The Magic of Bureaucracy

Repatriation as Ceremony

in Museum Worlds
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As a curator who has been responsible for the return of Indigenous human remains from a UK museum, I take as a starting point for this article the dossier of paperwork and the administrative acts required to negotiate the decision about a claim and de-accession; to meet requirements for export, customs, and airline transport; and effect the return of human remains. The administrative actions involved in repatriation are forms of ritual, performances of corporate identity, and relations of power. Although museum staff and claimant groups have different agendas in this process, and the nature of their rituals is quite different, administrative and claimant rituals are interdependent across the repatriation process. These intersecting, powerful actions have the same overarching functions for each group: to articulate identities, core values, and structures of power; to open the possibility of new aspects of identity; and to articulate ongoing tensions between majority society and minority claimant groups.