Informal Session: Museums and Repatriation
Organizer: Tarisi Vunidilo, University of Hawai’i at Hilo (email@example.com)
Over centuries, cultural objects and human remains from various cultures in the colonized world including Oceania have been collected by amateur and professional collectors (explorers, traders, anthropologists, colonial officials, casual travelers, etc.) and many are stored in international museums. Pacific islands artifacts and imageries have had a strong appeal to the popular imagination of the West over the years. However, in recent years the question of ownership and intellectual property rights has emerged as many indigenous groups around the world call for the repatriation of their cultural objects, funerary materials and human remains taken away with or without their ancestors’ consent, as a way of reasserting their cultural rights and in rediscovery of their roots and identity.
Repatriation refers to the return of artifacts and human remains to their culture or country of origin regardless of the circumstances under which they were first removed. As once-colonized countries and peoples gain greater autonomy and strength, they are increasingly demanding the return of cultural property. Museums are concerned with acquiring artifacts and human remains for their collections, ethnographic & scientific research and ensuring their future preservation. Repatriation may appear to conflict with the founding principles of museums, however many anthropologists recognize the rights of indigenous people over their cultural heritage.
This session aims to critically examine the issue of ownership and cultural property rights relating to the appropriation of Pacific cultural artifacts and human remains now housed in international metropolitan museums. Invited speakers are requested to explore the historical, sociological and legal aspects of cultural ownership and how they apply to Pacific cultural objects and human remains within their jurisdictions. They are encouraged to explore the socio-legal and cultural implications of repatriation to their museums, collections and communities.