TOUGH TALK # 5: Should colonial objects in museums be returned?


Giving a brief background of the repatriation of Naga ancestral human remains from the Pitt Rivers Museum to the Naga ancestral homeland, Naga Anthropologist, Dolly Kikon on Tuesday evening said that the first thing they worked together among the Naga team was “trust building” and how is it that as the Naga team along with the curators at the Museum, they are able to tell a long-lasting story on colonisation.

Throughout the pandemic, she said, they went to Naga elders and intergenerational groups to learn from them what it is that they would like to see about the ancestral remains. She was speaking at the “Tough Talk #5: Should Colonial Objects in Museums be Returned?” as one of the speakers organised by the South Asia Centre LSE on the topic “Should objects/artefacts in museums across the world, acquired via colonisation of other countries, be returned to the countries of origin?”

Dolly Kikon is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology & Development Studies, University of Melbourne, and is part of the Recover, Restore, and Decolonise (RRaD) team to initiate the repatriation of Naga ancestral human remains from the Pitt Rivers Museum to the Naga ancestral homeland, discussed in ‘The Unfinished Business of Colonialism: Naga Ancestral Remains and the Healing of the Land’ (2022).

The other speakers were Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology (University of Oxford), Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), and Fellow, St Cross College, University of Oxford and author of ‘The British Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution’ (2020); Adewala Maja-Pearce, a writer, journalist and literary critic, whose review essay ‘Strewn with Loot’ (2021) engages with the complex question of cultural restitution; and Kavita Singh, Professor in the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and co-editor of ‘No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia’ (2015), amongst others.

Currently in the second phase of the process, Dolly Kikon further highlighted that as part of the Recover, Restore and Decolonise (RRaD), “we wanted to make sure from the beginning that this was community-led.” Pointing out that some remains are so clearly defined and categorised with names and villages that they can trace their grandchildren, she further highlighted that “we are going to schools, colleges, communities, having conversations with the members of the church” as part of phase two.

In their current process of engaging with the public and listening to them, she also pointed out that in indigenous communities, it requires a lot of listening. The team had also decided not to call this process a “project” because, she explained, “we felt that naming our initiative of repatriation as a project is also quite at times falling into the colonial framework.”

Kikon said she was really inspired and moved by how young Naga people are coming on board saying they want to learn more, and offering what they can do to be part of the process.

“This process should also be a transformative one for the Naga people first,” she further asserted while highlighting that “the second thing is focussing on nurturing one another and making sure that all the conversations happening is among the Naga ancestral homes.”

For once, she added, “I am so happy that it’s actually the Naga people, and the young people who have authority and the voice to talk about this process with clarity.” She also informed that her colleague, Dr Arkotong Longkumer as part of the team initiative is creating a comic book for Naga school children.

The Tough Talk #5 was chaired by Dr Nilanjan Sarkar, Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.

First published in The Morung Express on September 29 2022

About the Author


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recover, Restore and Decolonise


The Recover, Restore and Decolonise (RRaD) contains information and resources relating to the history and effects of the removal and repatriation of Naga Ancestral Remains. RRaD is a website that is constantly being developed and added to. Whilst we aim to only present information on this website that is appropriate for a public space, accurate and up to date, we would like to acknowledge that there are many gaps in the information shared which comes from both the historic record and our own knowledge. Please get in touch at [email protected] or any of our social media handles in our contact page, if you would like to share any thoughts or questions with us regarding repatriation, and/or if you have any comments, queries or suggestions on how we can make this website as useful and usable as possible.

While the Recover, Restore and Decolonise (RRaD) team (including all partner organisations) have used all reasonable endeavours to ensure the information on this site is as accurate as possible, it gives no warranty or guarantee that the material, information or publication made accessible is accurate, complete, current, or fit for any use whatsoever. No reliance should be made by a user of the material, information or publication accessed via this site.

The RRaD team (including all partner organisations) accepts no liability or responsibility for any loss or damage whatsoever suffered as a result of direct or indirect use or application of any material, publication or information made accessible via the website or any of our social media handles.

The RRaD Website provides links to companies/organisations and information external to the RRaD Website. In providing such links, the RRaD team and all partner organisations do not accept responsibility for, or endorse the content or condition of, any linked site. The RRaD team (including all partner organisations) reserves the right to vary the material, information or publication on this web site without notice.


Images used in the website have been used with permission from the creators.

Responsible Use

The purpose of this website is to create widespread awareness about the process of repatriation and the profound impact of colonization on Naga people. Please be warned that some of the information shared here may be distressing as they reference a problematic part of history when our ancestors were referred to as ‘savages’ and ‘inferior.’ There will also be stories of our ancestors who have passed away and their remains which were taken, researched on and displayed without consent by colonizers. We request that you take the information shared here with the gravity it deserves, and we believe that you will honour our guidelines of responsible use. 

  • Please treat the information with care and sensitivity.
  • Share and reflect on the stories to assist healing and reconciliation.
  • Support and engage in the process of repatriation of our ancestral remains.
  • Respect the knowledge shared by community members and their wishes on how it should be shared.