Several months ago, I was contacted by a long-time friend, Lynnette Dodds. She has lived in Los Angeles for many years but decided it was time for her to return to her home country of Australia. Lynn began the process of looking at all her collected art pieces and there they were – three amazing Papua New Guinean pieces she acquired during a visit. She knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to take them to Australia due to some of the material used to make the items. One particular piece stood out. A pot that is decades old
I contacted Dr. Andrew Moutu, whom I’ve known for many years and who appeared in the film. An anthropologist living in Port Moresby, guided us to the current Curator at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, Grace Vele. It did not take long for Grace and the team at the museum to identify this rare gourd and exclaimed “it’s priceless”!
Dr. Moutu recently participated in the return of a boomerang to the indigenous community in Australia. At that event, he expressed his feelings in a wonderful way.
“Seems epical as a momentous occasion that also explains the nature of the boomerang to return to its origins as it always does.The airfoils and the angular momentum that are built into it enables the boomerang to catapult through historical chains of custodial cares and to eventually to return and settle back in the solemn requiems of ownership.”
The word for all of us to consider is repatriation. The definition, according to the dictionary is: the act or process of restoring or returning someone or something to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship : the act of repatriating or the state of being repatriated. This is a responsibility for us who have collected valuable cultural items. Not everything would be accepted but it certainly is worth a try. Many people believe that museums from Western or European countries are better locations. I disagree. Not all have the room nor can they display large collections. My feelings are if they have to go into a storage facility, it should be back on the soil of the country of origin. Let them sleep peacefully at home.
Thank you, Lynn, for the effort and cost of returning this amazing piece of history! Once it arrived in Port Moresby, it was wonderful to receive this message from Grace Vele.
“So yes! It got here in safe hands and I’m about to open the box to check, but everything is okay.Thanks for all the effort you put into caring and returning the gourd container, by looking at it; I strongly believe it has been well preserved and has return to its origin in one piece and in the same manner it left. Not every art dealer or collector would send back something very rare and scare back to its origin. Just letting you know that we will continue to preserve this rare piece for the rest of its life span here at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.”
As I wander through my home, I wonder just how many valuable artefacts I own. It would feel extremely rewarding to take them home to Papua New Guinea.