Friday , July 19 2019
Home / zimbabwe / Letters to the Editor: Repatriation: Why Western Museums Should Return African Artifacts

Letters to the Editor: Repatriation: Why Western Museums Should Return African Artifacts


Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Correspondent

It is known that a large number of artifacts in Western museums and libraries have been appropriated through the centuries through conquest and colonialism. The plundering of anthropologists, curators, and private collectors from African sites took place both in war and in peacetime. This is justified as an act of benevolence; saving dying knowledge.

Some museums began to try to admit that their collections had uncomfortable stories about colonial violence.

However, Britain's long-standing policy is not to cease ownership of its treasured treasures. Just as Prime Minister David Cameron said about the Greek marbles "Elgin" and the diamond of Koh-and-Nuur in India: "No, I certainly do not believe in" recycling. "I do not think it's reasonable.

Protection against "recycling" is the same defense museums for their existence: they are custodians and guardians of the cultural and natural treasures of mankind.

This may seem like a good cause. But in essence it means that the Ethiopians or the people of India and Greece can not be trusted to preserve their own cultural heritage. That is why repatriation calls are intensifying every day.

A more serious problem is that collections preserve and preserve the stereotyped stories that Europeans have – and still have – about Africans.

The thousands of articles collected in most museums are not accompanied by their original history. The elements displayed are selected, organized and received labels or identifiers by Europeans. The power to choose, give names and decide the meaning of these elements makes Europeans the authors of African history.


The International Museum Council celebrates the museums every 18 May, saying they are "an important means of cultural exchange, enriching cultures and developing mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples. Museums and libraries keep artifacts and manuscripts in the name of cultural preservation so that future generations can use them. "

But this is not always the case. The truth is that there are preserved artifacts in western museums that fail to meet these lofty ideas.

They range from animals and cultural objects to collections of human remains. The remains include thousands of skulls of Africans.

These collections of African remains are reminders of scientific racism and the creation of human zoological zones, which took place only in 1958 when congolese people were exhibited for a world fair.

They do not express the history or culture of Africa nor offer any means of "cultural exchange or mutual understanding" as proposed by the International Council of Museums.

They are part of the legacy of European men who travel to distant lands and bring interesting objects that fascinate the audience in the office of curiosity, a popular way of presenting strange places and lives.

Cabinets with curiosity developed into modern museums. Today there are some attempts to make African events more culturally sensitive. For example, the Belgian Museum in Africa has been repaired to remove the racist and neocolonial story.

But these changes do not represent a reversal of the colonial narrative. They just make museums look progressive and fit for today's society.

Another tactic used by museums and libraries is to claim that they make texts accessible to mankind by digitizing manuscripts and documents.

But these books are only available to people who speak the European language in which they are cataloged and those who have an internet connection.

If the books are not digitized, the only way to access them is to travel to the library and get a reader or research pass – apparently beyond the means of those who could use them for their original purpose.

In several Western Ethnological Museums where colonial objects are still preserved, Africans continue to be portrayed as warrior tribes, superstitious beliefs, and homogeneous and unchangeable cultures. Even when museums try to give an idea of ​​the original purpose or meaning of some artifacts, they inevitably come from a European perspective.

Justification for repatriation

Repatriation seems the only way to deal with the historical injustice caused by museums. This is crucial for rebuilding the agency of Africans as producers of their own history.

Conservation is not the only answer to the question of what to do with the enormous wealth of natural, cultural and intellectual objects, including human remains, which are stored in Western museums. After repatriation, Africans must determine the value and location of these collections.

Not all artifacts should be saved and displayed. They are living sources of knowledge, objects of worship and expression of life.

For example, human remains, including the skulls of African ancestors, can be buried according to local traditions. Cultural objects can become sources of knowledge and storytelling.

A good example is Ges's great manuscripts, which have been taken together with more than 15 taboos – the holy words of the Ark of the Covenant – during the Battle of McDalah in 1868 by the British troops.

Taboos are sacred religious objects used by all the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches of Tevahido around the world. Only priests can touch them and they can not be presented as objects of curiosity or relics.

Ethiopian manuscripts are not artifacts. They are important documents that can be used as textbooks in thousands of traditional schools in Ethiopia.

By expelling people from their cultural artifacts, books, and important religious and cultural relics, you take them away from their knowledge, history, and philosophy. This has very concrete real consequences.

At this year's International Museum Day, museums and libraries that have huge collections of African cultural resources have to face the fact that they still have a legacy of imprisonment similar to that of their colonial ancestors.

The conversation

Source link