Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Knowledge is Power

It's been a month i haven't updated my blog. Uni has been commencing last month and that means i will be busy. Since 20th i have been in Sydney having holiday. Well, sort of. Although i've managed to see some interesting parts of Sydney, i can't take my fingers away from my keyboard as several essays are waiting to finish. So juggling between holiday and essays is difficult. I am happy to see Sydney again, nevertheless.

If Australians were asked one thing about the link between Australia and Sweden, we might have IKEA as an answer. Not really surprising if this Sweden gigantic furniture company is the most likely answer as many Aussies may have IKEA products in their houses and would like to spend their weekends to do window shopping at IKEA.

If they are told that there is a connection between Aborigin and Sweden, they may scoff this information or make a good laugh at it. The link between Aborigin and Brits are very logical as the relationship between them made this country came into being. But with Sweden? I think I have to give them a kilogram of weed to eventually make people believe what I say.

One connection between Sweden and Aborigin people in Australia lies in one scientist called Eric Mjöberg. With several colleagues, he led an expedition to Australia in the early 1900s. Initially, Mjöberg and his friends were interested in collecting insects, plants and other animals. Their encounters with indigenous people in Kimberly, Western Australia, have shifted their objectives away from collecting animals and plants to indigenous people. At that time, virus of Darwinism had spread out endemically and Mjöberg was no immune from this. He thought that Aborigine in Australia was an answer to the missing link.

What happened next was rather disturbingly interesting. Mjöberg began to collect Aboriginal remains and might have hoped that these remains would be useful for scientific reason.

More than 90 years later, these remains were returned to Australia by the museum in Sweden that has been keeping the collection of Mjöberg’s remains. Apparently, these bones haven’t been studied and once Mjöberg had to sell them out when he went bankrupt.

Here I am not merely telling the connection between Sweden and Australia. The crux of this posting lies on the function of science for human beings. Since Enlightenment, science has been enjoying a great victory over any other way of gaining knowledge and discovering the truth. Yet, what is more interesting in this story was the link between science and racial superiority. Through science Europeans tried to prove themselves that they are more superior than other people in the planet. Science in this sense contributed to a constructed system of belief upon which Europeans laid their existence.

It is hard to look at this story with our modern ethical codes. For whatever reasons our modern ethics will see what Mjöberg and his friends have done is unethical. If we imagined ourselves living in the same period as Mjöberg, and worked as anthropologist, we may have the same view as him. Even though we disagreed with Darwin theory, the dominant discourse in the realm of science might have influenced the way we see others.

Having talked about this, it brought me to the moment where I was discussing representation, science, race during colonial period. In the class, one archaeology student said that she said it is ethically right to ask dig up the indigenous remains after permission is granted. If we don’t get permission, we won’t force our will. She added that it’s better if scientists digged up the remains and studied them then returned them after they’ve finished. Otherwise, these remains might end up in a black market. Her view reflects clearly how scientists work according to ethical conducts and most importantly how sciences is perceived to be the ultimate way of obtaining the truth.

Yet, what is the benefit for the indigenous people after their ancestors’ bones were studied? Let says, if recent study concluded that one tribe did not belong to certain family, what impact does it have to their existence? Will they have an identity crisis?


Steph said...

I have no idea! I think from a position of respect, the remains should always be returned.

Finally Woken said...

Just realized that you list your blog in, so is it a safe to guess that you're Indonesian? If yes then will put you on the expat blog list at Indonesian Expatriates Forum. Cheers!

spew-it-all said...

sorry i can only read in English