Aboriginal artefacts taken from Australia more than 100 years ago have been handed back by museum bosses in Manchester.
Visitors from four aboriginal language groups travelled to the Victorian Manchester Museum, to see where the items were stored.
They will be officially returned in a ceremony in Australia House in London later.
Manchester Museum is the first museum in Europe to begin the repatriation process in a project in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, to mark the 250th anniversary next year of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia.
Christopher Simpson, from the Wakka Wakka language group said: “It’s a shared history we have with the UK and Australia and the arrival of Cook also marked the departure of our cultural heritage items”
Our people want our secret sacred items home.
It’s difficult to date them because we don’t test them or expose them to chemicals, but the age of those items in a spiritual sense in a cultural sense is over 60,000 years old, because our cultural practices haven’t stopped.
– Christopher Simpson, the Wakka Wakka language group
This week the first 18 of 43 items will begin the journey home, artefacts ranging from traditional body ornaments and slippers to a churinga, a wood or stone item believed to embody the spiritual double of a relative or ancestor.
Many of them cannot be photographed, seen or touched by non-Indigenous people and are of such sacred cultural importance there is “no possible way” the items would have been given and traded.
Esme Ward, the director of the museum said: “Very often people will say, ‘Is it a slippery slope?’
“No. I really don’t think it is. Some museums or even maybe the museum sector is in a bit of existential crisis mode, particularly museums that are borne of Empire. How do we acknowledge our past?
People want to know more about what this means and the conversation about where do collections belong is getting louder and louder.
It’s about British history but it’s not the history taught in schools.
– Esme Ward, Victorian Manchester Museum
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