Sacred artefacts to return to their ancestral homes in Australia

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16 October 2019
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Secret heritage objects are being returned by Manchester Museum to their original Aboriginal communities of origin in Australia.

Secret sacred and ceremonial objects are being returned by Manchester Museum to their original Aboriginal communities of origin in Australia.

The museum, part of The University of Manchester, has been responsible for some of the material since the 1920s, and has been active in repatriating ancestral remains to their original communities since 2003. However, this marks the museum’s first return of secret sacred and ceremonial material to Australia.

Repatriation of cultural objects

The move will see the unconditional repatriation of 43 cultural heritage objects to the Aranda people of Central Australia, Gangalidda Garawa peoples’ of north-west Queensland, Nyamal people of the Pilbara and Yawuru people of Broome.

Craig Ritchie, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) CEO, welcomed the decision, saying:
‘We congratulate Manchester Museum for their commitment to recognising the importance of repatriation for all Australians, which promotes healing and reconciliation, and ultimately fosters truth telling about our Nation’s history.’

Museum director Esme Ward added: ‘We look forward to working with other museums to strengthen trust with source communities globally, work collaboratively, encourage open conversations about the future of collections and critically, take action.’

Professor Nalin Thakkar, vice-president for social responsibility at the university agreed, saying: ‘This is excellent news and demonstrates that The University of Manchester, and our cultural assets like Manchester Museum, are committed to social responsibility, not just at local or region level, but on an international scale.’

The first of two formal handover ceremonies are due to take place at Manchester Museum in late November.

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Histories, traditions & stories 'locked deep'

‘The repatriation of our sacred cultural heritage items is a fundamental part of the healing and reconciliation process, both within our communities and between our mob and the Government,’ said Mangubadijarri Yanner, representative for the Gangalidda Garawa Native Title Aboriginal Corporation. ‘Bringing these sacred cultural heritage items back to Country is important and necessary for the purpose of cultural revitalisation – because locked deep within these items is our lore; our histories, our traditions and our stories.’

This will be the first repatriation from the UK for the Return of Cultural Heritage project led by AIATSIS; read more about the project here.

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Photograph courtesy of the University of Manchester.