Osteobiographies: The Discovery, Interpretation and Repatriation of Human Remains - Chapter 12 - Repatriation in an African context

Elsevier, Osteobiographies, 2022, pages 177-192
Susan Pfeiffer

The repatriation of ancestral remains is a global issue. This chapter reviews examples of the ways that dialogues between curating institutions and concerned parties develop, with an emphasis on those that have been resolved, at least to some extent. The intrusive presence of colonial governance during the era of “race science,” the power relationships between incomers and Indigenes, and the disruption of community identities and organizational structures contributed to “bones in cupboards.” In response, modern government agencies and curating institutions have adjusted their policies and oversight structures. Some European repositories have built partnerships with African institutions, as in the case of Universite Libre de Bruxelles. Redress has been achieved through the transfer of human remains from European agencies to Africans, as in the cases of Sara Baartman and “El Negro.” The return of ancestors' skeletons held by University of Cape Town to family members has been enhanced by input from scientists. The chapter emphasizes the value of the involvement of scientists, and the employment of scientific methods for enriching the collective histories of past communities.