Collecting and Colonial Violence

Paul Turnbull

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Many museums and other scientific institutions still possessing the bodily remains of Indigenous people no longer resist considering their repatriation to the care of descendant communities. Whereas unconditional repatriation is now the norm in Australasia, North America and southern Africa, European museums and government cultural agencies hold to the view that releasing remains to the care of Indigenous claimants should only occur when there is clear evidence that religious and cultural continuities in caring for the dead demonstrably outweigh the ongoing public benefit of retaining remains. Campaigning by Indigenous communities in metropolitan European centres since the mid-1980s has seen museum professionals and researchers with interests in Indigenous ancestral remains acknowledge that among the ethical questions raised by their continued preservation for research is whether these relics were acquired in contexts of injustice. With this in mind, this chapter draws attention to how remains acquired by European museums were obtained in contexts of physical violence, coercion, the plundering of traditional burial places or, as happened on numerous documented occasions, the dismemberment of the bodies of Indigenous victims of colonial violence. Memories of particular individuals whose remains came into scientific hands may have faded, but as this chapter highlights, the determination of Indigenous communities to reclaim their ancestors for burial arises not only from the desire to fulfil their customary obligations to the dead but also from awareness of the contribution of the scientific work that their remains enabled to the racialisation of Indigeneity within the European imagination.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Indigenous Repatriation: Return, Reconcile, Renew
EditorsC Fforde, C T McKeown & H Keeler
Place of PublicationOxon United Kingdom
ISBN (Print)9781138303584
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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