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  • Author: Elke Zuern x
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Abstract

Heroes play a role in every nation's founding narrative, embodying a group's strength and courage, its dedication to protecting all within its fold, and its most important traditions and promises. Yet hero images and tropes have not received the attention they deserve in the social science literature on nations and nationalism. Recent theories of character work – the rhetorical construction of heroes, villains, victims, and minions – reveal the challenges of building an inclusive nationalism in post-colonial states. We engage the debates over some of Namibia's most prominent and contested heroes through the memorials dedicated to them and the commemorations honoring victims of past struggles. We study the victims that these heroes sought to defend and trace the process by which victims become heroes of endurance. The Namibian state has, after its recent independence, constructed a memorial to fallen heroes, Heroes Acre, and an Independence Memorial Museum. Alongside these state-sanctioned memorial sites, a range of citizens have sought to honor and defend their own heroes. By honoring different heroes, they have defined alternative understandings of the nation. We also demonstrate the power of victims in mobilizing present day campaigns for justice and reparations. In Namibia, as elsewhere, greater attention to victims could shift the balance of political power. This article demonstrates how a focus on struggles over the legitimacy of particular heroes and victims can provide unanticipated insights into the study of divided nationalism.