Date & time
Final Presentation by PhD candidate Joanna Barrkman
The question of what significance ethnographic museum collections hold for source communities in the current era, particularly when collections sit on the edge of living memory, is explored through a case-study of the Baguia Collection and its virtual return to the Makasae people of Baguia Sub-district, Timor-Leste in 2014.
The Baguia Collection was acquired by Dr Alfred Bühler on behalf of the Museum der Kulturen Basel (MKB), Switzerland in 1935 using salvage ethnology methodologies. The collection now exists in Switzerland as a record of Bühler’s accomplishments and of Swiss ethnographic history, as well as a time capsule of Makasae heritage.
This research explores an initial phase of engagement between the residents of Baguia and the Baguia Collection. Makasae responses to this collection, which consists of over 700 material culture objects and 300 historical photos, raise issues pertinent to contemporary museology practice as it seeks to identify appropriate, shared custodianship arrangements with source communities. The research findings led support to proposals for the flexible, pro-technological access and return of museum collections to source communities.
I argue that the collection has shared heritage values and that the potential for shared custodianship arrangements will enhance the restitution of cultural knowledge and its transmission inter-generationally in Baguia while also providing the MKB with more updated and relevant information on their collection. My project demonstrates that access to digital images of the collection has enabled residents of Baguia to assert their cultural authority over the collection, to meet their own development agendas, and to animate the collection as a source of meta-cultural production to reinvigorate Makasae culture and identity.
Image: Domingas Guterres, a Makasae elder explains the significance of objects from the Baguia Collection to primary school students at EBF Haudere Primary School, Alawa Leten, Baguia Sub-district, 21 October 2014.