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Native Americans ask museum to return scalps

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Native Americans ask museum to return scalps
One of the scalps in question. Photo: DPA
15:10 CET+01:00
Members of a Native American tribe are working with the help of United States diplomats in Germany to try get a number of scalps returned to them from a Wild West museum in Eastern Germany.

The Karl May museum in Radebeul near Dresden has at least one scalp on display and an unknown number in storage.

So far the tribe's appeals for the remains to be returned have had no effect on managers of the museum dedicated to the work of May. He was the German author whose adventure books featuring Winnetou and Old Shatterhand shaped the Wild West in German imaginations from the late 1800s onwards.

The Ojibwa Tribe has written to the museum asking for the scalps to be returned. One on display is decorated with beads and bears a full braid of hair.

Cecil Pavlat, cultural repatriation specialist for the Ojibwe Nation told Deutsche Welle, "It's part of that human being. It'd be no different to cutting a hand off, or an arm and displaying that - it's just not culturally appropriate or even acceptable by most ethnic groups, whether they're Native Americans or not."

Museum director Claudia Kaulfuß said she could not understand the fuss. "The scalps have been in our depot for years," she said.

"We show the history of the Indians and their culture - scalping was part of it as a religious ritual."

She said the museum had only ever received praise from Native Americans who had visited and left comments in the guestbook.

But Pavlat told Deutsche Welle the display was also misrepresentative of Native American culture. "That's the way we view it, as ancestral remains, even speaking the word 'scalps' - it creeps me out.

"Some say that this was a practice created by our people. History tells us that this has been practiced throughout history in other places, including Europe."

The scalps were bought in 1904 from the Ojibwa Tribe for three bottles of booze and $1,100 by artist Ernst Tobis, who used the name Patty Frank. It was his collection of objects which formed the museum in 1928.

The US Cultural Attaché sent a representative to the museum recently to relay the tribe's concerns about the artefacts, but was told the museum would respond only to direct contact with the Native Americans themselves. 

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