Repatriation research: Where to start

In this section, learn about how to embark on repatriation research so that you conduct a comprehensive scan of all possible research material.

First, it is important to create a process. This includes knowing what type of information is needed, where information is located, and how to access it. Consider creating a checklist so that you don’t miss searching key sources of information.

The following is an example of how a provenance research process could be created:

  1. Identify the ancestral remains in your collection.

  2. Physically check that what is recorded matches what is physically there.

  3. Bring together all available information to identify what is known.

  4. Identify what further information is needed.

  5. Search out and obtain further information.

  6. Create a way of collating this information.

  7. Confirm all information, that is, cross-check that all information is correct.

  8. Create a report of the findings.

Identify the research questions

When undertaking provenance research, it is important to have one or more general research questions.

These do not need to be philosophical in nature, rather, they seek out and identify essential information, and in some cases, may result in further questions. The types of questions to ask include:

  • How did the tūpuna come to be in this museum?

  • Who brought them into the museum and when?

  • Where were they taken from?

  • Why were they taken?

These questions can be used to create a record of their journey, from the time they were taken to the present day, and to identify the provenance location (region, town, specific land block, or exact location) as well as possible iwi affiliation.

Create an information register

Consider creating a database to record your findings. Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access files can be used to record the basic information relating to each tūpuna. This way, you keep a list of all relevant details, associations, and sources in one place, and it’s easier to see where there is missing information.

Be sure to record where each piece of information was obtained from. Ensure that information is secure by regularly backing up data, saving work to a server, and transcribing, scanning, or photocopying any written notes.

Within your database, consider including the following headings:

  • Registration or accession number of the tūpuna

  • Other associated numbers

  • Date of acquisition

  • Description of the remains

  • Labels or inscriptions

  • Provenance location

  • Iwi, hapū, community associations

  • Collector details

  • Date of collection

  • Associated taonga or kōiwi tangata

  • Other information

Create collector profiles

Creating collector profiles aids in understanding their involvement in the collection and exchange or sale of kōiwi tangata, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and further afield. Profiles should be seen as living documents.

They record information relating to a person’s collecting practices, collecting locations, and importantly their networks, that is, who their friends and colleagues were, who or what institutions they were exchanging with, and where their collection areas were.

By doing this, you delve deeper into the world of the collector, understanding where relevant information might be held and if there is other collectors’ correspondence to investigate.

National Services Te Paerangi repatriation workshop, 31 Mar 2021. Photo by Daniel Crichton-Rouse. Te Papa (168646)

Examples of a collector profile:

Next: Repatriation research: Where to look