Paper long abstract:
Objects have the ability to evoke memories, generate a sense of connection with ancestors, and contain the knowledge associate with them. While restitution of objects to the community of origin is certainly important, it would not complete 'decolonisation'. As some recent heritage studies from Africa advocate, objects occupy only a segment of heritage. In other words, the value of the object is not a matter of the material preservation alone, but, rather, their associations to belief, knowledge, customs, ethics, wellbeing, and socioeconomic activities within the landscape(s) the community lives in. The decolonising of heritage requires a recognition of and research practices that foreground epistemic diversity, and allows the creation of narratives - around objects, places or landscapes - using different knowledge sets.
Archaeology was brought to Africa within the context of western colonisation. Material remains and objects from the past came to be under control of the colonial administrations and western archaeologists, which effectively separated them from the people who have historical, cultural, and ancestral relations to the landscapes, places and objects. The separation is not only the physical separation, taken away to western or national museums and denial of use and access; but also the separation from their knowledge and worldview when they were interpreted and narrated.
In Sudan, archaeology has long been focused on Nubia in northern Sudan. Many objects and monuments have been transported out of Nubia - to the capital Khartoum and western museums. Yet, Nubia has become centrally placed within a national historical discourse created in the lead-up to the independence in 1956. Perspectives from Nubian communities were largely absent in the discourse, and the management of the archaeological heritage placed under the remit of a Western-style antiquities organisation, within a national government framework.
This paper reflects upon the importance of collaboration between archaeologists and local people, as a way to decolonising archaeological practices, particularly the narrative of the past, based on the research and community programmes undertaken around an archaeological site (Amara West) in Sudanese Nubia, as a part of a British Museum research project. Storytelling and other programming around the past brought archaeologists and local people together, to learn from each other's knowledge and perspectives. Does this offer one model towards decolonisation, foregrounding the local people rather than nation states or academic specialists?
Decolonizing African heritage inside and outside the African continent [initiated by the University of Mainz, with Leiden University/Anthropology, University of Rwanda]