Indigenous peoples of South America are studying artifacts collected at the British Museum by early settlers, including Chile’s Captain Cook, and hope to return them to their country.
Colonial explorers plundered relics from the tip of the Americas at Tierra del Fuego more than 150 years ago. Visitors now wish to return them to their original locations, but the British Museum has said repatriation was not the purpose of the visit.
Representatives of the Yagan and Kawéskar Atup communities (originating from the tip of the Americas) traveled to London for the first time to study the artifacts.
They include the first Yaghan to English dictionary, test tubes used to hold indigenous paints, and canoes built by nomads to travel to various islands in search of food. increase.
The visit comes as the British Museum faces pressure to return the artifacts after the Horniman Museum agreed to return 72 objects to Nigeria.
Chile’s new constitution, which citizens are due to vote next week, guarantees indigenous communities the right to repatriate objects and bodies.
Yagan artist Claudia Gonzalez Vidal presents her contemporary woven baskets next to those that have been in the British Museum’s collection for over 150 years.
Indigenous representatives of Tierra del Fuego are working with the British Museum to study the objects brought back by early settlers and explorers, hoping to eventually return them.
A portrait of Captain James Cook is on display
This map shows the route that Captain Cook and his crew took across the world
Thanks to the examination, Yahgan artist Claudia González Vidal was able to compare her woven baskets to those made by her ancestors who had been in the hands of the British for a century and a half.
The delegation was led by Alberto Serrano Fjor, Director of the Martín Gucinde Anthropological Museum in Tierra del Fuego, Chile’s southernmost point.
He said: “The issue of repatriation or repatriation always exists.
“Everyone would want all objects, especially iconic objects, in all museums in Europe and elsewhere to be returned.
“But we know it’s not that simple. increase.
“It’s a unique heritage of the people of Tierra del Fuego, and the objects and collections are great, but there’s more than many European museums think.
Left to right: Claudia Gonzalez Vidal. Magdalena Araus Sieber at the Santo Domingo Center for Excellence for Latin America at the British Museum. Veronica Balfour Clemente. His Haydee Aguila Caro of the Kawéskar At’ap community analyzes the cultural collections of Tierra del Fuego, now housed in the British Museum.
Left to right: Heidi Aguila Caro. Claudia Gonzalez Vidal; Veronica Balfour-Clemente;Alberto Serrano Fjord, next to a full-sized canoe brought from Tierra del Fuego
Voyage of Captain Cook
Cook mapped much of the northwestern coastline of the Americas.
He did so aboard the British research vessel HMS Endeavor. She was the first ship to reach the east coast of Australia, landing at Botany Bay in 1770.
Cook was born in Merton, Yorkshire (now a suburb of Middlesbrough) on 27 October 1728, the son of a Scottish farm worker.
Explorers put their cartographic skills to good use in the Seven Years’ War with France and Spain.
He also circumnavigated New Zealand’s North and South Islands, creating the first complete map of the country’s coast.
When he left for the Americas, cConditions were frightening, with blinding snowstorms, freezing fog and deadly ice floes.
Cook was suffering from a severe stomach upset, which left him in a worse mood than usual.
his voyage Kalaniopu’u, King of Hawaii.
One of the Hawaiian chiefs took out a knife and stuck it in Cook after a disagreement. put an end to his famous journey.
The Endeavor was used to transport British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War and was deliberately sunk in 1778.
“So it was very important that they could be there, not just the researchers, but also the great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of the people who created these objects that are stored there.”
Among the British Museum’s collections are shell necklaces woven from animal fibres, fishing gear, arrowheads, muscle spoon implements and test tubes containing pigments used by indigenous peoples to paint. .
There’s also a life-size canoe photographed by Anglican missionary Wait Stirling in the mid-19th century.
Serrano Fillol said the Yahgans and Kawésqar Atap not only reconnect with long-lost objects from their own culture, but also help museums build a more detailed picture of their history and meaning. said.
He added: “Ultimately they don’t have all the information about these objects and collections themselves. This is what we provided.
“That’s where the idea for this project came from, because you can’t even find these objects in Patagonia.”
The delegation also visited the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford and the British Library, where Yagan author Christina Zaraga Riquelme presented the original Yagan and English dictionary created by missionary and linguist Thomas Bridges. was able to study
Serrano Fjor said, “He was an Anglican and the first white man to learn Yahgan. He created and published the Yahgan-English Dictionary.
However, the original is in the British Library. We went to see Yagan with women from her community who are dedicated to saving the language. She never got a chance to see it.
Many of the goods from Tierra del Fuego are in London because they were brought by early British settlers, the first Europeans to colonize the area.
A few were also born to explorers such as Captain Cook and Robert Fitzroy, who captained HMS Beagle on his famous voyage with Charles Darwin.
The Horniman Museum agreed to return to Nigeria 72 objects looted from Benin City during the military invasion of 1897, and the British Museum restored the Elgin Marbles taken from Athens’ Parthenon in the 19th century. I am under pressure to return it.
But Laura Osorio Sannax, a researcher at the British Museum’s Santo Domingo Center of Excellence for Latin American Research, said the purpose of the visit was not to initiate the repatriation process. , said it is about building links between the museum, its collections, and the community. where did they come from
Left to right: Verónica Balfor Clemente; Claudia Gonzalez Vidal; Cristina Zaraga Riquelme of the Yagan Community examines the original Yagan-English dictionary created by Thomas Bridges in a British library.
Left to right: Alberto Serrano Fjor, Director of the Martín Gusinde Museum in Chile. Claudia Gonzalez Vidal; Veronica Balfour-Clemente;Heidi Aguila Caro sees the Tierra del Fuego collection at the British Museum
“It’s about understanding what they need and want, and thinking about projects that really have far-reaching impact.
“Some of the calls for repatriation are about colonial rule, museums and their ownership, and stories about them, but what we are trying to do is go beyond the collection, go beyond the object itself. to create a project that looks at modern relationships.
“The projects we fund and support ultimately aim to be more relevant to the community than the museum.”
Part of the work of the Martín Gusinde Museum of Chile is to return items from the Chilean government to indigenous communities.
Serrano Fjor hopes it will be easier now that a new progressive government has been elected.
It wrote a new constitution that guaranteed indigenous communities the right to repatriate objects and human remains if approved by voters in September.
The museum director added:
“There have been massive cuts. It’s the most affected sector across the country, and our budget has been cut in half.
“But it’s important for us to be able to develop this work. This legacy is very important.
“The objects of these ancient peoples are sometimes not given much value or importance, and are sometimes seen as secondary, but they are truly remarkable.”
A painting of Captain Cook occupying Australia from ‘Australia, New Zealand and Oceania in Pictures’