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The Souls of the old-time Torres’ Islanders can rest easy. The decision by the Natural History Museum curators in acquiescing to the long-running arguments of the present-day Torres Islanders that the bones of their ancestors should be returned should be welcomed by all.

Early explorers, missionaries, and others had collected the body parts for all manner of reasons, including as curios. Repatriation follows a long campaign by indigenous leaders who regarded the
removal as an affront to local customs. The souls of the dead had not been able to rest, an islander said. “We are ecstatic; I can’t commend the museum enough for what they’ve done,” commented Ned David, a Torres Strait islander speaking on behalf of the community.

Bones, fine; it is a good decision which reflects well upon both the Islanders and the Trustees of the Museum.

But does this mean that people, over six thousand people in number, are worth less than a mouldy collection of bones? It would seem so, because although the bones are going home, the Diego Islanders remain banned from returning to the islands where they lived; the islands from which they were summarily removed because Britain made a secret deal with America.

The present occupants of Diego Garcia are Americans, along with two B-52 bomber squadrons, four huge military deployment vessels loaded to the gunwales with tanks, guns and artillery; base facilities for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier battle group; consisting of three cruisers, ten destroyers, three nuclear submarines, eighty-four F-18A fighter-bombers and about four thousand base personnel, apart from the crews of the various ships! The base staff wear tee-shirts saying “Paradise Island” and they mean it! The swimming is safe, the beach facilities are superb, U.S. forces have an enviable life style when on the islands.

So where and what for the Diegao Garcian Islanders’ Souls? Not a Lot, it seems!


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