Falconer Museum and Weston Park return Maori skulls

Human remains handed over to Museum of New Zealand
Museums Association
The Falconer Museum in Moray, Scotland, and Weston Park Museum in Sheffield have both returned Māori human remains to representatives of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

A Māori skull was handed over to Te Herekiekie Herewini, the repatriation manager at Te Papa and Hema Temara, Te Papa’s Māori cultural practice adviser, by Moray Council convener councillor Allan Wright, who signed the formal transfer document in a ceremony at the museum last week.

The skull is from Waikouaiti in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island and was thought to have been donated to the museum in around 1883. It is has been preserved in the museum store, and has not been on public display since Victorian times.

Wright said: “We are pleased to be able to return these remains to the Māori people where they rightfully belong.

“It may seem strange and perhaps even macabre for any institution to be in possession of human remains from thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.

“But these things have to be seen in a historical context and in those far-off days it was the only opportunity that people had to appreciate and understand objects from other nations and other cultures.

“However, we now know of and recognise the great importance of these ancestral remains to the Maori people and we warmly welcome the delegation from the Museum of New Zealand who have come all the way to Moray to take possession of the remains and accompany them on their journey home.”

A similar ceremony occurred at Weston Park Museum, which returned a Māori skull from its collection, thought to have been acquired in the 1920s. Herewini and Temara, met representatives of Museums Sheffield, the high sheriff of South Yorkshire Julie MacDonald and the councillor Mike Drabble.

And from the US, Māori human remains belonging to at least 54 individuals are being repatriated by the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

In total 60 human remains are being returned from museums in the US and the UK, the second largest repatriation in the history of the Karanga Aotearoa repatriation programme since it began in 1990. More than 400 human remains have been returned to New Zealand since the programme started.

“These were dark days when these ancestors were traded, collected and stolen,” said a spokesman for the Museum of New Zealand Arapata Hakiwai. “But today we have the opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past and we are very grateful to all the institutions who have shown great sensitivity and respect to reach this milestone with us.”

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