The Ubersee Museum in Bremen has kept the remains of nearly four dozen Moriori and Maori for over 120 years. The German Natural History Museum could no longer justify keeping the sacred remains and is returning them home.
From the bones, the museum identified 35 Moriori that were stolen from the Chatham Islands by collector Hugo Herman Schauinsland.
In 1896 and 1897 Schauinsland collected two near complete Moriori skeletons along with jawbones, scapulae, pelvises, skulls, ribs and sacra.
The museum’s Maori remains came from the Swiss settler, Henry Suter in 1887. Three of the skeletons are believed to come from the Whangaroa and the others from Tainui.
Museum director Wiebke Ahrndt decided to return the bones to New Zealand as a sign of respect.
The provenance research undertaken has been able to shed light on the circumstances under which this collection was acquired. It also made clear that there is no longer any ethical justification for retaining the ancestral remains of the Moriori and Maori in our collections.
Image: Dignitaries and museum officials attend a special service in Sweden for the repatriation of ancestral bones. Photo / via twitter
The mayor of Bremen, Carsten Sieling, has offered a formal apology for the behaviour of the collectors and traders during the time. The Moriori and Maori remains are a part of 59 various indigenous remains being returned home from Europe.
Bone collecting was common in New Zealand during the 1800s. European settlers and traders would often take the mummified heads known as the “mokomokai” for trade and personal collection as they were strikingly well preserved and highly prized.The heads were then sold to museums all over the world, where many of them remain.
The Ubersee Museum’s apology and returning of the remains is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the issue of displaying and collecting human remains continues to be a source of contention between indigenous people such as the Moriori and Maori and international Museums.
The remains are to be traditionally welcomed back to the country with a powhiri (a traditional welcoming ceremony) at Te Papa on May 26th.
Header: Robley with mokomokai collection, Wikimedia Commons