Sunday, November 7, 2021

Review: Stuff the British Stole

A helmet full of stolen stuff—like a gift basket for a king!

By Claire Booth

A tiger. A shield. A bronze. A dog. A human head.

Each one gets an episode in this fantastic podcast. Stuff the British Stole isn’t so much a cataloging of what British Imperialists took from Indigenous Peoples around the world as it is a contextualization of the consequences.

It’s also, looking at it from a crime writer perspective, a fabulous true crime podcast. True, it’s crime in more of a global history sense than a street mugging sense (although that did happen, too—often by official representatives of the British Empire).

Take the human head. Or rather, heads. Hundreds of them from the Maori of New Zealand, who preserved and venerated them. Many had facial tattoos that were (and still are) enormously significant and spiritual. That made them highly sought after by British collectors; many ended up in British homes and museums.

Podcast host Marc Fennell talks to Maori who are working to repatriate the heads still in foreign possession. But he also takes his reporting a step to the side by talking to a modern-day Maori tattoo artist, who explained why the tattooing is so special, and how the British derision for it caused centuries of decline and contempt for the tradition. It was heartbreaking.

Stuff is a Australian Broadcasting Corporation production and a great example of the wonderful global-ness of the podcasting universe. It’s also an example of a creative work that gets its tone exactly right. Fennell is a light touch, using humor and cheekiness when appropriate, but also making sure to respectfully show the painful emotions still felt by the Empire’s victims.

I devoured Season One this week and am impatient to get started on Season Two, which is currently releasing an episode every Tuesday. I recommend you dive in before they run out of Stuff to feature—which should only take a few hundred years.

The Season Two logo. In an interview with the 99% Invisible podcast (which is how I discovered Stuff), Fennell said he originally wanted to use a different “S” word in the title instead of “Stuff.” Don’t worry. People are swearing enough as they listen—sample reaction of mine: “What the actual f***?”


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