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Eröffnung des „Festlichen Wochenendes“ anlässlich der Ausstellung „Hey Hamburg, kennst du Duala Manga Bell?"

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Grußwort des Senators Dr. Carsten Brosda

Ausstellung Hey Hamburg, kennst Du Duala Manga Bell?

Your Royal Highness Jean-Yves Douala Manga Bell,
dear Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell,
dear Queen Mother,
Ms Fobuzie,
Mr Manga Din,
liebe Frau Prof. Plankensteiner,
lieber Herr Dr. Nitsche,
lieber Herr Honorarkonsul,
liebe Frau Hopmann,
Ladies and Gentlemen, sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

Hamburg and Douala are two cities, rather two metropolises shaped by trade and shipping. They are more alike than they might appear at first glance. Both cities are known for their vibrant culture, their infrastructure and their diverse societies.
To this day, both have benefited from the influence of powerful and progressive merchants, who have brought innovation and progress. And both share a history of trade, but also a history of power abuse and the legacy of colonialism. A closer look at this history reveals how interwoven the destinies of both cities are. It reveals decisions and actions that ignited some of the most crucial moments in their history. And I am grateful that the exhibition by the Museum am Rothenbaum “Hey Hamburg, do you know Duala Manga Bell?” is able to shed light on some of those moments.

The exhibition not only illuminates the fate of the dazzling and impressive King Rudolf Duala Manga Bell, it also reveals the very blind spots that generally remain hidden in multi-layered narratives.

Thus it succeeds in creating an understanding of the complex interrelationships between colonialism, trade and culture, and it does so primarily by turning the spotlight not only on Manga Bell himself, but also on his companions Adolf Ngoso Din (emphasis in Adolf on the last syllable and on Din) and Maria Mandessi Bell as well as the society that they lived in.

Walking through the exhibition, I couldn’t help but visualize the lives of the heroes of this story with open eyes. Thanks to the gifted artists like Hervé Youmbi, the young artists from Lukulele or Karo Apokiere, this was not very hard.

Okwui Enwezor, the late director of the Haus der Kunst Munich, once said:

“The present political moment is a reminder of why art cannot be isolated from the everyday experience: Artists see things, they reflect upon them and try to find ways in which their ideas and art can explore the eternal conundrum of the human condition.”

I must say, they all did an amazing job in introducing us to the thoughts, voices and hopes of these remarkable women and men.

And so I am able to imagine how Adolf Ngoso Din set foot in this city, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, on behalf of King Rudolf Manga Bell. He must have been full of hope, full of confidence in the German government, certain that the troops of a country, presumably that civilized, were surely just acting on their own initiative when they forcibly expelled the population of Douala.

I imagine how impressed he must have felt when he first spotted the ships’ masts in the port of Hamburg from afar. But I also can’t but think of the fear and anger he must have felt when he was unexpectedly arrested, what disappointment, what shock must have struck him and Rudolf Manga Bell when they were charged with treason and sentenced to death.

Certainly, this was not one of the pivotal moments in history that we can be proud of.

Yet we can’t just look the other way and ignore the realities of our colonial past that still shape our present, and will shape our future if we do nothing about it.

We need to look forward and try to do our best in pursuit of reconciliation and healing, assuming healing is even possible. We need to believe that we can be good to and for each other.

As the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, we are determined to re‑examine the past of the colonial era, an era that sometimes led to prosperity, but more often to exploitation and injustice. And oftentimes both consequences emerged simultaneously on different sides of the trade equation …
Coming to terms with the colonial history and its consequences is one of the central tasks of remembrance.
Since the late 1990s, various civil society groups, among them in particular the Black Communities and People of Color (BPoC), have brought the issue to the public attention with great commitment and creativity.

In 2014, Hamburg became the first German metropolis to finally decide to come to terms with this difficult legacy.
This February, the Advisory Board for the Decolonization of Hamburg presented a paper for a decolonizing remembrance concept.
Facing up to colonial history and its consequences also calls for actions that are long overdue.
Last April, after decades of negligence and denial, the Federal Government, the respective State Ministers of Culture and the directors of six ethnological museums came together to sign the
“Statement on the handling of the Benin Bronzes in German museums and institutions” that paves the way for substantial restitution of unfairly acquired cultural heritage.

These developments are undoubtedly the result of perseverance and persistence by the aforementioned civil society groups, Black Communities and People of Color, critical scholars and dedicated museum professionals.

And so I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Plankensteiner and her team for giving us the opportunity to reflect upon our known and unknown truths and for highlighting the entanglements and complexities of a colonial past around the story of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell.

Moreover, I would also like to state my deep appreciation for the support of the Bell family and the international cooperation with the city of Douala.

We must not forget that all the work for this project took place over a distance of five thousand five hundred kilometres, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

I am humbled by the energy and output that derives from the joint efforts to create mutual memories despite the colossal obstacles that had to be faced during this crisis.

Since I am able to welcome you here today, I am confident that we will find ways to create postcolonial memories of mutual understanding and form new bonds of cohesion. Hence I was very happy to hear that the exhibition will be displayed in Douala as well.

Dear Manga Bell family,
ladies and gentlemen,
It's my pleasure to cordially welcome you tonight.
Thank you.

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