Back home after more than 500 years

The stone cross (padrao) planted by Portuguese explorer Diego Cao on the Namibian coast, more than 530 years ago, will be returned to Namibia. Cao planted the cross at what is known today as Cape Cross in 1486. Regarded as the first European to set foot on Namibian soil he planted the cross as reference point for later explorers like Bartolomeus Diaz (1487) en Vasco da Gama (1497). Portugal was looking for a sea route to India and these explorers were honoured to risk life and limb on behalf of the Portuguese nation who prided itself with a seafaring tradition stretching centuries.

Cao died on one of his expeditions and was buried at Cape Cross.  The German Navy removed the original cross in 1893 and it was placed in the German Museum of History in Berlin. The German Federal Government’s decision to return the cross was hailed by Namibia’s Ambassador to Germany, Andreas Guibeb, as positive move forward to reconcile Namibians with the country’s colonial past and to set the colonial historical record straight between Namibia and Germany.
A most informing article on the subject of the padrao is quoted here-under from the website of Exploring Africa.
“Cape Cross, in Namibia, was discovered in 1486 by the Portuguese Diego Cao, explorer and navigator who, on behalf of King Joao II of Portugal, was looking for a sea route to reach the Indies.
Diego Cao faced a first expedition, that lasted six years, in 1482; during this journey, along the Western coasts of the African continent, he reached a place called Monte Negro, known today as Cabo de Santa Maria, in Angola, about 150 km South of today’s Benguela.
During his second journey, from 1484 to 1486, he went even further south and, in January 1486, reached today’s Cape Cross; he was the first European to explore this area.
The explorer Diego Cao has also erected two stone crosses, padrao in Portuguese, in the places of his landings: one was erected at Monte Negro, the other right at Cape Cross, which owes its name to this cross.
The Portuguese used to build crosses in the places where they landed; these crosses had different functions: a symbol of Christianity, documenting the possession of a territory and a point of reference for the other ships that passed by those places.
Cape Cross was the southernmost point ever reached by a European, only later Bartolomeo Diaz was the first European explorer to dub the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.
The cross, erected by Diego Cao, consisted of a stone pillar surmounted by a cross, positioned precisely to claim the territory; from that moment this place was named “Cabo de Padrao” that means “Cape Cross” in English.
After two years from the landing at Cape Cross the crew returned home without their captain; all documents relating to the expedition were lost in a fire, and some archaeologists tried to find out what had happened to Diego Cao and where he was located, all agree that most likely he went into what is now the Sperrgebiet National Park, the reason for why they consider this hypothesis probable is that some objects were found that probably belonged to him and different gold coins.
The inhospitable coast of Namibia did not arouse the interest of subsequent explorers, and Diego Cao’s cross remained there until the Ger-mans arrived on the Namibian territory between 1883 and 1884.
Raven, captain of the Wolf frigate, placed a wooden bulletin board at Cape Cross, in the years following that episode interest in developing a port in this place grew, as a result the presence of Europeans increased.
In 1893, Becker, the captain of the Falke flag-ship, who was looking for a better port than Swakopmund, found the Portuguese cross, removed it and took it to Douala in Cameroon, from where it was then transferred on the Stettin steamer that transported it to Wilhelmshaven in Germany.
William II, emperor of Germany, had a replica built and, on 23 January 1895, he had it positioned 15 meters from the place where the original cross was located; subsequently the original cross was transferred to the Museum of Technology in Berlin.
The place where Diego Cao landed was declared a national monument on November 1, 1968 and, in 1980, the Director of the State Museum of Windhoek took steps to erect a replica of the cross at Cape Cross: a new cross in dolerite, a stone originating in Namibia, was placed in the exact spot where Diego Cao’s cross was located and was inaugurated on October 11, 1980.
3 circular platforms were also made; while in 1986, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 500 years of the landing of the Portuguese explorer, stones were placed on which some information were engraved, one on each plat-form and one near the cross.
Over the years both Portugal and Namibia have exerted pressure on Germany to return the original cross, but Berlin has always refused to return the cross to Namibia; even after Namibia’s independence, when the first Namibian president, Sam Nujoma in person tried to get the Portuguese cross back”.

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