Dutch hand over remains of Australian aborigines

30th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Remains of five aboriginal Australians were returned to their descendants in a special spiritual cleansing ceremony in Leiden on Tuesday.

Leiden – Dutch authorities on Tuesday presented the skeletal remains of five 18th and 19th century aboriginal Australians to their descendants in a special ceremony in Leiden.

"The spirits can stop wandering now, they are returning home with us," Gwen Hickling, an elder of the aboriginal Bundjalung community, said after a spiritual cleansing ceremony involving the burning of eucalyptus leaves.

"The spirits were wandering in No Man's land, but now we can take them to their resting place."

Wonu Veys, curator at the Nation Museum of Ethnology that owned the remains from 1882 until their transfer to the Leiden University Medical Centre in 1935, said the skeletons of two of the individuals dated from the 19th century.

"We don't know exactly who they were or how they died," she told AFP at the event.

The remains of the two were bought for the museum on the Australian east coast for anthropological research.

Veys said the remains of the other three "are probably a lot older, we think from the 18th century," but further research would be done by Australian scientists to trace their exact age and origin.

The remains of the three are believed to have come to the museum from the collection of 18th century British naturalist Joseph Banks.

The bones were presented in two wooden boxes, draped in the black, red and yellow aboriginal flag, by Dutch culture and science minister Ronald Plasterk to Hickling and fellow Bundjalung elder Desmond Morrissey.

Australian ambassador Lydia Morton told the gathering that many aboriginal people had a strong spiritual connection to their country.

"It is their mother. They believe that the human spirit is born from their land and returns to it upon death," she said.

"When their people's remains are not in their country and with their people, then their spirits are wandering. These wandering spirits are restless and their negative energy can cause troubles in their home community."

She thanked Dutch authorities for aiding in the Australian government's quest to repatriate indigenous remains held in overseas collections.

"It is important in healing the pain of past injustices."

Plasterk said remains like these had contributed to modern-day scientific knowledge.

"Of course nowadays we think differently about the way to treat those human remains. There are many examples of exhibitions and displays at that time that would never be allowed today."

Morrissey said the treatment meted out to aboriginal remains in the past made him "very sad".

"They were taken away without any permission. The aboriginal peoples had no say at all," he told AFP.

"It was cruel, but we are closing the gap now."

AFP / Expatica

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