In our museum, we often describe trafficking of objects; how they came to Sweden and under what circumstances. We often tend to forget the people who made the objects.
In this case I don’t want to present an object that came to Sweden, but a girl, Rufina, a 10 year old girl. Although, in a way, Rufina became an object, an object of study.
Rufina was born in the current provincial de Buenos Aires in Argentina, probably around the 1830’s. Her destiny was defined by her skin color not being white. She was a member of a group of people who lost their territories in the name of the constitution of the Argentinian national state. She and her family ended up in a reservation (today we could call it a refugee camp).
At that time, Mr. John Tarras was the Swedish ambassador in Argentina. He was a close friend to the well-known anthropologist Anders Retzius. Retzius asked Tarras if he could send him some “specimens” of indigenous people from the area. So, John Tarras bought Rufina in an auction and sent her to Retzius in 1843. In Stockholm they measured Rufina and made some drawings of her. Afterward, she was sent to Göteborg as a servant to the Tarras family. The last thing we know about her is that she started to accept Christianity.
In the moment that Rufina’s people lost their territories and rights, they became “objects of ethnography”. They were not allowed to be part of a new state and they became objects of study and exclusion. Rufina was ten years old when she was removed from her family, from her rights and when she disappeared from history in Göteborg.
Today, we are trying to recover her history. She was not an anomaly, she was a ten year old girl, she was Rufina.
Adriana Muñoz är Fil Dr i arkeologi och intendent för samlingar. Hon arbetar med utställningar, samlingar och forskning. De senaste åren har hon forskat kring samlingars historia och etablering av den museala praktiken inom etnografiska museer.