Museum für Völkerkunde in Dresden returns four objects to the Kaurna people in South Australia that are integral to their identity24 August 2023
At a ceremony on 16 August 2023 in Sydney, Australia, the SES (State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony) returned four objects to the Kaurna people that embodied their identity. Mizi Nam represented the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation (KYAC), Ophelia Rubenich the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and Jens Hoch the German Embassy. The restitution took place in the presence of Dr Birgit Scheps-Bretschneider, representing the SES.
Four everyday items were returned: a spear, a digging stick, a cudgel and a net, all collected between 1838 and 1839 by the Protestant missionaries Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann and Christian Gottlob Teichelmann on behalf of the Lutheran Protestant missionary society in Dresden. The missionaries worked in the region around Adelaide, South Australia, when the area was first colonised. That time was marked by the indigenous populace being displaced from their lands, losing their languages and their material culture. As well as conducting missionary work, the two Germans researched into the Kaurna language, compiling and publishing lists of words and thus playing a key role in documenting the Kaurna language.
In 1840, the missionary society passed the artefacts on to the Historical Museum in Dresden, which presented them as a gift to the Royal Zoological, Anthropological and Ethnographic Museum in 1877. Today known as the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, since 2004 the latter has been part of the SES (State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony), which in turn belongs to Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections).
The SES has a long history of close cooperation with representatives of the Kaurna people. The call to return the items in 2019 followed a period of thorough provenance research. That carried out by the Kaurna people was particularly effective in placing the objects in their historical context. The reason they have been returned today is that they have been recognised as integral to the identity of the Kaurna people, considering their provenance, their historical context and their important role as historical relics of the community’s material culture.
The restitution has now taken place in Sydney thanks to the support of the Saxon State Ministry for Science, Culture and Tourism (SMWK), the Federal Foreign Office's Embassy of Germany in Canberra and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
Together, we are thus setting an example of cultural diversity and of protecting indigenous people’s rights to cultural self-determination and cultural development.