The Smithsonian Institution is set to repatriate the remains of Filipinos collected without consent from 1904 to 1941 for physical anthropology research.
Repatriation talks: Smithsonian Institution Chief Spokesperson Linda St. Thomas confirmed on Tuesday that they have conducted discussions with the Philippine embassy and the National Museum of the Philippines to facilitate the return of the remains of 64 individuals. Among the remains are the brains of four Filipinos collected to support research aimed at proving that brain size correlated with racial superiority, specifically the belief in white people having larger brains.
Unethical nature: The repatriation efforts were initiated following a comprehensive investigation by The Washington Post, which revealed that the Smithsonian’s collection includes human remains collected from multiple countries, often without proper consent.
The paper also noted how the Smithsonian still holds a “racial brain collection” from at least 10 countries, including Germany, the Philippines, the Czech Republic and South Africa. While there is no official date yet for said repatriation, the Philippine National Museum welcomed the Smithsonian’s decision to repatriate the remains.
No evidence of consent: The Filipino remains are believed to be mostly indigenous individuals. There is no evidence of consent being given for their collection and scientific use during an era of racial prejudice and scientific racism. According to the organization, the remains come from different sources such as archaeological excavations, transfers from government agencies and donations from museums, universities, hospitals and individuals.
Troubled chapter in history: Among the remains gathered by curator Aleš Hrdlička are the brains of four Filipinos who died after being exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, during a time when the Philippines was under U.S. colonial rule.
The St. Louis facility, described by experts as a “human zoo,” contained indigenous people who were converted into attractions. After the war, the U.S. reportedly became “fascinated by the natives of the newly acquired territory, which led to the development of anthropological exhibits showcasing what life was like in the Philippines.”
Acknowledging the unethical nature of the collection, its secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III issued an apology for past practices.
The Smithsonian has since placed temporary restrictions on research on all human remains in its museums.