Dark day in history put right as ancestral Māori remains repatriated


Ancestral remains are laid on Te Atamira during the powhiti at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa

“It’s a great day because our ancestors are home,” said Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Māori co-leader at Te Papa Museum, after a repatriation powhiri for the return of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains in Wellington this morning.

Dr Hakiwai described the removal of approximately 64 individuals, most taken by Austrian taxidermist and notorious grave-robber Andreas Reischek as “a dark chapter in our history.”

Iwi representatives at the repatriation powhiri at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa
Iwi representatives at the repatriation powhiri at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa

“It’s a dark past because, we know there were a lot of people – Reischek is just one of them – many people who collected and stole our ancestors,” he said.

“But the extent that Reischek did that, and openly knew that, and how through his stay here befriended Maori and he’d learnt that language and earned their trust. I’d almost rather forget that name.”

Reischek had written in diaries that he’d eluded Māori and broken tapu to remove the remains and take them offshore.

“You can see the emotion today how the ancestors were taken out of graves, caves, wahi tapu, and what you heard today it’s more than a deep emotion,” Dr Hakiwai said. “The connection there with our ancestors, we live with our ancestors, we are them.”

Hona Edwards, Te Uri Roroi, Te Mahurehure Ki Whatitiri, Te Parawhau at the Powhiri. Photo / Te Papa
Hona Edwards, Te Uri Roroi, Te Mahurehure Ki Whatitiri, Te Parawhau at the Powhiri. Photo / Te Papa

Dr Sabine Eggers, Head of Anthropology at the Natural History Museum in Vienna admitted that the return of the ancestral remains was way overdue.

“(the remains were in the museum) for something like 150 years,” she said. “So, far, far, far, far too long.”

Dr Eggers had said that with recent changes in people and attitudes in European institutions, issues such as the repatriation of aboriginal remains were now being addressed.

“If we think about all the wrongdoings, it was not only Reischek that everybody knows about but very many other people who did it,” Dr Eggers said. “Not only anthropologists, but scientists in general. It’s something I think scientists in general should apologise for.”

Through examination of museum archives and journals, anthropologists at Te Papa understand that most of the ancestors were from Rēkohu Wharekauri (Chatham Islands), Whanganui, Ōtautahi Christchurch, Lyttelton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, and wāhi tapu throughout Te Taitokerau including Whangaroa and Taiharuru.

Iwi delegation carry the tupuna and karapuna on Rongomaraeroa at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa
Iwi delegation carry the tupuna and karapuna on Rongomaraeroa at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa

Research will be undertaken to determine their whakapapa and work will continue with iwi, hapu and whanau to return them home.

Professor Sir Pou Temara, Chairman of the Repatriation Advisory Panel at Te Papa said that the emotion, depth of feeling and aroha for the ancestors showed the importance of this process that had been ongoing since members of the Maori Battalion had attempted to bring them back at the end of the second world war.

Professor Sir Pou Temara at the powhiri. Photo / Te Papa
Professor Sir Pou Temara at the powhiri. Photo / Te Papa

They had fought over the years to get them back but they were individual submissions that didn’t go anywhere,” Professor Temara said. “You could feel a sigh of great relief from the spirits of those ancestors knowing it won’t be too long before they will continue their eternal slumber in peace.”

Professor Temara described the need for utu, but not in the sense of revenge, but for a rebalancing and that the return of the remains had achieved that.

Iwi delegation arrive on Rongomaraeroa at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa
Iwi delegation arrive on Rongomaraeroa at Te Papa. Photo / Te Papa

A good balance has been achieved, the achievement of relationships and things are back to normal again,” he said “We’re on the way to bringing final closure.”



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