WESTERN CURATORS SAY NO TO ARTIFACT REPATRIATION

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 17) - A group of leading European and US museums has issued a declaration opposing the repatriation of cultural artifacts seized during colonial rule or by methods nowadays considered unethical.

The museums argue that they serve not just the citizens of one country, but also the people of every nation, and their role in promoting culture outweighs the desire by individual countries or racial groups for their return

Tonga's national center wants several sacred items associated with the Tui Tonga to come back to the country eventually but only when they have a temperature and humidity controlled center to display them properly.

The Director of the Fiji Museum in Suva, Sagale Buadromo says from her perspective it's best if the cultural artifacts stay in western museums where they can be looked after properly.

"We're not really keen on getting things back. We have no space to put in extra artifacts and our storerooms are just overstocked and where we store it is actually damaging the artifacts themselves. So I think it's okay with what they've taken. So long as we can have access either through Internet or ready access it so that our people can actually research or find out more about their people, their culture."

United States and European museums say they are concerned about keeping these cultural artifacts preserved in proper humidity and temperature controlled conditions.

Buadromo says that from an education point of view a lot of the islanders now are educated from a Western point of view and are interested in seeing these cultural artifacts in museums in the Pacific.

Meanwhile Dr. Robin Hearst of Museum Victoria in Melbourne says it's important that countries have access to their cultural heritage, and his institution has already taken some steps in that direction.

"We're certainly working actively with the Fijian Museum to give them access to images and information about the collection that we hold. I mean strangely enough the collections that we've held are in much better condition than the ones that did remain in Fiji and they're really quite grateful for that."

"And we are happy to work with these communities and we also work with the islanders who are actually residents say in Melbourne. And we actively work with them to present their culture at the museum here. So we're interested in people getting access to the culture and at the moment who holds it does not seem to be an issue."

Hearst adds that it doesn't seem that there's a big push on in the Pacific for a wholesale repatriation of these cultural artifacts.

"No that I think is exactly the case. I mean we've had discussions with the Solomon Islands, with Vanuatu and Fiji. And in all of these cases for all sorts of reasons, whether it's sort of stability of the society there or whether it's about not having the climate control storage et cetera. They're happy to work with us to have access when they want the information but quite happy to keep the material with us."

December 17, 2002

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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