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People of the past should not be called primitive

Nature volume 441, page 574 (01 June 2006) | Download Citation

Subjects

Sir

Your Editorial “Rightful owners” (Nature 440, 716; 200610.1038/440716b) and Special Report “Guinea experts cry foul on tribal exhibits” (Nature 440, 722–723; 2006) help bring to light the importance and challenges of repatriation and reclamation. But in them, you describe the makers of these antique South Pacific artefacts as “primitive”: a term that has been recognized as inappropriate by anthropologists for decades.

Referring to the communities that made this art as “primitive” implies that they were somehow beneath Western societies. Cultures developed uniquely across the world — these differences do not make one society better than another.

The word “primitive” reinforces colonial ideas of the innate rights of western societies to control others, and maintain their economic and cultural hold over these groups today.

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  1. Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, 354 Baker Hall, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

    • Megan Marie McCullen

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/441574e

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