Warumungu people: Four artefacts returned to NT Aboriginal community

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After over a year of negotiations, four cultural artefacts are being returned to an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum agreed to return the four objects – a cutting tool, an axe and two hooked boomerangs – after discussions with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Warumungu community.

The artefacts were collected by anthropologist Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer, who was known for his work with Aboriginal people in Central Australia, including the Warumungu people.

Spencer along with Francis Gillen in the early 1900s collected over 6000 items from Aboriginal communities in Central Australia.

The AIATSIS return of cultural heritage team works to identify objects held in collections outside Australia and began discussions with the Auckland War Memorial Museum in September last year.

And in June this year the museum’s trust board endorsed the repatriation request for the four items to the Warumungu community near Tennant Creek.

“We know that (the artefacts) belong to Warumungu people as the new generation,” Warumungu representative Michael Jones said.

Mr Jones described the artefacts as “precious” to the Warumungu people as they were passed down through the generations.

“(The boomerang) must have taken him six months or even more,” he said in describing the care and craftsmanship used to carve them.

It comes after the AIATSIS last week announced the return of six objects to the Warumungu people which were being held at the Otago Museum in Dunedin.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney described the return of the items as an important step in reconciliation.

“It supports the transfer of knowledge, cultural maintenance, restoration and revitalisation for future generations,” Ms Burney said.

“I would also like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the museum for the good-faith return of these items – a move that recognises the importance of cultural heritage to identity.”

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said while the items were given freely by Warumungu community members, their return was a recognition of their importance to the community.

“As well as alerting communities to their cultural heritage held in offshore collections, the AIATSIS (return of cultural heritage) program aims to help those collecting institutions to understand and to respect the wishes of the source communities,” Mr Ritchie said.

Originally published as Four important artefacts returned to NT Aboriginal community


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