New Zealand welcomes Maori remains returned by Austria

New Zealand welcomes Maori remains returned by Austria

Kept in the Natural History Museum in Vienna for more than a century, the human remains of 64 natives have been returned to their descendants. They had been looted by an Austrian taxidermist at the end of the 19th century.

Broken families have waited for this moment for generations. The remains of several dozen Maoris and Morioris who have lived in Austria for more than 130 years were officially returned to New Zealand by the Natural History Museum in Vienna on Sunday. The restitution ceremony for the remains of 64 Maori and Morioris, indigenous people from New Zealand’s main islands and offshore Chatham Islands, was held at the Te Papa National Museum in Wellington, where they will rest in a sacred place.

These remains, including skulls, were in the Austrian capital for decades after being looted by Austrian taxidermist and grave robber Andreas Reischek of the “iwi” tribe. He lived in New Zealand for twelve years until 1889. In his diaries he describes how he looted several graves without permission, notably on the Chatham Islands, in Christchurch or even in Auckland.

“Spirit of Reconciliation”

William “Pou” Temara, chair of the Te Papa Repatriation Advisory Committee, said the repatriation, the largest to date from Austria to New Zealand, is significant. “It is always a relief and a spiritual privilege to welcome back our ancestors who fell victim to such misdeeds,” he said. Culturally, we know they weep with joy at having returned to Aotearoa, New Zealand, where they will finally rest in peace.

The acting head of that operation, Te Arikirangi Mamaku-Ironside, hailed his Austrian counterparts’ help in ending 77 years of negotiations between the two countries. “The Museum für Naturkunde in Vienna is committed to righting wrongs and approaches this work with a spirit of openness and reconciliation,” said William Temara, before adding that a government-funded repatriation program is continuing.

“While there are further negotiations for the repatriation of the remains, there is still work to be done to bring all of our ancestors home,” he said. The human remains will remain at Te Papa while the iwi are consulted to determine their final resting place.