A museum in Rouen, France is giving back some Maori skulls to be returned to New Zealand and buried. The giving back of indigenous peoples' stolen shit - especially human remains, bunch of grave-robbing fucks that European colonial powers so often were - is to be commended.
However, in comments there's a ridiculous "debate" going on about under what circumstances things should be returned to the cultures from which they were stolen, with an extremely strong "How dare they try to take back what we rightfully stole?" vibe going on. Several commenters were happy to 'splain how we can give the occasional skull or body back for reburial without having to give back the rest of their stuff:
I'm thinking the best compromise would be for France to rewrite their policy on returning artifacts to differentiate between human remains and other artifacts. ... That would let people honor their dead ancestors and treat/bury their remains respectfully without emptying France's museums and research collections.Um, why should we be against the emptying of France's museums of stolen artifacts? Because the museums have some kind of *right* to the artifacts of other cultures stolen during imperialist expansions, so long as they're not human remains? Fuck that noise. I get that the point of museums is to allow ordinary people to have exposure to cultures and experiences beyond their everyday reach. But you know? Technology is a very cool thing. We can make reproductions, have multimedia presentations, all kinds of interesting ways we can give people the experience of a thing from another culture, without having to have the actual stolen item in question there for people to look at.
Maybe a better compromise would be that human remains would be "loaned" back to their native nations under the conditions that they be buried in keeping with the traditional burial rites either of the dead's era or of the current norm for what would likely be their descendants and if the conditions weren't met (the bodies weren't reburied promptly or properly or maintained inadequately) then France would be able to claim them back. That would make it so that people that felt like their ancestors were being denied a proper burial or their culture was being disrespected by the remains being displayed would be able to be pleased, but the nations that just wanted money makers for their own museums and specimens for their own researchers wouldn't be encouraged to take back remains. [emphasis mine]Oh the horror! Those selfish cultures, wanting to be the ones to make money off the display of their own artifacts! The only thing worse than that, of course, is researchers wanting to be able to study their own ancient cultures! Apparently, if you are a formerly-colonized culture who had a bunch of your history stolen by zealous white archaeologists, the ONLY ACCEPTABLE REASON to want those things back is for reburial. Otherwise, France (and other colonial powers) is perfectly entitled to profit from and perform research studies on the things they rightfully stole, and to want those tourism dollars for your own economy is just selfish.
If we can teach children not to take things that aren't theirs, and tell them to give things back if they do succumb to temptation...why can't we act on these morals as adults, when it comes to the ancient treasures of whole other cultures?