Kaurna cultural items returned from Germany after 184 years: InDaily

Four significant cultural items were today officially returned to the Kaurna people from a German museum where they had been held since 1840, at an Adelaide ceremony attended by Germany’s foreign minister.

Helen Karakulak

Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation Chairperson Mitzi Nam first welcomed the artefacts back to Australia in August 2023. Today, they’re returned in an on-Country ceremony. This photo: AIATSIS/via Facebook

In a ceremony at Pirltawardli (Possum Park) in North Adelaide this morning, the cultural heritage items were returned from the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, Germany.

The items are a kathawirri (sword), tantanaku (club or bark peeler), wirnta (spear), and wikatyi (net) which were sent to Germany in 1840 by Lutheran missionaries.

Senior Kaurna man Michael Kumatpi O’Brien applied on behalf of the Kaurna community in 2019 for the items to be returned, which initiated talks between the Kaurna people and Grassi Museum representatives.

The items arrived in Australia in August last year and were welcomed by Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC Chairperson, Mitzi Nam.

Nam placed leaves of the karrawirraparri (River Red Gum) to welcome the items home when they first arrived in Australia in August 2023. This photo: AIATSIS/via Facebook

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) temporarily stored and cared for the four artefacts from August until their return to the Kaurna people today.

Nam and Emma Gollan, the secretary of the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, thanked the German Government and Grassi Museum for “being so willing and open” to the return process and celebrating with them.

“These items may no longer be used in the day-to-day lives of the living Kaurna people, but they are part of our story, our culture and we share a deep and significant connection with them,” they said.

“This achievement, this homecoming, is hopefully only the beginning of those pieces of our culture and heritage coming back to Kaurna land. Coming home.”

Anna Baerbock is the first German foreign minister to visit Australia and New Zealand in 13 years. Photo: DPA/via AAP

Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock attended the return event, which is the first official return of cultural assets from Europe to Australia.

Baerbock said she was “honoured” to witness the return ceremony.

“All people should have access to their cultural heritage and be able to pass it on to their children and grandchildren,” she said.

“This idea is finally guiding us in Germany in our handling of human remains and artefacts in German collections – in a responsible manner and in close coordination with the respective countries and communities of origin.

 “This is also an expression of the active engagement of the German government to come to terms with our colonial past.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong welcomed Baerbock to Adelaide, with the visit marking Australia and Germany’s cultural collaboration.

“The return of cultural heritage items is a crucial part of our country’s ongoing journey of reconciliation, it promotes healing and justice,” Wong said.

“After almost 200 years, the return of these sacred items honours the voices and heritage of the Kaurna People, bringing dignity and respect to the Traditional Custodians of this land and their ancestors.”

The four items will be temporarily stored and cared for at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

AIATSIS is in ongoing conversation with the German government about returning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander materials.

They lead the federal government’s Return of Cultural Heritage program which facilitates the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage materials from overseas governments, collecting institutions and private collectors.

In November last year, Warlpiri men and AIATSIS staff gathered at the SA Museum to welcome a collection of sacred objects from the United States. This included 60-year-old photos, drawings and men’s sacred ceremonial objects from Yuendumu in the Northern Territory.

Jamie Jungaryyi Hampton, Robin Japanangka Granites, Dr Iain G. Johnston (AIATSIS), Darren Jakamarra Talbot, Ned Jampitjinpa Hargraves, Lazarus Jangala Hargraves, Simon Japangardi Fisher, Freddie Japanangka Williams, Sebastian Jampitjinpa Watson, Curtly Jungaryyi Hampton, Warren Japanangka Williams, Mike Jungaryyi Doolan, Derek Japangardi Williams and Karl Japaltjarri Hampton – Photo: J Hampton, Warlpiri Project 2023/via AIATSIS

Read the article on the INDaily website here