Press Releases

Maori skeletal remains sent home

Repatriation ceremony held at National Museum Cardiff

A special event will be held at National Museum Cardiff on Monday, 16 November 2009 to prepare 12 k?iwi tangata or Mäori ancestral remains for their journey home.

The private repatriation - arranged in partnership with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - will see the skeletal remains of one female and bones of 11 others, one of which is believed to be female, five male and the rest unknown, returned to their original community in New Zealand. In addition to these 12 k?iwi tangata a smaller collection of skeletal remains will also return with Te Papa.

Until now the skeletons, have formed part of the Welsh national collection. When recently researched, a few of the remains showed features consistent with Polynesian ancestry. It now seems likely these particular remains were originally obtained from Ahuahu or Great Mercury Island which is the largest in the Mercury Islands group, and is also considered the most historically significant.

“After studying the remains and realising their significance to the M?ori community, Amgueddfa Cymru felt it was appropriate to offer them back to their country of origin to lay their souls to rest,” said Richard Brewer, Keeper of Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Michael Houlihan, Director General, Amgueddfa Cymru added:

“This is the first time the Museum has attempted such a process and hope that opening the doors to the Te Papa Museum will lay the foundations for future collaborations.”

The repatriation, which forms part of Karanga Aotearoa – the New Zealand government mandated authority that negotiates the repatriation of M?ori ancestral remains on behalf of M?ori – lasts about 60 minutes. Before the remains are packed, a call and chant of acknowledgement is made to the köiwi tangata. The köiwi tangata will then be greeted. Following a closing prayer, all participants of the ceremony will press noses as part of the completion process and sprinkle water over their heads and bodies.

Mr Te Herekiekie Herewini, Te Papa’s Repatriation Manager, thanked Amgueddfa Cymru for agreeing to return the ancestors to New Zealand:

“This is significant for Mäori as it is believed that through the ancestors’ return to their homeland, the dead and their living descendants will retrieve their dignity, and also close the hurt and misdeeds of the past,” said Mr Herewini.

Since May 2004, Karanga Aotearoa has repatriated ancestral remains from eight countries bringing home 149 k?iwi tangata (skeletal remains) and Toi moko (mummified tattooed heads).

Highlights from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ permanent archaeology collection are on display in the Origins: in search of Early Wales exhibition at National Museum Cardiff, which follows the story of the first humans 230,000 years ago to the end of the Middle Ages.

Admission to all Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum sites is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Amgueddfa Cymru operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.


For further information, images or interview opportunities, please contact Catrin Mears, Communications Officer on (029) 2057 3185 / 07815 743505 or email