June 1st 2023:
Maori and Moriori ancestors return home
Māori and Moriori ancestors return homeGöttingen University returns sacred ancestral remains from its collections to Aotearoa New Zealand
At the end of the 19th century, a company in Hamburg called Umlauff did a huge amount of business, trading items acquired by German colonialists overseas. Among them were Kōimi T’chakat Moriori, skeletal remains of Moriori (people from Rēkohu, the Chatham Islands east of mainland New Zealand). This trade violated the laws of the country even at that time which prohibited the collection, theft, misuse and trade in human remains of Māori and Moriori from New Zealand. Despite this, after the Second World War, the remains were sent to the University of Göttingen via the Museum für Völkerkunde (museum of ethnology) in Hamburg. Other ancestral remains came from New Zealand to Vienna and from there to Göttingen via the collector Adolf Kluckauf.
Göttingen University worked with The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme to facilitate the return of these kōiwi tangata (Māori skeletal remains) and kōimi t’chakat (Moriori skeletal remains) to Aotearoa New Zealand.
On Thursday 1 June 2023, there will be a formal handover that will include tikane Moriori (indigenous cultural customs and protocols).
"We support the German government's initiative that sacred ancestral remains in collections should be identified and returned to their homelands," says Göttingen University President Professor Metin Tolan. In March 2023, the Senate of the University of Göttingen reemphasised the University's responsibility for coming to terms with colonial history, as well as the responsibility to engage in productive, future-oriented relations with post-colonial societies. The upcoming ceremony is another step forward as part of this endeavour.
The ancestral remains represent approximately 32 individuals. Research carried out by scholars as part of the project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation Sensitive provenances: human remains from colonial contexts in the collections of the University of Göttingen is still ongoing.
Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, Head of Repatriation, at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa was a fellow working on this project. He explains, "Through our research, we were able to determine the ancestral remains are Moriori from Rēkohu Chatham Islands and Māori from Aotearoa New Zealand and how they ended up in the two collections." Te Herekiekie researched the origin of the skeletal remains from Aotearoa, noting that sometimes the clues were scarce, as in the case of three skulls from the Blumenbach Collection. The word "Māori" had been handwritten on them. By
analysing the handwriting it could be determined that it came from the then director of the Colonial Museum in Wellington, Sir James Hector.