Naked Herero men
Hanged from a tree
Walking skeletons
In the desert sand

Women cleaning skulls
Erasing faces with shards of glass
Skulls in little boxes shipped
To a foreign land

Poisoned wells in the desert
Men in chains
Holy fires extinguished
Cattle seized for settler’s land

Images of evil
Printed in my brain
And somewhere my complicity
Blood upon my hands

My daughter Jo Ractliffe had just returned from her third visit to Angola to photograph that landscape devastated by a lengthy war. I told her a little about the feeling of ‘absence’ in so much of the land, and she advised me to read up on the Herero Genocide.
Our lament is for the Herero nation; for the almost total extermination of their people in the massacre at Waterberg, August 1904, by the German army under the instruction of General Lothar von Trotha, and for those remaining men, women and children, for their suffering and subsequent death from exhaustion in the work camps: and for all the atrocities that were visited upon them during that time.
This is for the descendants of those few ancestors who managed to survive, some, unbelievable as it sounds, by crossing on foot, the arid desert of Omaheke (the Kalahari Desert) and into what was then the British Territory of Bechuanaland. It is reported that the Missionaries couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw these ‘skeletons’ walking out of the desert.
With an extraordinary synchronicity, we finished mixing the song the day before the first twenty of three hundred Herero skulls taken to Germany, were returned; a day when all over the land the Holy Fires were lit for the ‘returning Ancestors’.
- Barbara Fairhead