Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Return of traditional tribal skulls to Indonesia

30 May 2018

Joint release

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
Minister for the Arts

His Excellency Mr Yohanes Kristiarto Soeryo Legowo
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
Canberra

The Australian Government has returned four culturally significant tribal skulls to the Indonesian Government at an event this afternoon in Canberra.

The valuable artefacts were handed over by Australian Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, to the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Australia, His Excellency Mr Yohanes Kristiarto Soeryo Legowo, at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia.

The traditionally decorated skulls were each presented in a special box crafted by expert conservators from the National Museum of Australia to ensure the safe transport of the historic artefacts.

Minister Mitch Fifield acknowledged the importance of the return of the cultural treasures.

'Australia and Indonesia have a deep understanding and mutual respect for the culture and heritage of our two countries, and a shared commitment to protect and preserve it,' Minister Fifield said.

'The Australian Government is pleased to return these culturally significant decorated skulls from the Dayak and Asmat people to Indonesia, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat the international illegal trade in cultural property.'

Ambassador Legowo said the return was testament to the close law enforcement and cultural ties between Indonesia and Australia.

'The return of cultural property is not only a vivid example of our best practice, but it also signifies that Indonesia and Australia indeed always attach great importance to the protection of cultural heritages,' Ambassador Legowo said.

'Hence, having noticed the growing global trends of illicit trafficking and selling of cultural property with many new forms in recent years, the return ceremony should also serve as an impetus for us to strengthen our cooperation to safeguard cultural treasures and to curb illicit activities of this kind.'

In many societies human remains were carefully preserved and displayed in cult houses or at sacred sites and used in elaborate ceremonies.

The Asmat people from West Papua decorated skulls with seeds and carved sea shell rings, while the Dayak people of Borneo decorated skulls with intricate engravings.

'We will return these pieces of Indonesian cultural property to their place of origin in Indonesia,' Ambassador Legowo said.

The ongoing work to prevent the illegal trade in human remains and cultural artefacts is undertaken in Australia under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

For more information visit: www.arts.gov.au/pmch.

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