Sacred Māori remains return from Sweden

15 May 2017

The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa are pleased three Māori ancestral remains are returning to Aotearoa New Zealand with the support of the Swedish Government.

The Karolinska Institutet Medical University in Stockholm is a world leader in medical research and in the past collected indigenous remains from all parts of the world for research purposes.

Dr Eva Åhrén, Director of the Unit for Medical History and Heritage, says, “We are gratified that the Māori remains will now return to their homeland. Karolinska Institutet takes very seriously our moral obligation to help repatriate remains of indigenous peoples from our historical collections. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to transfer the remains into the care of Te Papa’s repatriation team.”

Two of the Māori skulls were taken in 1890 by a Swedish natural historian Conrad Fristedt (1860 to 1940), who spent time in the Bay of Islands and recorded his journey into the Whangaroa region to access Māori remains from wāhi tapu, isolated sacred repositories. He collected three on the journey, which he kept secret from Māori living in the region. Two went to Karolinska Institutet, and the other went to the Anatomy Department in the University of Olso, Norway. The skull housed in Oslo was repatriated in 2011.

The third Māori ancestor returning home is a Toi moko (tattooed preserved Māori head), which has very little information associated with it, except that he was gifted by the London collector Henry Christy in late 1862, with the collegium at Karolinska epressing their gratitude for the gift to him on 8 Jan 1863.

Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa’s Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader) says, “It’s important to recognise the role governments can have in supporting the return of indigenous remains to their communities. The Swedish Government has been active in this respect, and Te Papa wishes to recognise this in full alongside the Karolinska Institutet.”

These three Māori ancestral remains are returning home with another 60 Māori and Moriori ancestral from another three institutions in Europe.

The pōwhiri (formal welcome) will be at Te Papa on Monday 29 May 2017.