Germany returns indigenous ancestral remains to New Zealand


Repatriation ceremony underway at Te Papa National Museum in Wellington to mark the return of sacred ancestral remains from Germany ( Photo courtesy: Te Papa)

Venu Menon
Wellington, July 13,2023

Maori and Moriori ancestral remains have been returned to New Zealand by museums in Germany.

The koiwi tangata [Maori skeletal remains], koimi T’chakat Moriori [Moriori skeletal remains] and taonga Maori [Maori cultural treasures] have been repatriated from seven German museums.

On June 14, the Te Papa National Museum in Wellington held a repatriation ceremony [powhiri] to mark the return of the remains of 95 Maori and Moriori ancestors, along with six toi moko [Maori mummified tattooed heads] and other Maori taonga.

“Te Papa’s strategy highlights our priority for healing, reconciliation, and empowerment,” said Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa’s Kaihautu [Maori co-leader].

“Returning these ancestors home is a powerful example of this in action. The connection to our tupuna [ancestors] is continuous, despite time and location, and it is our responsibility and obligation to reunite them with their people and whenua,” Dr Hakiwai added.

Said Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, Te Papa’s Head of Repatriation: “When I look at the work undertaken to coordinate the return of these ancestral remains from seven [German] institutions, I’m reminded of the whakatauki [Maori proverb] ‘Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari hetoa takitini’ – success is not due to individual effort, but through the efforts of many.”

He said a repatriation operation of this size required a collaborative approach “across the museum sector, with other government institutions, and importantly, with Maori and Moriori to ensure their ancestors return home safely.”

The koiwi tangata, koimi T’chakat Moriori and taonga Maori were reclaimed from the Grassi Museum, Leipzig;  Reiss Engelhorn Museum, Mannheim; Linden Museum, Stuttgart; the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History; Georg August University, Gottingen; Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim and Museum Wiesbaden.

Germany hosted a series of formal handover ceremonies throughout May and June, which included tikanga Maori and tikane Moriori [indigenous cultural customs and protocols].

New Zealand Ambassador to Germany Craig Hawke attended the events, along with representatives of the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, Maori cultural experts, and members of Hokotehi [Moriori Trust].

Karanga Aotearoa delegation, Maori and Moriori Cultural Advisers, and Grassi Museum of Ethnology representatives ( Photo courtesy :Grassi Museum of Ethnology, Leipzig)

“As we celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between Aotearoa New Zealand and Germany, these repatriations [of ancestral remains] demonstrate the nature and close relationship we share,” Hawke noted.

The envoy said the repatriation was a culmination of many years of research and negotiation by Maori, the Moriori people, the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme and Germany.

The repatriation of indigenous ancestral remains and cultural artifacts to their lands of origin in Aotearoa and the Moriori-inhabited group of Pacific islands known as Rekohu is the mission of the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, an indigenous-led statutory authority.

The body is tasked with negotiating the return of koiwi tangata, koimi T’chakat, and toi moko from both public and private collections around the world.

A Repatriation Advisory Panel guides the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme. The panel consists of   Maori and Moriori community leaders, among others, and aims to “acknowledge and reconcile the harm caused by the historical theft, illicit trade, and removal of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains from their whanau [family] and wahi tapu [sacred sites].”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington 

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