The Bridge is a new Mummy Stories project introducing individuals around the world whose professional or personal life intersects with the question of the ethics of human remains in museums. We've asked them to share one word, one initiative, one approach and one sentence with us. Let's discover what they are sharing and let's bridge the gap in the conversation!
E kore e hekeheke, he kākano rangatira – a noble heritage will never perish. This whakataukī (a proverb) resonates with the notion that we should respect the heritage, especially that which was left to us from the past, in a manner that allows it to be passed through us as the present generation to those that will come in the future. Such an approach is especially needed towards human remains, and even more so for those from a context like ancient Egypt that has been objectified by modern colonial and (mostly) Eurocentric cultures to remove the original and intended context.
Tāngata - people
Museums Aotearoa have developed an approach to all koiwi tangata/human remains in Aotearoa New Zealand that incorporates all human remains, regardless of origin or cultural context, that are held in museums in this country, to be treated with the same respect. This is a more appropriate way of treating all human remains with a humane approach, to provide better guidance for their care and to de-objectify them, giving them back a dignity that has been taken through a scientific undertaking towards their remains.
We need to let go of the word ‘mummy’. Mummified human remains fit a better understanding and respect for the human remains we engage with, if we choose to do so. We can elevate our approach through better terminology and its application.
He aha te mea nui o tea o? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata – what is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
Dr Caleb R. Hamilton (Ngāti Raukawa te au ki te Tonga, Kāi Tahu) is a Aporei Mātai (Principal Anaylst) at Te Puni Kōkiri and was Pou Matua Taonga Tuku Iho (Principal Advisor Heritage) at the Department of Conservation. He is a Research Associate at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, the University of Auckland. He earned his PhD in archaeology and Egyptology from Monash University and his MA, BA Hons and LLB from Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland. He has published on the Early Dynastic period, early Egyptian kingship, and the Western Desert and upcoming on Egyptian mummified remains in museums in Aotearoa.