Aboriginal taonga to be returned to Australia after 100 years in Otago

By Will Trafford

Otago Museum will return six cultural artefacts to Australia's aboriginal community after more than 100 years. Image / File

Six aboriginal Australian taonga that have been kept in an Otago museum for more than a century will finally be returned.

A kalpunta (boomerang), palya/kupija (adze) and a selection of marttan (stone knives) were traded between 1910 and 1937 with Museum Victoria and amateur archaeologist and ethnologist, Frederick Vincent Knapp.

The items were confiscated from the Warumungu people, custodians of the Tennant Creek area in the Northern Territory in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Last September the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies approached the museum as part of a return of cultural heritage programme.

"Them old things they were carved by the old people who had the songs for it, too. I'm glad these things are returning back,"  Senior Warumungu Michael Jones told RNZ.

Kāi Tahu thanked

"The museums are respecting us, and they've been thinking about us. They weren't the ones who took them, they just ended up there. We can still teach the young people now about these old things and our culture."

The Institute's chief executive Craig Ritchie paid tribute to Kāi Tahu for taking care of the taonga.

"Storytelling is integral to the transmission of our cultural knowledge. Objects created in our communities, both sacred and secular, bear evidence of the skills of those who created them along with evidence of our cultural values," he said.

"We don't want to lose track of such storytelling aids, and our communities want a say in how they are used."

Director of Collections, Research and Education at Otago Robert Morris, says the repatriation honours the cultural property clauses of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which calls for the returning of ancestral remains and cultural artefacts.

The returned objects will be displayed at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in Tennant Creek.

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