Te Papa to welcome Māori and Moriori remains from Smithsonian Institution

23 May 2016 

The remains of sixty Māori and Moriori individuals, returning from museums and private collections, will be welcomed onto Te Papa's marae at 1pm on Friday 27 May.

Media can attend the ceremony but must register their interest with Te Papa by 5pm, Wednesday 25 May by emailing jenny.bridgen@tepapa.govt.nz

International media note that images and footage from the ceremony will be made available for your use. Register your interest to receive a link to downloadable content after the ceremony.

Ancestral remains belonging to at least 54 individuals are being repatriated by Washington DC's Smithsonian Institution, including four toi moko - mummified tattooed Māori heads.

Remains from a further six individuals are being returned from other US and UK institutions.

This is the second-largest repatriation in the history of the Karanga Aotearoa repatriation programme, which returns the remains of indigenous people to New Zealand.

Many of the Smithsonian's remains were collected during the United States' Transit of Venus expedition of 1874-75, and the Wilkes Expedition of 1838-42. According to Wilkes' journals, members of his expedition were present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Te Papa Kaihautū (Maori co-leader) Dr Arapata Hakiwai says the collections date to a dark time in the history of collecting and museums.

"These were dark days, when these tupuna (ancestors) were traded, collected and stolen, but today we have the opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past" he says.

"We are extremely thankful to the Smithsonian Institution for their efforts to return our ancestors to their homes."

"Their genuine commitment to the return of these remains allows us to resolve a dark period in our history."

Dr Hakiwai acknowledged all the institutions returning remains.

"These are not easy discussions, and we are very grateful to all the institutions, who have shown great sensitivity and respect to reach this milestone with us."

Director of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History Dr Kirk Johnson says the Smithsonian was delighted to work with Te Papa.

 “We are delighted that we could work closely with Te Papa on the return of these Māori and Moriori individuals to New Zealand,” says Dr. Kirk Johnson, Sant Director, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

“I join the leadership and staff of Te Papa in recognizing this as an important landmark in the positive relations between our two museums, and the people of New Zealand and the United States."

Karanga Aotearoa is a government programme with the mandate to negotiate the return of human remains to New Zealand. Since its inception in 1990, the remains of more than 400 individuals have been returned from institutions around the world.

Chair of the Karanga Aotearoa repatriation committee, Professor Pou Temara, says the work of the programme is essential.

“The spirits of our kin which have long  been in suspension for these many years can now be appropriately consigned to Hawaiki, upon the return of their remains to Aotearoa. We look forward to the occasion,” says Professor Temara.

Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand. Hawaiiki is the traditional Māori place of origin, where spirits return to after death.

The return of these remains is supported by Air New Zealand.

 

Te Papa media contact:

Jenny Bridgen, Te Papa, phone 029 601 0010 (international callers 64 29 6010010), jenny.bridgen@tepapa.govt.nz

Smithsonian media contact:

Randall Kremer, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, phone: 001-202-633-0817, kremerr@si.edu

 

Ends

 

 

Background

Media access

Media can attend the ceremony but must register their interest with Te Papa by 5pm, Wednesday 25 May. 

Images and B roll footage of the ceremony will be made available to international media by Te Papa. If you wish to receive the link to this footage and imagery, please register with Te Papa.

Institutions and what they are returning

  • Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA. Ancestral remains of at least 54 individuals. Twelve are identified as Moririoi with provenance to Rekohu (Chatham Islands). The other 42 are identified as Māori ancestral remains, including four Toi moko (mummified tattooed Maori heads).
  • Beneski Museum, Massachussetts, USA. One child's skull without lower jaw. Provenance information states it belongs to a 7-year-old Māori child.
  • Falconer Museum, Forres, Scotland. One adult skull with lower jaw. Records note an association with Waikaouaiti, Otago.
  • Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, England. One adult skull with lower jaw. Of either Māori or Moriori provenance. 
  • Metropolitan Grand Chapter London (Freemasons). In 1903 a single cranium along with two crossbones were received as a donation to The Britannic Lodge No 33 by Commander RO Orme Webb RN, who at one time was Inspector Naval Trophies. Records associated with the koiwi tangata note that they were found in a cave near Okere, New Zealand.

Origin of the remains

The collection from the Smithsonian originated from a number of sources, including New Zealand's Auckland, Canterbury and Otago museums. Many of the Smithsonian's remains were collected during the United States' Transit of Venus expedition of 1874-75, and the Wilkes Expedition of 1838-42.

United States Exploring Expedition or Wilkes Expedition (1838-42).

The expedition was a landmark in United States exploration. Along with ethnographic collections, some 60,000 plant and bird specimens were collected, and formed the basis of the Smithsonian Institution when it was formed in 1846. Wilkes' accounts of Maori met on the voyage are thought to have provided the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick, in particular the tattooed character Queequeg: Melville was known to own a copy of Wilkes' voyage journals which were widely read at the time.

About Te Papa

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa was established in 1998 as an innovative bicultural museum. At its heart is the partnership between the indigenous Māori people and Pākeha, or non-Māori New Zealanders. It is a multi-disciplinary museum combining science, art and history, and has special strengths in Māori and Pacific taonga (treasures). In a country of only four million people, Te Papa Tongarewa welcomes well over a million visitors a year, making it one of New Zealand’s leading tourist attractions. For more information see www.tepapa.govt.nz

About the Karanga Aotearoa repatriation programme

Karanga Aotearoa is a government programme with the mandate to negotiate the return of human remains to New Zealand. Since its inception in 1990, the remains of more than 400 individuals have been returned from institutions around the world.

For details of previous repatriations see:
https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/about/repatriation/international-repatriation

About the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. 

The National Museum of Natural History welcomed 7 million visitors in 2015, making it one of the most-visited museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum in Washington DC is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts, comprising over 128 million items.

The museum’s Department of Anthropology and Recovering Voices Initiative are committed to working with indigenous communities and peoples in the United States and around the world on issues of traditional knowledge, language revitalization, and community engagement.

For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.