Austria returns stolen remains of indigenous people to New Zealand

AFP - MARTY MELVILLE

The remains of indigenous Maori and Moriori people – most of them stolen by a notorious 19th-century Austrian grave-robber – are being sent home to New Zealand after 130 years.

Bones including craniums, calvaria (skulls without mandibles), loose mandibles, and maxilla (upper jaw) fragments will be welcomed to Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum, next month.

They are the remains of an estimated 64 people indigenous to mainland New Zealand and the Chatham Islands.

Their return by the Natural History Museum in the Austrian capital Vienna ends negotiations between New Zealand and Austria that started 77 years ago.

Stolen

Records indicate that 49 of the ancestors were collected by Austrian taxidermist and notorious grave-robber Andreas Reischek, who spent 12 years in New Zealand from 1877 to 1889.

Reischek’s diaries recount how he looted graves without permission in several locations including the Chatham Islands, Christchurch and Auckland.

“These ancestors were stolen by those with no regard for the Maori communities they belonged to,” said William “Pou” Temara, chairman of Te Papa’s Repatriation Advisory Panel.

“In his diary entries, Reischek boasts of eluding Maori surveillance, looting sacred places and breaking ‘tapu’ (sacred rules) – he knew exactly what he was doing.

"It is always a spiritual relief and privilege to welcome back our ancestors who have been victims of such wrongdoing.”

The remains will be received at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

(With newswires)