Outi Pieski‘s text from the opening of the exhibition The 47 Most Wanted Foremothers.
“The guiding drumming is not reaching into our ears from the museum cellars. We cannot hear our ancestors whispering under the earth because their heads are stolen. How can we relearn the healthy way of living when we are missing guidance from our ancestors? The museum belongings are our dictionaries, our guiding books for how to live as human beings in reciprocity with nature.
My visit to the British Museum collection was in the year 2018 together with researcher Eeva-Kristiina Nylander (formerly Harlin) when we went to visit the old Sámi women’s hat called ládjogahpir as a part of our interdisciplinary rematriation project Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother’s Hat of Pride. One result of this project is this work, 47 Most Wanted Foremothers, which is an inventory of most of all known 60 ládjogahpirs in European museums. One of them lies in the British Museum cellars.
I felt extremely happy and privileged to be able to enter this hidden world of treasures. But at the same time, I felt deep sorrow and anxiety in my chest. Researching the ládjogahpir hat was for me a long-awaited visit to meet the foremother. At the same time when I felt a deep warmhearted connection with the belonging, I got a sharp feeling of alienation towards my ancestors, after so many breaks and oblivion the colonial past has made between us. I was sorry for myself, not having been capable of understanding all the messages the foremother was telling me, throughout the belonging. And sorry for the dearest foremother not being able to take part in her descendants’ everyday life.
Every nation has a right for its own history. The hidden and non-spoken Sámi history has made us partly lose our memory, and therefore has endangered our ability to build our society towards the future. The Sámi belongings are scattered around the European museums and only a small number can be publicly displayed when the rest are lying in cellars. Those old objects are really rare and true treasures from our early ancestors. This means that to a large extent today’s Sámi societies need to live without access to their cultural heritage.
Decolonisation is a question of real acts, questions of land and water. So is repatriation a real act, not a symbol or a metaphor. In some museums like in the Finnish National Museum and in The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History the repatriation of Sámi belongings is running. Many European museums, like the British Museum, should follow this path that is already halfway walked. There is a big need to indigenise museums on many levels.
Rematriation starts from where repatriation does not reach. Rematriation is the resocialization of Sámi belongings, an act to make the belongings become a part of the living Sámi society, as researcher Eeva-Kristiina Nylander describes it. The belongings are forwarding messages across generations and actors in re-remembering, re-educating and communal healing. The project Foremother’s Hat of Pride is an example of the rematriation process, where we can rebuild our Sámi societies by working collectively with our ancestral belongings. There is a huge need for this kind of healing and learning processes in Sápmi. That is why we need to get our belongings from museum cellars back home to Sápmi. This powerful matriarchal group of foremothers are ready to return back home.”
Photo: Jamie Smith