New Zealand welcomes back indigenous remains from Austria

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New Zealand on Sunday welcomed back the remains of around 64 indigenous New Zealanders that were stolen in the 19th century and sent back by Austria after more than 70 years of negotiations.

In a ceremony at the country’s national museum, Te Papa, a few hundred people gathered to witness a procession as the remains were carried in white boxes and placed on a stage, and covered with straw blankets and fur.

Indigenous men and women, sitting around the boxes, spoke and sang in Maori to mark the return of the remains.

The Maori and Moriori skeletal remains, including skulls without mandibles, craniums, loose mandibles, and maxilla fragments were largely collected by Austrian taxidermist and grave robber Andreas Reischek from 1877 to 1889.

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa has run a programme to repatriate skeletal remains from institutions since 2003. More than 600 remains have since been returned, including 111 Moriori and two Maori from London’s Natural History Museum in July.

“It is always a spiritual relief and privilege to welcome back our ancestors who have been victims of such wrongdoing,” Pou Temara, chair of Te Papa’s Repatriation Advisory Panel, said in a statement this week ahead of the return of the remains.