Rituals of the Dead An Artifact Mystery art theft crime Papua New Guinea Amsterdam Netherlands

Relevant History: the Colonial Origins of Ethnographic Museums and Rituals of the Dead


Since Christmas, I have been busy editing Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery. I am thrilled to see the end is truly near!

On April 6 my next novel will be released as paperback and eBook on Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble NOOK, Smashwords and Amazon.

The Colonial origins of many ethnographic museums inspired much of the story. You can read more about it on Suzanne Adair’s Relevant History blog. Stop by and leave a comment. You may win an eARC of my upcoming book! 

Here’s an excerpt:

Many African ritual masks, ancestor statues, and painted shields in museums have a less-than-ethical provenance. My blog guest this week, historical fiction author Jennifer S. Alderson, discusses this provenance and restitution of ethnic artifacts to their countries of origin.

Since I finished writing Rituals of the Dead, I have noticed an influx in news reports about the restitution of ethnic artifacts—a topic central to my latest mystery. So we are clear, I am not referring to antiquities such as the Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles, depending on your nationality). I’m talking about shrunken heads, painted shields, feathered headdresses, carved ancestor sculptures, ritual masks, and the like. The same objects currently filling western museums dedicated to anthropology and ethnography.

At first, I thought it was a side effect of my research; I was simply noticing these kinds of articles more often. After all, I’d just spent months pouring over accounts of anthropologists, missionaries, and colonial administers who brought Asmat artwork—specifically bis poles—back home from Papua New Guinea and donated or sold them to Dutch ethnographic museums.

“African heritage cannot be the prisoner of French museums”
However, I now believe this recent increase in news coverage has everything to do with a promise French President Emmanuel Macron made on 28 November 2017 while in Burkina Faso. He announced the restitution of African artifacts was a priority, stating, “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural patrimony of several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for this, but there is no valid, durable, or unconditional justification for it. Africa’s patrimony must be celebrated in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos, and Cotonou.”

Read the entire article now on Suzanne Adair’s Relevant History blog.


Jennifer S. Alderson

Hello! I am the author of the Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mystery series, the Zelda Richardson Art Mystery series, and Adventures in Backpacking novels. I love to write and blog about travel, art, museums, expat life, and great books. Thanks for stopping by!