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Emotional pōwhiri marks the return of ancestral remains

Tue 30 May 2017

Yesterday we held a pōwhiri to mark the return home of 59 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from the United Kingdom and Europe.

The karapunakarapuna Moriori ancestors and tūpunatūpuna Māori ancestors have been repatriated from England, Germany and Sweden.

They were carried onto Rongomaraeroa Marae, and placed on the atamiraatamira the raised platform on the marae at the beginning of the ceremony, where they were offered dignity and respect by those that gathered.

Te Papa’s Kaihautū, Dr Arapata Hakiwai, who took part in the hand-over ceremonies in Europe, said, “There is a growing awareness among overseas institutions about the importance of repatriating ancestral remains.

“They are realising many ancestors were taken by unethical means, and Te Papa is pleased to be able to work with international institutions in order to facilitate the safe return of the ancestors to their iwi.”

The ancestral remains have been repatriated from four institutes – The Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm Sweden, the Übersee Museum in Bremen, Germany, the Manchester University Museum in England and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England.

“To add, this is also a bitter sweet occasion, as our repatriation work reveals newly established colonial museums, alongside visiting natural historians from Europe actively participated in the trade of Māori and Moriori remains, ‘taken’ from wāhi tapu (sacred repositories),” Dr Hakiwai said.

“Many New Zealanders are unaware of this history, and do not realise the long standing history of the lack of respect offered to wāhi tapu by colonial settlers.”

The ancestral remains were welcomed home by representatives of Moriori and Māori communities, senior government officials, and representatives of Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

The karapuna and tūpuna will now rest in Te Papa’s wāhi tapuwāhi tapu sacred repository.