National | History

"Our duty to bring them back" - Māori ancestral remains returned home

Photo source: Te Papa

A total of 121 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from Germany and the Netherlands have been welcomed home with a pōwhiri at Te Papa.

The 121 tūpuna - Māori ancestors, and karāpuna - Moriori ancestors, were repatriated from the Charité Institution in Berlin and Museum Vrolik in Amsterdam.

Te Papa’s kaihautū Dr Arapata Hakiwai says he was pleased to work with international institutions to facilitate the safe return of the ancestors to their iwi.

“The connection to the tūpuna is continuous, despite time and location and it is our duty to bring them back to their home,” he says.

Out of the 121 returned, 109 individual Māori and Moriori ancestral human remains were repatriated from Berlin, including skulls and skeletal material from individuals of varied ages and both genders.

They were removed from Māori and Moriori graves against the will of the indigenous communities and taken to Berlin during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Photo source: Te Papa

The others repatriated from Amsterdam comprised of 12 Moriori ancestral human remains and a mokomokai, preserved Māori tattooed head.

The repatriation is part of Karanga Aotearoa, a government programme mandated to negotiate the return of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains to Aotearoa.

Since its inception in 2003, over 490 ancestral remains have been returned from institutions around the world.

“There is a growing awareness among overseas institutions about the importance of repatriating ancestral remains," says Hakiwai.

“Their genuine commitment to the repatriation of indigenous remains allows our country to resolve a very dark period in our history.”

Photo source: Te Papa

The pōwhiri

The mokomokai and skeletal remains were brought on to Rongomaraeroa Marae at the beginning of the ceremony yesterday.

After the pōwhiri, the tūpuna were rested at Te Papa’s wāhi tapu while additional research will work to unveil their place of origin around the country.

Te Papa says the Karanga Aotearoa programme is in active conversation with iwi to ensure the safe return of their ancestors in the future.

The pōwhiri comes after 17 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains were returned to Aotearoa from the United States of America and Germany in 2018.