The remains of 95 Māori and Moriori ancestors will be repatriated back to Aotearoa from Germany this week.

Te Papa will hold a private pōwhiri on Wednesday to mark their return, as well as that of six Toi moko (Māori mummified tattooed heads) and other taonga Māori from several institutions across Germany.

Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) of Te Papa, says 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.

He says this repatriation reflects the strong and enduring ties between Germany and Aotearoa.

“I appreciate working together and being able to build on the previous repatriations that have taken place over the last decade,” he says.

Hakiwai says a significant amount of work has gone into returning these ancestors.

Multiple ceremonies have taken place in Germany throughout May and June for the handover of the remains. Both tikanga Māori and tikane Moriori (indigenous cultural customs and protocols) were used.

“Facilitating the return of our ancestors from six German institutions is not easy and I mihi to my colleagues of Karanga Aotearoa [the government mandated authority that negotiates the repatriation of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains],” he says.

”Their efforts offer pathways to meaningful reconciliation and healing not only for Māori and Moriori, but also for the nation,” he says.

“Te Papa’s strategy highlights our priority for healing, reconciliation, and empowerment. Returning these ancestors home is a powerful example of this in action.” 

‘Success is not due to individual effort’

Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, Head of Repatriation for Te Papa, says when he looks at the work that’s been done to coordinate the return of ancestral remains, he's 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,” he says.

He says the positive collaboration and commitment to this task by so many is very encouraging.

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