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Repatriation of Naga ancestral human remains dialogues continue

Nagaland News

DIMAPUR, DECEMBER 6: As Naga scholars, Dr Dolly Kikon and Dr Arkotong Longkumer continue to engage in dialogues on repatriation of Naga ancestral human remains, largely focused on the remains housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England, there, expectedly doesn’t seem to be unanimity among the people they had conversations with and according to Longkumer, there aren’t any immediate answers.
Speaking during “A Conversation on Repatriation: Histories of Loss and Renewal of Hope” as part of The Morung Lecture, an initiative of The Morung Express in partnership with Sinai Ministry, Longkumer said that while there are a number of models in the world, the process in the Naga context needs to be a Naga one and it must be remembered that they are dealing with human remains and not objects and the process is going to be a long one.
Reflecting on Naga history, he said that there are stories that haven’t been spoken much, forming an alternate history of the Nagas other than the documented colonial one that needs to be told. He argued that while people might claim that in the absence of elders the history cannot be told, it needs to be understood that history can have gaps and need not be a continuous process.
The repatriation, he said, is not about closing the past but understanding the past and thinking about the future.
Tetso College Principal, Hewasa L Khing made the observation that the subject of repatriation has been discussed there and has elicited a variety of responses, particularly from the younger generation who are currently processing their past, the reality of colonisation and the history of their own identity.
Khing said that the conversation about repatriation has gotten students thinking about their ancestors’ lives and the lasting effects of colonialism, which most of them have only learned about from books or their grandfathers’ stories. As a result, some students have begun projects exploring the meaning and definition of traditional ornaments and the conversation has kicked off a movement.
Kikrulhounyu Paphino, Curator of Art, State Museum, Nagaland, remarked that the potential repatriation needs to be rooted to the truth and goes deeper than the items to the stories of how they found their way to the museums outside and cited that more about repatriation, it is about human rights and mentioned that it might not be right to make it about race and ethnicity.
Later, responding to a question by Dr Dolly Kikon, Paphino said that the Government needs to follow a hierarchical structure when it comes to decision making and it would therefore be practical to approach the process through an independent agency and common mind. He added that the issue of repatriation has been framed in such a way that it has become about ethnicity.
Longkumer, responding to questions of Kikon on how a Naga repatriation looks like and how the Nagas can take ownership of their history, said that there is a need to disrupt the colonial narrative, which is so persuasive that people feel there is only one narrative.
He said that it doesn’t feel right to have their ancestors locked up in cabinets in museums away from their homeland and the repatriation would give a sense of family to their descendents and the process would help learn more about the history of the Nagas.
According to him, while conflicting religious arguments may appear relating to their proper closure after the end of the process, religion and tradition should go hand in hand and people will find a way to innovate.
Responding to Kikon’s question about what would an indigenous curriculum look like in the context of Nagas and what is being taught to the students, what is missing and what is hidden, Khing said that while they need to follow the curriculums of the Nagaland University, as educators, they can go beyond that and shared that the students and the college are engaged in documenting folklores and trying to create a book of glossary incorporating different languages spoken by the Naga tribes.
Delivering the concluding remarks, proprietor of The Morung Express, Akum Longchari said that Nagas need to think how they should react to the invitation of the Pitt Rivers Museum about what to do with the human remains and urged them to not be too technical as that might cause them to miss the bigger picture.
Longchari added that Nagas are in the process of getting their own stories and the process of repatriation should be seen as a process of democratizing the truth for a future that is inclusive and not a past where there were too many divisions.
During the event, a website with the domain was also launched as part of the attempt to reach out to the people and engage on the issue.
(Page News Service)