Australian Aboriginal warrior buried after 170 years

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The remains of a tribal warrior who famously led resistance to the British settlement of Australia were Saturday laid to rest in a traditional ceremony after his skull was recovered from Britain.

Yagan, a famous Aborigine from the nomadic Noongar tribe in western Australia, was shot dead by settlers in 1833, after a 30-pound bounty was placed on his head.

He speared a number of Britons to death during the Noongar resistance to British claims over their land, and he is considered a hero in indigenous and local folklore.

Yagan's head was cut off after he was killed and his back was skinned in order to obtain his tribal markings. The head was shipped to Britain to be studied and displayed in Liverpool.

Badly deteriorated, it was ultimately buried in Everton cemetery in 1964, and his tribe fought for decades to have it exhumed and returned to Australia in 1997.

Noongar spokesman Richard Wilkes travelled to Britain to collect the head, and said Yagan's remains were finally laid to rest Saturday, 170 years after his death, at a memorial park built in his honour outside the city of Perth.

"We are all proud that Yagan will be buried with dignity," Wilkes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Western Australian authorities said the burial concluded a "long campaign by the Noongar people to reunite the head of the warrior Yagan with his body," which is believed to be buried somewhere in the park site.

"We move to acknowledge historical wrongs and use the wisdom of hindsight to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Yagan, the warrior and the man," the Western Australia indigenous affairs department said.

"Yagan was a respected warrior, a man of his people and a man who had gained the respect of the early colonists. (He was) a leader of his people, a man who fought for his beliefs and also a man who extended the arm of friendship... (and) was killed doing what he believed was right."

It was common practice amongst settlers to behead Aboriginal warriors and send the heads to Britain for study and display.

Prince William agreed to help search for the missing skull of famous Aboriginal hero Pemulwuy, who was shot and decapitated in an 1802 ambush, following his visit to Australia in January.

Pemulwuy's head is believed to have been placed in a jar and sent to England in the early 1800s, when William's ancestor King George III was on the throne. Its location is unknown.

© 2010 AFP

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