The Peace Museum) pledges Germany to return to Britain ‘the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany.’

Mkwawa was a chief of  the Hehe people occupying the Iringa region of Southern Tanzania. Under his command, Hehe manged to significantly expand their territory. By 1890 they became the dominant power in the region, conflicting with the other power: Germany. In 1891, Hehe soldiers, armed only with spears and few guns, attacked a German battalion, overpowered it quickly and killed its commissioner Emil von Zalewski. Three years later the Germans subdued Mkwawa’s fort, however the chief escaped and conducted a series of attacks on opponent’s forces. After seven years of fighting, on 19th July 1898, Mkwawa, surrounded by Germans, committed suicide to avoid capture.

His head was removed and probably ended up in the Übersee Museum Bremen. The return of the skull was an idea proposed by the British administrator of German East Africa: H. A Byatt. He put forward an idea of giving the Hehe people satisfaction and assuring them ‘that German power has been completely broken.’ In fact, this is very likely that British wanted to use the skull as a sign to make it clear who was now in charge. However, this intention didn’t happen; at least not on time. The Treaty specified that the skull should be returned ‘within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty,’ but it took 35 years to happen.  On the opening ceremony in 1950s, Governor Twining talked about the honour being returned to Hehe people, but did not mention about Mkwawa’s anti-colonial attitude. Despite being an anti-colonial leader, Mkwawa was used as an asset for the British Empire. However after successful campaigns, Tanzania became independent in 1961. This is what Mkwawa’s skull (currently in Kalenga Historical Museum) symbolises: proud Tanzania, opposing colonial powers.

The German Government signed the Treaty under pressure from Allies and protest from the right-wing German parties. As with the example of Mkwawa’s skull, the Treaty was not rigorously obeyed. Finally, in 1935 Hitler denounced it altogether.

It is now believed that the Franco-British enforcement was one of the causes of the Second World War, but no one never know whether being more generous would help avoiding the war.

You can read more about the Treaty of Versailles and the copy possessed by The Peace Museum here.

This blog has been inspired by an article on the BBC News website find out more here.

This article has been written by Emilia Bazydlo, who has joined the museum during her placement year. Emilia is studying History of Art at the University of Leeds.

Written by Ezra Kingston

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