The remains of 109 Māori and Moriori ancestors which formed part of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin's former anthropology collections were handed back to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. The official ceremony was attended by delegates from the indigenous communities, representatives from Te Papa and Charité, and New Zealand’s Ambassador to Germany, Rupert Holborow.
Members of the Māori and Moriori delegation offered prayers and performed traditional songs to honor the memory of their ancestors. This was followed by representatives from Te Papa and Charité formally signing the repatriation agreement. Explaining the significance of the event, the Dean of Charité, Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries, said: “These human remains, ostensibly collected for scientific purposes, were used as part of a wider ideological focus on ethnicity and ‘racial hygiene’. This was and remains ethically unacceptable and represents a serious violation of the human dignity of these indigenous ancestors. As a research institution, Charité wishes to issue an unreserved apology to their descendants.” The Director of the Berlin Museum of Medical History at Charité, Prof. Dr. Thomas Schnalke, added: “By returning these ancestral remains, Charité reaffirms its commitment to the ethically responsible principles underpinning the concept of responsibility in medical science.”
Te Papa’s Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) Dr. Arapata Hakiwai said: “The connection to the tūpuna (ancestors) is continuous, despite time and location, and it is our duty to bring them back to their home. There is a growing awareness among overseas institutions about the importance of repatriating ancestral remains. Te Papa is pleased to be able to work with international institutions in order to facilitate the safe return of the ancestors to their iwi (tribes). Their genuine commitment to the repatriation of indigenous remains allows our country to resolve a very dark period in our history.”
Ambassador Holborow noted the importance of this occasion: “Māori and Moriori families and communities have an enduring connection to their ancestors. Thus it is comforting and appropriate to see this repatriation occur. The long journey home will close the circle on a long period of separation between our Iwi and Moriori communities and their ancestors. As such we are thankful to, and respectful of, Charité and the Berlin Museum of Medical History for facilitating this repatriation”.
Investigations carried out in relation to the ancestral remains
The human remains formally handed over today include skulls and skeletal material from individuals of all ages and both sexes. They were likely removed from Māori and Moriori graves against the will of the indigenous communities and brought to Berlin during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In most cases, the remains and the historical information available on them were insufficient to determine cause of death. This mirrors the conclusions drawn by an anthropological investigation into the provenance of these human remains, which was conducted following the completion of the Charité Human Remains Project in 2013. This investigation, which also studied the reasons for and context in which the remains were collected, was conducted by Prof. Dr. Andreas Winkelman, Sarah Fründt and Dr. Holger Stoecker. The researchers’ substantive collection of documents will also be made available to the Museum of New Zealand.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Schnalke
Director of the Berlin Museum of Medical History at Charité
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 536 077
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