Whatever comes to mind: Museums keep artifacts from Zuni tribe

Whatever Comes To MindBy George Flynn | Opinions Editor

I love visual art. I love all of the different mediums. I love flipping through Francesca Woodman’s black and white photography books and admiring her eccentric style. I love visiting museums and viewing sculptures of Rodin and Michelangelo from every angle. I love looking at Botticelli and Degas paintings up close and personal. However, my favorite things to view in any museum I visit, are the historical artifacts.

I find it incredibly enticing to view artifacts that once had purpose and were utilized by civilizations such as the Roman and Ottoman Empire. However, many of these artifacts are from foreign places and were moved to metropolitan museums. Should these artifacts be moved from their original homes to museums across the globe? And a bigger question, do descendants of these civilizations have the right to ask for their artifacts back?

Octavius Seowtewa believes he  and the Zuni tribe have the right to claim back what is rightfully theirs.

According to Rachel Donadio’s article in The New York Times, Seowtewa is a member of the Native American Zuni tribe, and he among other members of the Zuni tribe are asking for their sacred artifacts back.

“Since 1978, the Zuni have been more proactive than other Native American tribes in reclaiming ceremonial objects: in their case, more than 100 Ahayuda, also called war gods, from institutions and collections in the United States,” Donadio said.

According to the same article, the Zuni have taken full advantage of the “federal legislation that requires all United States institutions to return objects considered sacred by Native Americans to individual tribes or risk losing federal funding.”

Luckily, the museums in the United States have followed through and returned the artifacts to the Zuni tribe, though this has not worked in other places.

Unfortunately for Seowtewa and the Zuni tribe, these laws do not apply to European museums. Seowtewa struck out at museums such as the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and the Ethnological Museum in Berlin.

It is excellent that the Zuni tribe has American law on their side in receiving sacred artifacts, however do they have the right to take back what has been given to  foreign museums to display for the public to see? I think so.

The Zuni in particular deserve to have their Ahayuda, especially since according to NYT that is all they are asking for. They do not want any other Zuni artifacts like beads or pottery. The Ahayuda have a very special place in Zuni culture.

According to the article, “each year, on the winter solstice, the Zuni make two Ahayuda to protect the tribe from harm and to promote fertility.”

Along with the ceremony, it seems that the only individuals allowed to handle the artifacts are the Bow priests. According to Seowtewa, since these artifacts are only allowed to be touched by the priests, it means that these Ahayuda were taken from the lands illegally.

If what Seowtewa says is true that the Ahuyuda that were sold to museums as cultural art displays and tourist attraction were stolen, then these artifacts should be rightfully placed back in the hands of the Zuni tribe, even if the Ahuyuda artifacts have occupied museum walls for an extended period of time.

The Zuni tribe deserves to have their artifacts back. They are only asking for Ahayuda back because it has an extreme importance to them.

Hopefully, Seowtewa reaches his goals and returns the artifacts to his people. Imagining losing something of importance and not being able to retrieve it seems atrocious to me. If the Zuni tribe are only asking to have back what is rightfully theirs, then these museums should cough up what they took from them without any complaints.

George Flynn is a senior English major and can be reached at flynng@duq.edu.

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