Homecoming to New Zealand: Vienna Museum restitutes bones of the Maori

Andreas Reischek himself once admitted in his diaries to having stolen Maori human remains.

Homecoming to New Zealand: Vienna Museum restitutes bones of the Maori

Andreas Reischek himself once admitted in his diaries to having stolen Maori human remains. After more than a century, the human remains are now returning to their homeland - to rest in peace.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna (NHM) has returned the human remains of more than 60 indigenous people to New Zealand after decades of negotiations. They come from the Maori and Moriori peoples. The latter once inhabited the Chatham Islands belonging to the Pacific state. The skulls and skull fragments arrived at the national museum "Te Papa" in the capital Wellington.

According to his notes, most of the bones were secretly stolen from sacred sites by the Austrian explorer and collector Andreas Reischek (1845-1902) in the late 19th century. "The venture was very daring, for its discovery would inevitably have cost me my life. During the night the mummies were moved on, then well hidden," he wrote.

Reischek was in New Zealand from 1877 to 1889. The human remains came to the museum through donation, trade and barter. The bones of the ancestors were stolen by people who had no respect for the Maori communities, said Pou Temara, Chair of the Advisory Board on Repatriation.

In his diary entries, Reischek boasted about evading Maori surveillance and looting sacred sites. "He knew exactly what he was doing." It is a "spiritual relief and privilege" to welcome the ancestors home. When they return to Aotearoa (that's the Maori name for New Zealand), they can finally rest in peace.

The NHM said that with the return, the earlier collection practice would be recognized as wrong and the dignity of the deceased would also be restored for the descendants. "I am impressed by how much the desire for reconciliation drives the repatriation process and I am pleased that we can contribute to the healing process," said NHM director Katrin Vohland.

Before the transport, a ceremony was held in Vienna with Maori representatives charged with repatriating their ancestors from abroad. Maori have been trying to retrieve bones from around the world for decades. In 2015, the World Museum in Vienna returned human bones from Austria to New Zealand, including the mummy of a small child. Maori remains have also been brought home from Germany, France and the USA.

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