31 Oct 2013

Ancestors can now rest easy says Te Papa

8:11 pm on 31 October 2013

National museum Te Papa Tongarewa says now several Maori ancestral remains are back home they can finally be given the dignity of a proper tangihanga (funeral).

Eight Maori mummified heads and five skeletal remains made the long journey back from universities and museums in England, Guernsey and Ireland after spending more than a century away from Aotearoa.

A large ope (group) of Tainui people dressed in outfits worn during mourning greeted the eight toi moko (preserved heads) and five koiwi tangata (skeletal remains) on the marae at Te Papa.

The new kaihautu (cultural co-leader) of the national museum, Arapata Hakiwai, says the institutions in the British Isles and Ireland were a pleasure to deal with.

He says the universities and museums initiated the repatriation.

Mr Hakiwai says they all acknowledged the fact that it is inappropriate for them to have Maori ancestral remains in their collections.

He says the institutions were the ones that made contact with Te Papa wanting to send them home.

Karanga Aotearoa repatriation chairperson Pou Temara says the tupuna (ancestors) can now rest peacefully in more familiar surroundings.

He says they will now be able to "sleep the sweet slumber" after being isolated and not given the chance to have a dignified funeral.

Mr Temara says only when the ancestral remains are returned to their iwi and allowed to be reconnected with their pito (umbilical cord) and whenua (placenta) can that sleep be complete.

Te Papa Museum says the challenge now is to find out which iwi the Maori human remains belong to.

The tattooed heads and skeletal remains will not go on display but will be kept in a special space away from the public until they can be returned to their rightful descendants.