A group of Nagas is leading India’s first overseas ancestral remains repatriation efforts

Comes after Pitt Rivers Museum in England engaged in an “ethical review” of their permanent displays, with a bid to “decolonise” their collections

On September 14, 2020, the Pitt Rivers Museum in England’s Oxford made a landmark announcement. In a post-pandemic overhaul of its collection, the iconic museum — one of the best-known in the world for anthropology, ethnography and archaeology—would take its collection of “human remains” and other “insensitive” exhibits off display.

These items, sourced during the expansion of the British Empire, played into stereotypical thinking about cultures across the globe as “savage” or “primitive”, said the museum’s director, Laura Van Broekhoven. It was time for them to be removed, and possibly repatriated to their rightful homes.

In another continent, Naga researcher and anthropologist Dolly Kikon read the news with a sense of urgency. Hours later, Kikon, a Lotha Naga from Dimapur, and now a professor in the University of Melbourne, was drafting an email to Broekhoven. She cut to the chase: could the ancestral Naga human remains, displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum for more than 100 years, be returned to her people back home?

The rest is likely to become history. Kikon’s request has spawned a community-led initiative among the Nagas to bring their ancestral remains home. It is the first such effort to repatriate ancestral human remains of an indigenous community in India, possibly even South Asia.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in April 2023. Full article here.

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