MAN to hold Human Remains Management and Policy Development in Southern Africa Workshop

Musa Zimunya

WINDHOEK, Mar. 19 – The Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) will conduct a Regional workshop on Human Remains Management and Policy Development that will focus on the Southern African region next week at the University of Namibia (UNAM)

The workshop is part of a three-year project initiated by the Commonwealth Association of Museums and is funded by the International Council of Museums and the Commonwealth Association of Museums.

It is expected that the keynote address will be delivered by Dr Rudo Sithole, the Executive Director of the African Council of Museums (AFRICOM) and officially opened by Ms Veno Kauaria, the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.

“Museums in Southern Africa are spaces where the most precious objects reflecting our cultural heritage and history are preserved and displayed. Archaeology departments have also dug up the remains of ancient settlements, including the remains of their inhabitants and used this as evidence to help us reconstruct the early history of Africa,” read a statement from MAN, adding that remains have been carbon-dated to hundreds, if not thousands of years old.

“However, during the colonial period museums were also involved in the unethical collection of human remains. Museums in South Africa were involved in the collection of freshly buried bodies without the consent of families. The motivation for this was a racist approach to science that sought to obtain `specimens’ of different ethnic types.”

Subsequently, efforts were made to obtain bodies of people who hail from the San and Nama communities.

Museums in South Africa and Europe that were involved in the unethical `research’ have been pressured to return remains to their countries and communities of origin.

The workshop, however, will not focus on the campaign for the repatriation of human remains, but will create
a space for a discussion about the way in which Southern African Museums should deal with human remains.

Among other issues, it will seek to address local and international codes of ethics for museums, as well as provide an opportunity to share experiences and challenges that may or may not have marred the historical context such entities represent.

Several discourses during the workshop will touch on sensitive questions such as: If or should human remains ever be displayed in museums; Can research on human remains in museums have any scientific value; How should a museum decide who are the descendants of a particular set of human remains; What process of consultation should a museum hold to decide the fate of human remains; and if “Are there international guidelines or national laws in different countries that are useful?” –

File Photo:The Living Culture Foundation of Namibia