Moriori karāpuna to be repatriated this week

By James Perry

More than 100 kōimi T'chakat Moriori (Moriori skeletal remains) will be welcomed to Te Papa this week, the largest repatriation of ancestors to a single imi (iwi/tribe).

It coincides with the opening of a refreshed display of Moriori taonga (treasures) at Te Papa as part of the museum's Mana Whenua exhibition.

Senior curator matauranga Māori Dougal Austin worked closely and collaboratively with Moriori to update and revitalise the display which showcases the distinctive culture and history founded in isolation on Rēkohu (Chatham Islands).

Austin says, “kotahitanga remains a guiding principle for how we curate Mana Whenua, so we’re acutely aware of the importance of representing Moriori".

Returning from London’s Natural History Museum, the 111 remains include skulls, mandibles, other parts of the body and a small number of complete skeletons, which were taken from Rēkohu for collection, trade and research. 

This repatriation also includes almost 200 karāpuna (Moriori ancestral remains) from Otago University, Tūhura Otago Museum, Canterbury Museum, Whanganui Regional Museum and Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Museum commended

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa will hold a hokomaurahiri (repatriation ceremony) on Friday to mark the return of these ancestors. 

This significant repatriation is a culmination of 15 years of research and negotiation by the Moriori people and the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme.

Hokotehi Moriori Trust chair Maui Solomon commended the Natural History Museum for its actions.

“This demonstrates the Natural History Museum’s respect for Moriori culture, and its willingness to right past wrongdoings and return Kōimi T’chakat Moriori home.”

Mr Solomon also acknowledged Te Papa for its work with the imi (tribe).

“Te Papa was the first New Zealand institution to recognise Moriori, and that has been very important to us.”

Rēkohu return

“This repatriation is another chapter in a long relationship between Te Papa and the Moriori people,” Mr Solomon said.

Te Papa Māori co-leader Dr Arapata Hakiwai appreciates the efforts and commitment of the Natural History Museum and the New Zealand institutions helping to bring these karāpuna (ancestors) home.

“This historic repatriation is the first from the Natural History Museum, London. We acknowledge those at the museum who have been assisting with this repatriation for many years and treated our discussions with sensitivity and care.”

“We also acknowledge the contribution of the New Zealand institutions whose collaborative approach has enabled this to be the largest coordinated return of ancestral human remains in our country’s history.”

“We hope this momentous repatriation encourages other institutions around the world to follow suit,” Hakiwai said.

The ancestors will join hundreds of others to eventually be returned to their homeland, Rēkohu (Chatham Islands).

Healing and reconciliation

Natural History Museum London director Dr Doug Gurr said the repatriation was an important moment for the institution.

“Respect and responsibility towards the remains of the deceased are important for us all, and we understand the importance of the return of the ancestors to the care of their communities as part of a process of healing and reconciliation. Me rongo,” Gurr said.

The Natural History Museum’s formal handover ceremony took place in London last week, and included tikane Moriori and Tikanga Māori involving members of Hokotehi and the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme.