Returning to Australia

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Man with a painted face holding smoking branches

Mr Major Sumner, a representative of The Ngarrindjeri

Yesterday I was able to witness a ceremony to mark the returning of Australian indigenous human remains that had been in our collections since 1948. The remains are being returned as they have strong cultural, spiritual and religious significance to Australian indigenous communities. You can see more photos of the ceremony on our Returning to Australia Flickr set.

Representatives from The Ngarrindjeri (meaning The People) had come over from Australia to perform the ceremony. Seeing them with their fantastically painted faces was a pretty amazing experience in itself. Their presence definitely caused a stir outside the World Museum, with a large crowd gathering to see what was happening! The ceremony began with Mr Major Sumner burning eucalyptus branches, which he carried around the crowd and fanned with a large feather. He then raised three boomarangs into the air and touched them to the ground while speaking in his native dialect. Using the boomerangs he also performed a dance involving hitting them together while singing.

Mr Sumner also spoke to the crowd, saying that he was thinking of his ancestors and that we should also think about ours, whose "spirits are in this land". He also said how it was fitting that he was taking the remains from this "land by the water" to his land, which was also by the water. The Ngarrindjeri is a group of 18 clans or lakinyeri who speak similar dialects and have family connections around the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula and Coorong, South Australia.

This is the first of the remains of three individuals being returned to Australia. The remains will be kept in a keeping place at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra and will be given the culturally-appropriate care needed. Eventually they may be buried if returned to their original communities.