Ceremony Men Making Ethnography and the Return of the Strehlow Collection

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January 2, 2021
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Winner of the 2022 W.K. Hancock Prize presented by the Australian Historical Association

Shortlisted for the 2021 Prime Minister's Literary Awards in the Australian History Category presented by the Australian Prime Minister and Minister for the Arts

Winner of the 2021 Council for Museum Anthropology Book Award presented by the Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA), a section of the American Anthropological Association

By analyzing one of the world's greatest collections of Indigenous song, myth, and ceremony-the collections of linguist/anthropologist T. G. H. Strehlow-Ceremony Men demonstrates how inextricably intertwined ethnographic collections can become in complex historical and social relations. In revealing his process to return an anthropological collection to Aboriginal communities in remote central Australia, Jason M. Gibson highlights the importance of personal rapport and collaborations in ethnographic exchange, both past and present, and demonstrates the ongoing importance of sociality, relationship, and orality when Indigenous peoples encounter museum collections today. Combining forensic historical analysis with contemporary ethnographic research, this book challenges the notion that anthropological archives will necessarily become authoritative or dominant statements on a people's cultural identity. Instead, Indigenous peoples will often interrogate and recontextualize this material with great dexterity as they work to reintegrate the documented into their present-day social lives.

By theorizing the nature of the documenter-documented relationships this book makes an important contribution to the simplistic postcolonial generalizations that dominate analyses of colonial interaction. A story of local agency is uncovered that enriches our understanding of the human engagements that took, and continue to take, place within varying colonial relations of Australia.