Māori ancestral remains return from Canada and USA

28 November 2012

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is please to have four Māori ancestral remains returning from the USA and Canada. These ancestors have been housed for a number of years at Stanford University in California, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada, and within a private collection in Oklahoma.

Michelle Hippolite, Te Papa's Kaihautū, says “It’s important to acknowledge the goodwill of institutions and private collectors who are now actively seeking the return of tūpuna (ancestors) to their homeland, and it's equally important that iwi such as Ngāti Hikairo of Käwhia will warmly embrace their tūpuna both physically and spiritually when they arrive in New Zealand.”

These kōiwi tangata and toi moko will begin their journey back to Aotearoa New Zealand with two of them being directly repatriated to Waipapa marae in Kāwhia on 28 November, and the remaining two will be welcomed with a pōwhiri (Māori ceremonial welcome) here at Te Papa on Thursday 29 November 2012, commencing at 12.00pm (noon).

Stanford University, San Francisco, USA

Two kōiwi tangata will be repatriated from Stanford University, San Francisco. A skull (with mandible) and cranium only (no mandible).

These kōiwi tangata were collected in 1950 by Keith Mackenzie from a limestone burial cave on his property in Oparau, near Kawhia. Mackenzie then gave these tūpuna to Felix Keesing and anthropologist at Stanford, who then presented them to the University in 1952.

In October 2011 Te Papa was contacted by the University informing that they had in their collection human remains that they wished to proactively repatriate, and a formal agreement to repatriate was made in May 2012 by the Repatriation Programme.

Professor H.B. Fell, Oklahoma, USA

There is one kōiwi tangata to be repatriated from the family of Professor H.B. Fell, Oklahoma, USA. The information associated with the cranium identifies that it is Māori, with provenance to the Hawkes Bay and was previously part of the Hutchinson Collection. Prof Fell was a professor at Victoria University of Wellington in the 1950s and 1960s, before taking a position at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The collector Professor Francis Hutchinson was a long time friend and colleague of Prof Fell’s.

Initial contact was made by the son-in-law of Prof Fell in January 2012 after he had read an article in the New York Times about the repatriation from France, and explained his desire to repatriate the cranium. A formal request to repatriate was made in May 2012.

Musee de Beaus Arts, Montreal, Canada

There is one toi moko to be repatriated from this institution. The information associated with this tupuna is only that it was donated to the Museum in 1949 by Frederick Cleveland Morgan, curator of Decorative Arts from 1916 to 1962. Morgan had purchased the toi moko that same year for £40 from Berkeley Galleries in London, which was known for its eclectic African and Oceanic art exhibitions.

We first became aware of the toi moko in 2001 when an image was seen on a Canadian museums website. A formal request was made by Te Papa in May 2008, and a letter informing Te Papa of their agreement to repatriate was received in February 2012.


Media contact

Tina Norris, Corporate Communications Manager
04 381 7233 or 021 225 7538