"These ancestor remains were stolen and sold overseas"

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

17 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains have been returned to New Zealand from the United States of America and Germany.  The toi moko and kōiwi tangata were formally welcomed to Rongomaraeroa Marae at the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa.

Head of Repatriation at Te Papa, Te Herekiekie Herewini says, “My soul cries for them as they were overseas for over one hundred years.”

Tamahou Temara from Toi Māori Aotearoa says, “Their spirits can reconnect to the place they were named, the place their umbilical cords were severed, the place where they crumbled into the earth.”

Te Herekiekie Herewini says the trading of indigenous remains was common throughout the 19th century.

“Their hands went groping in sacred Māori sites, these ancestor remains were stolen and sold overseas,” says Herewini.

The remains were returned as part of a government programme called Karanga Aotearoa which has a mandate to negotiate the return of human remains to New Zealand.  Since its inception in 2003, the ancestral remains of more than 450 individuals have been returned from institutions around the world.

Tamahou Temara says, “People like Maui Pomare, Sir Graham Lattimer and the Māori queen Te Atairangikaahu, it was they who instilled this idea in the museums such as The Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa.”

Herekiekie Herewini says there are many Māori remains which still lay within museums throughout New Zealand.

“Requests need to be made to have the ancestors returned to their homes, to their families and their tribes throughout New Zealand,” says Herewini.

The remains will be held at Te Papa's sacred repository while research reconnects them to their origin.