Lost in Translation
National Museum of Australia
Indigenous human remains in museum collections are often treated as if they are unique objects in their own right; their significance only beginning when they enter the precincts of the collecting institution. As Indigenous people are translated into museum objects the humanistic attributes of the remains, such as the history of the lives and cultures of the individuals, and the processes behind the collection and subsequent management of the remains, are ignored. The stories are lost. Because of this limited view many institutions are loath to consider repatriation as anything but a destructive practice. This paper argues that a fuller history of the remains, the history before they entered the institution, encompassing the individual’s cultural and social context, and the process of acquisition and management, must be understood. Such research re-translates the museum object into an individual. Often one outcome of such enquiry will be an appreciation that repatriation is warranted and does prove a constructive process, providing a wide reaching and long-lasting contribution to both knowledge and to society.
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© borderlands ejournal 2008