Give Malagan collection back, New Zealand museum told

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday 08th Febuary 2012

A PAPUA New Guinea non-governmental organisation is calling for traditional artworks from New Ireland province to be repatriated.
A curator working with Malagan artworks at New Zealand’s Otago Museum says he has been told by local people that there is no need to return the pieces.
Malagan art is created as part of traditional ceremonies to honour people who have died, and is traditionally destroyed or given away, he added.
But Jenny Homerang from the “Recreating the Village” NGO told Radio New Zealand this week that, sometimes, the works are preserved to be used again
“There has never been any museum that I know of, that has tried to work with the local communities from which these objects have been removed. We have never had any kind of community outreach programmes with the museums, or the museums with us, there’s no kind of contact with us. It’s almost as if they’re saying to us that we don’t exist.”
Dr Michael Gunn is the senior curator of Pacific art at the National Gallery of Australia, and is working with Otago museum’s collection of 300 pieces of Malagan ritual sculptures.
He says the artworks were created to honour people who had died, and were generally destroyed or sold to outsiders soon after.
“They’ve got their own land, they’ve still got their own culture, they don’t feel threatened. So, the art objects from the past, for them, they belong to somebody else, and it’s a past they don’t want back, because of the associations with dead people.
“These objects were made just to finish a person’s life, not to drag the past along with them.”
However, New Zealand has disputed possession of Maori cultural artefacts, particularly mummified heads and skeletal remains, by museums around the world.
Last month, authorities in New Zealand received 20 ancestral heads of Maoris once held in several French museums as a cultural curiosity.