France granted the request of Argentina to return the stolen remains of the leader Tehuelche. Liempichun Sakamata, which until 2009 were exhibited at the Museum of Man in Paris after the French Count Henri de La Vaux desecrated his grave at the end of the 19th century. The decision was officially announced after a meeting of the presidents of Argentina, Alberto Fernandezand from France Emmanuel Macron.
The restitution process officially began in June 2015 through the Argentine Foreign Ministry, headed at the time Hector Timermanwho granted the request of their descendants: both Sacamata, residents of Puerto Madryn, and Lof Liempichum de Rio Senger, two local communities located in the province of Chubut.
The cacique’s skeleton ended up in a Parisian museum after in 1896, the count took the skeleton and its inventory to France. consisting of a stirrup, earrings, and coins – all of silver – among other belongings of the son of Kasik Liempichum, whom de La Vaux knew personally.
“Repatriation will allow us to establish kume felen (life balance) in our territories, their restitution has political, social, cultural and spiritual significance”, assured the descendants of the cacique when they heard the news. They also stressed that restitution “is a form of historical reparation for us as indigenous peoples. This is a recognition that as a community we are alive and present in the territory,” they said.
How was the theft of the remains of the cacique
Between March 1896 and July 1897 the Comte de La Vaux traveled through the south of the country, made contact with the Tehuelches of that region, and did his best to win their confidence.
The growth of Tehuelche, and especially Liempichun Sacamata, attracted the attention of La Valks greatly, so when this person died unearthed his bones to take him to his country and deliver him to the Museum of Man.
Darwin reported that the height of the “famous Patagonian giants” was “6 feet”, that is, 1.82 meters), although “some are taller.” Other expeditions that explored Patagonia before him describe that they measured between 2 and 2.7 meters.
The French also think accepted about 1400 objects among minerals, metals, ceramics, insects, mammalian skeletons and an important collection of human remains from the original communities of the region, packed in 29 boxes with a total weight of 1371 kg..
La Vaux came to Argentina on behalf of the French Ministry of Education to find the remains of Stone Age bones. However, far from conducting archaeological excavations, devoted himself to desecrating and looting the graves of recently deceased peoplein addition to receiving photographs and other archaeological and ethnographic objects thanks to the trust he received from the Tehuelche peoples.
the location of the remains was established by the Argentine historian Julio Esteban Vezub.explorer Conicet, who found them as part of his research work on the De la Vaulx expedition to Patagonia.
Although they were supposed to be in France, it is not known in which museum they were placed in storage. During a tour of the Quai Branly Museum, he first found grave goods and then discovered a skull in the Museum of Man, where the skeletons collected by the Count were kept.
The meaning of repatriation
Since the opening of Vezuba restitution demanded by his descendantsin a process involving the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI).
“Numerous communities in the province supported this demand. Immediately after this new leadership, INAI had an area dedicated exclusively to international affairs, which increased the demand of the community,” said the President of the National Institute for Indigenous Affairs, Magdalena Odard.
The restitution of Sakamat “is part of the perspective of respect and rights in relation to the cultural traditions and values of each community,” the head of INAI emphasized. “It shows a deep respect for their spirituality. Because these ancestors and their remains mark the presence in the territory, communication and communication with living beings and the environment. Restitutions Articulate and Strengthen Indigenous Identitiesat the same time, they are being transformed into historical reparations,” he added.
In the same vein, the official argued that “recognizing that these remains belong to a people and a place means recognizing that this people or this community is alive and present in the territory.”
How will the restitution of the remains take place?
The transfer of Sakamat’s remains is coordinated by the National Indigenous Remains Restitution Program of the Indigenous Rights Authority INAI through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Ministries of Europe, Foreign Affairs and Culture. France, as well as with the communities of Chubut and the municipality of Sarmiento.
“Time is imposed by the pandemic. We hope that this year the territory of its ancestors will finally be returned to Liempikhum,” Odarda explained.
At the request of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the remains of Liempichúm Sakamata they will wait in Sarmiento, Chubut for their restitution to be approved by the French Parliament..
“Then, according to the worldview of the Mapuche and Tehuelche peoples, each person in their community will be awarded what he deserves,” he specified.
Similarly, the head of INAI explained that so far “two other cases are open with the Museum of Man”since there is a petition “for another of the ancestors, which was taken by a French count, who appropriated 18 skeletons and 100 skulls from the native communities throughout Patagonia.”
There is also a request for the location and restitution of the cacique. Guaikuru Lisaliwhich was presented to the Prince of Orleans, added Odard.
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