Le Crâne De Mkwawa


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The Versailles treaty’s article 246 concerns the delivery of a human skull. What happened with it?(r/AskHistorians)

Chief Mkwawa was a tribal leader of the Hehe. They were a tribe in German East Africa, a German colony which Germany acquired during the reign of William II. During the “pacification” of German East Africa, the Hehe rose in 1891 against the colonial troops. They were part of the Maji-Maji rebellion. They beat the Germans a couple of times. Ultimately however, the Hehe were beaten and their leader executed and his skull taken to Germany. There he was used as a prime example for an African leader and as such a good object for the research in phrenology. With racism rampant at the time, they tried to prove that the shape of the skull determined the intelligence and “culture” of its owner. Then came the First World War and Germany lost and had to accept the Versaille’s treaty. German East Africa was a colony, part of the Versaille’s treaty was the hand-over of all German colonies over to the Völkerbund/League of Nations. The United Kingdom became the new “protector/governor” of the territories that made up the former colony. To make the hand-over easier and to make the local tribes more acceptive towards the new power, they asked the Germans to hand over the skull of the local hero of Mkwawa.

That’s not the end of the story, however. The skull didn’t make it there because nobody knew where it went. As you can tell from the book you mention. It took a very determined Englishman to finally find it in a museum in Bremen. That was in 1954. It now rests in Tanzania in a museum dedicated to Mkwawa and the Hehe.

They actually turned the story into a small documentary, which is, sadly, only available in German, as far as I know. “EINE KOPFJAGD” “Auf der Suche nach dem Schädel des Sultans Mkwawa Ein Film von Martin Baer”

Most of the literature I know for this is in German as well. That comes from having studied at a german University, I guess.

Julia Meerkatz, Schwarz-Weiss-Rot über Ostafrika, LIT Verlag Berlin -Hamburg-Münster 1997 —

Wilfried Westphal: Geschichte der deutschen Kolonien. Bindlach: Gondrom, 1991—

Gisela Graichen, Horst Gründer: Deutsche Kolonien. Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 2005—

EDIT: Fixing small mistakes.

2nd Edit: Very good article, especially if you are more interested in the Hehe people: Mkwawa and the Hehe Wars, Alison Redmayne; The Journal of African History online

Additionally – There is a comic about “hunting” for the skull. which seems to be available only in french (EDIT 3: it’s originally Dutch and available in Dutch as well), but you can buy it on

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Le Crâne De Mkwawa

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The Versailles treaty’s article 246 concerns the delivery of a human skull. What happened with it?

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