Regional | Iwi

Northland iwi preparing for return of kōiwi stolen by Austrian grave robber

Northland iwi are researching exactly where kōiwi recently repatriated to Aotearoa from Austria were stolen from so they can be returned to their resting places, an NZ Herald report says.

More than sixty kōiwi stolen by Austrian grave robber Andreas Reischek in the late 1800s were returned to Te Papa earlier this month.

Among them were 20 skull bones from Whangaroa, Waikaraka, Taiharuru, Waipū, Paparoa, Pahi, and from caves and crevices in Aratapu and Maungatūroto, the Herald says.

"They were stolen from their resting places in sacred sites across the district - deliberately, and the tapu and tikanga was violated,'' said Ngātiwai Trust Board chairman Aperahama Edwards.

"The appalling thing is these are people, these are our ancestors but at least now they may rest."

Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa representative Raniera Kaio told the Herald the next step was to research where exactly in Whangaroa the kōiwi were stolen from. However, there were plans to host a meeting soon to select a date for their return.

"Early indications are that they are from Taratara on our maunga on the western edge of the harbour in Otangaroa."

Kaio said one good thing about Reischek - "a sort of saving grace or not" - was that he kept fastidious records.

"He kept almost the exact longitude and latitude of where he took the kōiwi from."

Te Papa's Kaihautū Māori co-leader Dr Arapata Hakiwai said there is a long road ahead in terms of further repatriation work to be done given the large number of nations and museums around the world still in possession of ancestral remains.

"It's something that must be done. There are still some museums that cling to the past and still don't own their past which is really tragic because they must surely realise what their predecessors did was wrong - morally and culturally," Dr Hakiwai told the Herald.