Manchester Museum is returning 43 ceremonial objects from the UK under an Australian government-funded project to repatriate items of cultural heritage 250 years after Captain James Cook’s voyage.
The first artefacts, ranging from traditional body ornaments to ceremonial musical instruments, will be repatriated in a formal ceremony in November to communities including the Aranda people and the Gangalidda Garawa, whose cultural heritage is said to date back more than 70,000 years.
The anniversary of his expedition has divided opinion in both Australia and New Zealand, where government-funded celebrations have been met with protests from indigenous communities.
Mangubadijarri Yanner, a spokesman for the Gangalidda Garawa Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, said the handover was a “fundamental part of the healing and reconciliation process. Bringing these sacred cultural heritage items back to the country is important and necessary for the purpose of cultural revitalisation, because locked deep within these items is our lore – our histories, our traditions and our stories.”
Earlier this month the British high commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke, expressed “regret” to local Iwi groups over the deaths of nine indigenous people in the initial meetings between Cook and Māori, but stopped short of an apology.
Shortly after the arrival of Cook and his crew, the group encountered armed Maori and believed they were under attack. Many scholars now believe the Maori were probably only issuing a ceremonial challenge.
The sailors shot and killed an important leader, Te Maro, and over the following days killed eight more Maori before a Tahitian priest managed to mediate between the sides.