Research Communications

Ellen Hamrick raises awareness about the first genocide of the 20th century 

By Jessica Salerno
April 9, 2013

Few may have heard of the first genocide of the 20th century, but Ellen Hamrick, an undergraduate anthropology major in the Honors Tutorial College, is working to change that. In her senior dissertation, she’s raising awareness about the Herero and Namaqua genocide that occurred in present-day Namibia and the ongoing fight by the victims’ ancestors for reparations.

When Germany colonized southwest Africa in 1904, about 80 percent of the indigenous Herero people and 60 percent of indigenous Nama people were killed. Today the descendants of the survivors are pushing Germany to pay reparations, but face political obstacles with the German and Namibian government.

Ellen Hamrick attends the commemoration of the Battle of Ohamakari in the Herero-German War during her trip to Namibia. (Photo provided by Hamrick)

Hamrick decided to focus on the Herero and Nama genocide after conducting initial research on global genocides and the reparations movement, she said. Her work has received funding from the Ohio University Student Enhancement Award, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Fund and the Honors Tutorial College Dean’s Discretionary Fund. Haley Duschinski, associate professor of sociology and anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is her advisor.

Hamrick’s thesis critiques the German government, which does not recognize the Herero and Nama people as a state.  The Namibian government is hesitant to push Germany too hard, however, because it is such a major supplier of foreign aid.

“There’s an embedded critique within (the reparations movement) about the Namibian state and its failure to protect the interests of minority ethnic groups in its own country,” she said.

What makes the genocide even more heartbreaking for the ancestors of the victims is how it affects their everyday lives. The Herero and Nama people lost possession of the land on which their ancestors are buried. New funerals on these sites can only occur with the permission of the current landowner, and often have restrictions on length and attendance.

These groups have lost cattle, a scared and vital part of their culture, as well as their native language and other traditions.

“The people who I talked to—it wasn’t a history debate that they were having. It was a real thing that affected their lives every single day,” Hamrick said. “They were passionate about what had happened to their ancestors and also about the land issue, cattle dispossession and political disenfranchisement.”

Reparations activists are seeking land reform, financial payments funded into specific committees to be used for schools and clinics, repatriation of human remains, memorials, a formal acknowledgement and apology, as well as exchange programs between German and Herero and Nama youth.

Hamrick, who graduates in May, would like to work in genocide prevention and response advocacy. She hopes to be able to return to Namibia to continue her work with the Herero and Nama people.

Editor’s Note: Hamrick will be one of more than 650 students presenting original research, scholarship or creative work at the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Expo, to be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 11 at the Convocation Center.