Austria returns Aboriginal remains to New Zealand

Austria returns Aboriginal remains to New Zealand

The repatriation of the remains of dozens of Māori and Moriori, indigenous Polynesian peoples, to New Zealand began on Tuesday, September 27, after they were stolen by a notorious 19th-century grave robber.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna has restored the bones of 64 Maori and Moriori, indigenous people from New Zealand and the Chatham Islands respectively. These remains will be received on Sunday by Te Papa, National Museum of New Zealand in Wellingtonas part of a state-supported program to recover the remains of the country’s indigenous people.

Dangerous thief

El Baladan said the remains, including the skulls, had been preserved for decades in the Austrian capital after they were looted from New Zealand’s iwi more than 130 years ago. The culprit was the Austrian embalmer and thief Andreas Reschke. He remained in New Zealand for twelve years, until 1889.

In his memoirs he describes how many cemeteries were plundered without permission, particularly on the Chatham Islands, in Christchurch, or even in Auckland. “These ancestors were stolen by those who had no regard for Maori communities”Te Papa Resettlement Advisory Committee chair William “Bo” Temara said in a statement on Tuesday.

77 years of negotiations

“In his memoirs, Reischek boasts of escaping Māori surveillance, ransacking sacred places and breaking ‘tapu’ (sacred rules) – he knew exactly what he was doing”he added. “His actions were vicious and dishonorable.”

The repatriation concludes 77 years of negotiations between New Zealand and Austria, which began in 1945 when Maori chiefs demanded the return of the remains. “This historic homecoming reconciles the colonial past and opens a new chapter in relations between Maori and Moriori and the governments of New Zealand and Austria.”said Arabata Hakiwai, another Maori chief involved in the repatriation.

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this process “Out of a desire for reconciliation”added Katrin Volland, director of the Vienna Museum of Natural History. “I am glad that we can contribute to the healing process.”did she say.

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