Placing Indigeneity: South Africa’s 2007 Mapungubwe Reburial

Authors: Noah Tamarkin*, The Ohio State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Africa, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Indigeneity, South Africa, Heritage, Belonging, Postcolonial
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Roosevelt 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2007, a collection of thirteenth century human remains was reburied at the South African national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site Mapungubwe. The remains had been excavated beginning in the 1930s and studied and stored at University of Pretoria before they were identified as a postapartheid repatriation priority in the early 2000s. Multiple collectives of people claimed these remains as their ancestors, and they ultimately collaborated with the postapartheid state to make one collective claim with a joint reburial ceremony. The Mapungubwe reburial engaged novel political and legal contexts in postapartheid South Africa, and the language of indigeneity was differently deployed by state actors and claimant groups. State actors invoked indigeneity to mark the reburial project as one of post-apartheid African state legitimacy built on pre-colonial African power. But some claimant groups invoked indigeneity as a question of hierarchy: who was more indigenous, and who therefore had a legitimate claim? Based on ethnographic research conducted between 2004 and 2006 this paper examines the debates that took place about how to proceed with the reburial. It argues that as indigeneity has emerged as a new idiom of postapartheid South African belonging, it has reshaped imaginaries of what it means to be African, and reframed the stakes of being part of an African state.

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