Arguments for and against Museums retaining ownership of artifacts

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1. Examine the argument for and against museums retaining ownership of artifacts now claimed by other groups of people as part of their cultural identity. Use some concrete examples to illustrate your points.

Argument for retaining the ownership

The museums having most of the artifacts could have acquired them from different parts of the world. Some of the artifacts were not acquired in the best way though they should be retained in these museums. We have the case of the bronze artifacts made by the Benin people which are the present Nigeria in West Africa. Their artifacts were made of brass, copper and ivory. They represented all aspects of life in the Benin kingdom. For instance, marbles were made to represent aspects of life like: hunting, leadership, relationships between people in the kingdom, the army, the animals, the courts and the battle fields. With the declaration of the sphere of influence, Britain realized that the artifacts were very unique and devised ways of carrying the artworks with them to London. They realized that human sacrifice was part of these artifacts and to stop the practice, they had to execute the king who was called Oba and loot the town before carrying the artifacts as a way of civilizing people. The artifacts were taken to Europe and spread all over through selling and the remaining were sold in America. Everyone was puzzled by the quality of Art work western world had seen delivered from Africa. A good case is the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. Today, it holds that as the finest and most comprehensive art work in the world from Benin. Few artifacts had remained in Nigeria though the British donated a few others back to Nigeria. Retaining these marbles by the museums has been good because the European realized that though they had always despised Africans, at the sixteenth century there was something they managed to beat them at. Since then, great European artists the likes of Picasso had something to emulate. The whites learnt to respect the great artists of Benin out of the art work they had produced till today since the marbles have remained being treasures in the museums world-wide.

Artifacts should remain in the museums since being there they are the unique things that keep people from different backgrounds going to view them. They learn a lot about the natives from which such artifacts were archeologically collected from. This is helpful to both the community people and people from other communities (Kersel, 2015, pp.42). The source community is also likely to miss some data about the community which they acquire in museums. Similarly if the artifacts were to be returned to the cultural group which identify with them, they may no longer be safe. This is because some of the communities who made these art works may be ignorant about the value of the artifacts while in the community. In such a case, if they therefore get a person interested in paying a good amount for the marbles, some of these custodians of community heritage might end up selling them. Probably the buyer has intentions of just beautifying his house. That will lead to erosion of cultural heritage. Others while they are not in the secure watch guard like in museum may be stolen by people from within the community or from away but that is not easy to take place while in the museums.     

Argument against retaining ownership

Artifacts in the museum are no longer being displayed in the museum for people to have a view and understand different cultural heritage. For several years now, some artifacts are no longer on the shelves of the museums for people to view. For instance there is a wooden face mask that had been crafted by native people of North America which had Iroquois face masks. There are also the masks and rattles made by the native Coast Salish people of Pacific Northwest British Columbia. They were taken to restricted areas of the National Museum.  In Australia being a good example only people of certain are able to view those artifacts. Members of these tribes are claiming to do this as a result of safeguarding the indigenous people be self-determined and also for decolonization purposes. The museums’ team reasons that the source tribe should control the interpretation of the past through talking about the artifacts. The museum management believes that this will create a long term relationship with the source community.  The control in this case is how the artifacts are presented, understood and who are supposed to view them.

All these things which are happening are political whereby campaigners are using this strategy to gain favor from the source community which is their voters in exchange with control of the artifacts in museums. Like in the case of Parthenon marbles, Turkey and Greece are being impelled by politicians to see themselves as the owners of these historical artifacts. They are the arbitrators of the artifacts and can determine everything pertaining them. These people who came up with this move had a good intention but may term demeaning. It is a poor historical practice as it is promoting ethnicity and racism. For instance if a certain native people of America have the control of the artifacts in the museum, it means that the white people will be having access to view but the black people whose artifacts can only be viewed in Africa will have nothing despite the fact that most of them are citizens of America by birth because of factors like slave trade (Baker & Huber, 2015, pp.112). These people were also taxed while the nation’s museum was being built but they cannot view the heritage of where they forced to be born at. This has deemed historical information about the natives culturally and is no longer suitable to be discussed in the museums.       

In conclusion to this argument, the museums should retain the artifacts but be carefully not to allow political influences determine the control of who should view or who should not view the artifacts and where that should take place.

2. Using your understanding of post colonialism, discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the context of a movie you are familiar with.

The writer has chosen to use Hotel Rwanda which is a British, Italian and South African movie of 2004 directed by Roger Ebert. It was showing the tension between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda massacre. In fact, it was genocide with the Hutu people killing the Tutsi. Paul Ruesabagina a Hutu hotel manager hides 1000 Tutsi refugees in the hotel for protection against the Hutu militia (Kim, 2017, pp31). Colonialists had used the popular method of ruling of divide and rule. Post colonialism in this was a weakness. The Belgians in Rwanda placed the Tutsi being powerful during colonization. They had used the Tutsi in oppressing the Hutu. This factor had created an ill feeling in the Hutu about the Tutsi. In postcolonial era, Belgians empowered the Hutu. This meant that at the time of the massacre, the Hutu were very strong since most positions had been given to them after colonization. The government is for that matter reinforcing the Hutu militia against the Tutsi guerillas. The world is silent about the matter and even the invention of the UN in the situation does not seem like it will end the war. In fact, the white who were living in Rwanda are evacuated but the Africans are left to kill themselves if they are able to.

The other problem associated with post colonialism as brought out in the movie is the issue of armament and fighting techniques. For instance, the two forces the Hutu militia and the guerilla Tutsi makes the two groups of people have merciless means of settling disputes. They did not mind about the vulnerable members of the society like the children and women. In short they brutally murdered approximately one million people who were fellow country’s people divided by ethnic grounds in a period of three months’ time. They forces had been in the Belgian military team fighting different wars for the Belgian. For instance, they had been involved in the Second World War and they had been given skills in warfare and weapon use. This is the ground that the soldiers based the war in. If they had never been colonized, they would have got the skills to fight their country men like that. Post colonialism had also made people in human. This is why the act of racism is seen the movie. At the moment the white people were in the war zone, the issue was all over the media. Colonization of Rwanda made the Africans seem less human. This is why once the Belgians are out of the danger zone nothing more about massacre and Rwanda is heard in the media any more till later on when the damage has already been done. It is as though these people including the Belgians who had run away knowing that they had not left a peaceful situation. However, they did nothing about the situation despite the fact that they could have sent reinforcement from Europe if they had wanted to do so. This is because they had invested in the country but it was like they did not care about that. The situation seemed like they were waiting for the genocide to take place so that they could have it as news. They had also realized that the Militias and guerillas were not interested in the destruction of property but generally in wiping off the Tutsi tribe.  

The movie brings strength of the post colonialism through Resesabagina. He has acquired western civilization and does not ethically behave like the tribal native Africans. He has western Education and is therefore a respectable manager in a 4 star Hotel Des Milles Collines (De Andreotti, 2014, pp. 21). He had been married to a Tutsi woman called Tatiana Rusesabagina. He is aware that no work mate in the hotel is likely to disagree with what is going to decide. Rusesabagina had hoped that the innocent civilians were not going to be involved in the massacre which been initially between the guerilla Tutsi force and the militia Hutu force. He got disappointed since especially the militia was not selective in the warfare. After the UN failure to stop the two forces war, it develops into Tutsi genocide. The population of the Tutsi is reducing as a matter of hours. Paul tries his level best to get his first family for safety especially his wife who is at a high risk. The situation is bad in Rwanda people are being injured and killed every minute. Paul knows that the hotel in the first place is a safe place since it was expected to be neutral. The hotel had been serving the esteemed members of Rwanda especially the whites. The militias could not have expected that there were Tutsis in there. This becomes the second strength of the post colonialism. The hotel is a modern facility that is used to save many people from the jaws of death through the Hutu sword. After Paul saving his family in the hotel, he makes it open for any other civilian willing to seek refuge to secretly get into the hotel whether Tutsi or Hutu. Luckily, Paul got reinforcement from Colonel Oliver who has been in the peacekeeping team of the United Nations with Canadian nationality. He is also aided by Pat Archer who has been in the Red Cross. They help tend to the injured people. They give Paul a hand in getting as many people into the hotel and then they help them get out of the country. There are field journalists like Jack Daglish putting all effort to help bring into the light the issue of the genocide through the mass media.

In conclusion, according to the movie Hotel Rwanda, colonialism had caused more harm than good. It is difficult to undo what is already done but at least people should be wise not to be influence by external forces act against country men.


Baker, S. and Huber, A., 2015. Saving “rubbish”: Preserving popular music’s material culture in amateur archives and museums. Sites of Popular Music Heritage: Memories, Histories, Places, pp.112-124.

De Andreotti, V.O., 2014. Soft versus critical global citizenship education. In Development education in policy and practice(pp. 21-31). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Kersel, M.M., 2015. Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies, 3(1), pp.42-54.  

Kim, H., 2017. IMAGES OF AFRICA. Teaching Social Studies: A Methods Book for Methods Teachers, p.31.

November 13, 2023


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