May 14, 2009

National Museums Liverpool to return Aboriginal remains

Posted at 9:44 pm in Similar cases

More coverage of the most recent agreement by a British institution to return Aboriginal remains from its collection.

BBC News

Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 14:56 UK
Museum returns Aboriginal remains

Members of an Aboriginal tribe held a ritual in front of Liverpool’s World Museum to mark the repatriation of human remains to Australia.

A skull is being returned to representatives of the Ngarrindjeri people because it has strong spiritual and religious significance.

The remains were purchased from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948.

He visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on Australian skeletal remains.

The event, which followed a private commemoration, involved rituals including a smoking ceremony using smouldering eucalyptus leaves in a bowl.

The Ngarrindjeri (meaning The People) is a group of 18 clans or lakinyeri who speak similar dialects and have family connections around the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula and Coorong, South Australia.

In January 2006, National Museums Liverpool received a request for the return of all Australian human remains in its possession.

This is the first of the remains of three individuals being returned to Australia. Dates for the return for the other two have yet to be fixed.

They will be returned following consultations with the Australian indigenous communities from the areas where they originated.

Some of the remains were collected from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea by explorers on the voyage of the Rattlesnake in 1849.

National Museums Liverpool acquired them from the Norwich Castle Museum in 1956. The other remains are believed to have originated in north Queensland.

They were given to National Museums Liverpool by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, London, in 1981. This museum had owned them since 1933.

None of the remains have been on public display, nor have they been used for research or educational purposes.

The remains will be kept in a keeping place at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

‘Sensitive issue’

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “The remains entered our collections many years ago and it is fitting that they are being returned to their homeland.

“The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue. National Museums Liverpool takes a decision in each individual case when items are requested for repatriation.”

An Aboriginal skull of a 19th Century warrior called Yagan was handed back by Liverpool City Museum in 1997 after it had been buried in Everton Cemetery.

It sparked a wave of controversy on its return to Australia when community leaders could not decide where to bury it and others saying it should never have been brought back.

Liverpool Echo

Aboriginal spiritual leader performs ceremony as skull is returned to homeland
May 14 2009 by Alan Weston, Liverpool Echo

AN aboriginal spiritual leader has performed a traditional “smoking” ceremony outside World Museum Liverpool.

The event was to mark the return of a skull to its Australian homeland.

The dance, involving ceremonial boomerangs and the burning of eucalyptus leaves, was performed by Major Sumner, the spiritual leader of the Ngarrindjeri people in south Australia.

He said the return of the skull was an emotional moment for his tribe.

He added: “It’s a member of our family and has been here for a long time. I’m sure his spirit is happy to be going home.

“It was good to see so many people here, I’m sure they will go away and tell other people that they experienced a ceremony they will probably never witness again in their lives.”

The skull is the first of the remains of three individuals being returned to Australia by National Museums Liverpool (NML).

They were purchased from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948. He visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on Australian skeletal remains.

The skull will initially be kept at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra for possible scientific research.

Eventually, all the remains may be buried if returned to their original communities.

Major Sumner was joined by George Trevorrow , the leader of the Ngarrindjeri people.

He said: “The smoking ceremony is an ancient tradition which calls upon the spirits to come and clear away any bad spirits that are hanging around.”

NML director Dr David Fleming said: “These are relics from an era in the 19th century when museums thought it was acceptable to bring back bodies from European adventures to put on display.

“This would be considered completely unthinkable today.”

Sydney Morning Herald

Aboriginal bones returned to Australia
May 15, 2009 – 6:13AM

A skull and other bone fragments discovered last year in the home of an elderly British academic have been handed over to the Australian government in a solemn Aboriginal ceremony.

The handover was part of Australia’s effort to recover indigenous remains held across the world. The government has retrieved remains of more than 1,100 people from the UK since 1990.

Remains were sold to museums and trophy-hunters in the 19th century, Australia’s High Commissioner John Dauth said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Spotted by Australian diplomats as they were being put up for auction in November, the bones – a skull, a mandible, a clavicle, two femurs, and a host of bone fragments – were found last summer by an auctioneer hired to clear out the academic’s home.

The auction was halted after Australia’s High Commission in London intervened. The relics were handed to the Australians on Thursday in the presence of Aboriginal tribal elders before a brief ritual dance in a small park in central London.

“We came here with very mixed feelings,” George Trevorrow, an Aboriginal leader, said.

He said the return of the remains was important to Aboriginals spiritually, as some believe a soul is in torment unless the body rests in its native land. The Aboriginals, Australia’s original inhabitants, were devastated by European settlement and long denied equal rights.

“This helps us feel more human,” Trevorrow said. “Remember, for a long, long time we were not classified as human.”

Dauth said Australian diplomats were still in “lively dialogue” with institutions such as the Natural History Museum and Cambridge University over the human relics.

“There’s a real determination in my country to put behind us the appalling treatment of indigenous Australians in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” said Dauth.

© 2009 AP

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