Maori remains repatriated to New Zealand - Museums Association

Maori remains repatriated to New Zealand

Warrington Museum among those to return remains
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Simon Stephens
Te Papa Tongarewa – the Museum of New Zealand – has agreed the repatriation of seven preserved and tattooed Maori heads (Toi moko) and five ancestral remains (koiwi) from organisations in England, Guernsey and Ireland.

The items will arrive in New Zealand tomorrow, where a ceremony will be held to welcome them back.

Warrington Museum and Guernsey Museum were among those that have returned items. The Wellcome Trust, Birmingham University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland were the other institutions involved.

The return of such items is overseen by Te Papa under the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme.

"Support for repatriation helps indigenous people understand how and why these ancestors were taken and gives them the opportunity to reunite with them physically and spiritually," says Arapata Hakiwai, kaihautu at Te Papa.

The return of the items has been a long-term process that has involved extensive negotiations between Te Papa and the institutions that held the items. Te Papa first made contact with Warrington Museum in 2004 and with Guernsey Museum in 2011.

The Toi moko at Guernsey Museum was part of a collection owned by Frederick Corbin Lukis, who was born in Guernsey In 1788.

Jason Monaghan, the director of Guernsey Museums, visited New Zealand in 2011 after becoming aware of Te Papa’s repatriation programme.

“We discussed it with the curators first and got their buy-in,” says Monaghan. “We were reviewing our repatriation and human remains policies and decided we would not put it on display again. So we decided to repatriate it.”

Monaghan said the repatriation involved a lot of work but it was worth it. “It was a very heartwarming process,” he said.

The Toi moko repatriated from Warrington Museum was given to the town’s natural history society in 1843 by Richard Brook and was later passed to the museum. It was on display until the 1980s.

“The ethical thing to do was to return this back to New Zealand and to honour that in a ceremony,” said Warrington Museum principal manager Janice Hayes. “Unlike some other countries where there has been resistance to returning these, we recognised straight away that it was the right thing to do.”

The repatriation programme is funded by the New Zealand government and is administered by Te Papa. The trade in Toi moko and koiwi began in 1770 and lasted until the 1930s, although most of the trade in what were seen as Maori curiosities occured between 1800 and 1830.

Te Papa has repatriated 240 Maori ancestral remains from overseas institutions. The museum estimates that there are still 650 ancestral remains still to be returned to New Zealand, and most of these are in Europe.

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