Māori ancestral remains to return to Aotearoa from Sweden

By Online News - Rereātea
  • Wellington

Three Māori ancestral remains will be returned to Aotearoa this month from Sweden. The repatriation will be conducted by the Karolinska Institutet and Te Papa Tongarewa, with 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.

Director of the Unit for Medical History and Heritage, Dr Eva Åhrén, 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 ūpoko 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.

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). There is little information associated with it, except that he was gifted by the London collector Henry Christy in late 1862.

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 remains from another three institutions in Europe.

The pōwhiri will be at Te Papa on Monday 29 May 2017. 

Dr Eva Åhrén,