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Source: Te Papa

The remains of 95 Māori and Moriori ancestors along with 6 Toi moko (Māori mummified tattooed heads), and taonga Māori are being repatriated from seven institutions across Germany.

On Wednesday 15 June, Te Papa will hold a private repatriation pōwhiri (ceremony) to mark their return. The ceremony will be closed to media at the request of iwi.

Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa’s Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) says the repatriation reflects the strong and enduring ties between Germany and New Zealand.

“I want to acknowledge the significant work of these German cultural institutions and the support of the New Zealand Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Craig Hawke. I appreciate working together and being able to build on the previous repatriations that have taken place over the last decade.

“Facilitating the return of our ancestors from six German institutions is not easy and I mihi to my colleagues of Karanga Aotearoa – their efforts offer pathways to meaningful reconciliation and healing not only for Māori and Moriori, but also for the nation.

“Te Papa’s strategy highlights our priority for healing, reconciliation, and empowerment. Returning these ancestors home is a powerful example of this in action. The connection to our tūpuna (ancestors) is continuous, despite time and location, and it is our responsibility and obligation to reunite them with their people and whenua” Dr Hakiwai adds.

The Koiwi Tangata (Māori skeletal remains), Kōimi T’chakat Moriori (Moriori skeletal remains) and taonga Māori are returning from the Grassi Museum, Leipzig; Reiss Engelhorn Museum, Mannheim; Linden Museum; The Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History; Georg August University, Göttingen; Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim and Museum Wiesbaden.

Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, Te Papa’s Head of Repatriation reflects on this momentous occasion and the significant importance of returning these sacred ancestors.

“When I look at the work undertaken to coordinate the return of these ancestral remains from seven institutions, I’m reminded of the whakataukī ‘Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini’ – success is not due to individual effort, but through the efforts of many. A repatriation of this size requires a collaborative approach and can only happen by working together across the museum sector, with other government institutions, and importantly with Māori and Moriori to ensure their ancestors return home safely.

“Our colleagues from these German institutions have shown significant respect and understanding towards Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori and Moriori, and demonstrated a strong sense of doing the right thing.”

Throughout May and June, a series of formal handover ceremonies took place in Germany and included tikanga Māori and tikane Moriori (indigenous cultural customs and protocols).

In attendance were representatives of the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, Māori cultural experts, members of Hokotehi, and the New Zealand Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Craig Hawke.

Hawke acknowledges the significant work of Te Papa and partner institutions across Germany to secure these repatriations.

“As we celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between Aotearoa New Zealand and Germany, these repatriations demonstrate the mature and close relationship we share.

Behind the scenes, these repatriations have been made possible by the efforts of many iwi, institutions and officials, working often across international borders. The positive collaboration and commitment to this task by so many is very encouraging.”

This repatriation is a culmination of many years of research and negotiation by Māori, the Moriori people, the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme and Germany.

“Germany and New Zealand’s relationship is one based on shared values and common interests. Our relationship goes deeper than a traditional diplomatic relationship, to one of culture, science and knowledge exchange. These repatriations are a poignant example of our collaborative partnership,” adds Hawke.

The international repatriation included panel talks and lectures about the collection and trade of Toi moko and the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme. Speakers included Te Herekiekie Herewini, Te Arikirangi Mamaku-Ironside (Repatriation Coordinator, Te Papa), Māori and Moriori Cultural Advisers Paraone Glyone, Ngahuia Kopa, Kiwa Hammond, Hinerangi Edwards, Chas Karauria Taurima, Christine Harvey, and Hinemoana Baker.


About Karanga Aotearoa

The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme (Karanga Aotearoa) is an indigenous-led and government-mandated authority who negotiates the return of Kōiwi Tangata, Kōimi T’chakat, and Toi moko from both public and private collections to Aotearoa and Rēkohu.

The program is guided by its Repatriation Advisory Panel consisting of Māori and Moriori community leaders, advocates, tikanga and tikane specialists, and arts practitioners, and aims to acknowledge and reconcile the harm caused by the historical theft, illicit trade, and removal of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from their whānau and wāhi tapu.

About the German Institutions

Grassi Museum | Leipzig, State of Lower Saxony

The GRASSI is a museum quarter in the heart of Leipzig. It houses three museums of international acclaim: the GRASSI Museum of Applied Arts, the GRASSI Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig and the Musical Instrument Museum of the University of Leipzig.

Reiss Engelhorn Museums | Mannheim, State of Baden-Würtemburg

The Reiss Engelhorn Museum located in Mannheim, Germany, is a complex of museums showcasing the region’s cultural and historical heritage.

The museum complex comprises four main buildings: Zeughaus, World Cultures Museum, Schillerhaus, and Bassermannhaus. These house various collections and exhibitions that cover a wide range of subjects, including archaeology, world cultures, art, and photography.

Linden Museum | Stuttgart, State of Baden-Würtemburg

The Linden Museum is a renowned ethnological museum displaying taonga and cultural treasures from across the globe, including artifacts from Asia, Africa, the Islamic world, the Near East, the Americas, and Oceania. The museum’s origins trace back to the 19th century when the Association for Trade Geography began amassing a collection of objects. Karl Graf von Linden, the Association’s president, played a crucial role in organizing the collection and inviting famed explorers like Sven Hedin and Roald Amundsen to contribute to its development.

State Natural History Museum | Stuttgart, State of Baden-Würtemburg

The State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart is a distinguished institution committed to the conservation and presentation of the natural world’s complexities. Inaugurated in 1791, it encompasses two distinct buildings: the Museum am Löwentor, which emphasizes paleontological studies, and the Schloss Rosenstein, concentrating on zoological, botanical, and geological disciplines.

Georg August University | Göttingen, State of Lower Saxony

Georg August University, commonly known as the University of Göttingen, is a public research university located in the historic city of Göttingen, Germany. It was founded in 1737 and is considered one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Germany.

The university is renowned for its excellence in research and teaching across a broad range of fields, including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and medicine. Notable alumni and faculty members include the mathematicians Carl Friedrich Gauss and David Hilbert, the physicist Max Born, and Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg. The university has a long history of producing distinguished scholars and research breakthroughs, and it is home to several research institutes and centres, including the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum | Hildesheim, State of Lower Saxony

Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum (RPM) has been showcasing ancient cultures and civilizations for over 175 years. The museum was founded in 1846 by the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, and it was named after its two major benefactors, Justus Olshausen Roemer and Wilhelm Pelizaeus. The museum has a rich collection of over 400,000 artifacts from all around the world, including Egypt, Peru, China, and Greece. The exhibits offer a unique glimpse into the lives, beliefs, and artistic expressions of ancient people.

Museum Wiesbaden | Wiesbaden, State of Hessen

Museum Wiesbaden is a renowned cultural institution that highlights the region’s exceptional natural and artistic heritage. Founded in 1829 by Johann Isaac von Gerning, the museum has grown significantly over time and now boasts three main collections: fine art, natural history, and Nassauian history.

Museum Wiesbaden’s natural history collection, initiated by von Gerning, includes thousands of specimens, such as preserved animals, plants, minerals, and fossils. This extensive collection provides insight into the region’s biodiversity and the evolution of life on Earth. It is also an important resource for scientific research and environmental education.