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'Weeping with joy': Māori and Moriori ancestral remains welcomed home from Austria

Photo / Supplied

The ancestral remains of more than sixty Māori and Moriori tūpuna have been welcomed home at a repatriation pōwhiri at Te Papa on Sunday.

The first repatriation to Aotearoa from the Natural History Museum, Vienna - and the biggest from Austria - includes a group of Māori and Moriori ancestors that represent the remains of approximately 64 individuals, Te Papa said in a statement.

Records indicate that 49 of the tūpuna were taken by notorious Austrian grave-robber Andreas Reischek, who spent 12 years in Aotearoa from 1877 to 1889.

Taonga from far away finally make it home.

“These ancestors were stolen by those with no regard for the Māori communities they belonged to,” said Professor Sir Pou Temara, chair of the Repatriation Advisory Panel.

“In his diary entries Reischek boasts of eluding Māori surveillance, looting sacred places and breaking tapu – he knew exactly what he was doing. His actions were wrong and dishonest."

Sir Pou Temara speaks at Te Papa’s repatriation pōwhiri.  Photo / Supplied

Sir Pou said it was joyful for the tūpuna to now finally be home.

“It is always a spiritual relief and privilege to welcome back our ancestors who have been victims of such wrongdoing. Culturally we know that they are weeping with joy now that they have returned to Aotearoa where at last they will rest in peace.”

The repatriation concludes 77 years of negotiation between Aotearoa and Austria.

“While we’ve seen an increase in conversations about repatriating human remains, there is still a lot of work to do to bring all our ancestors home,” said Te Arikirangi Mamaku-Ironside, Te Papa’s Acting Head of Repatriation.

The tūpuna will be held in Te Papa’s wāhi tapu while provenance research is undertaken, followed by engagement with whānau, hapū and iwi to determine their final resting place.