Sacred Remains: Ancestors return home
When anatomist Georg Thilenius excavated a series of skulls and skeletons on the island of Maui in 1897, he violated existing Hawaiian laws that prohibited the removal of human remains from burial sites. Still, it gets stolen iwi kupuna (skeletal remains of Hawaiian ancestors) came to the University of Göttingen in 1953 via the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology. On Wednesday, February 9, 2022, March 13 iwi kupuna were returned to their descendants from Hawaii during a ceremonial event.
“With this return, we express our deep respect and our attachment to Hawaiian culture,” said the President of the University of Göttingen, Professor Metin Tolan. the iwi kupuna were identified by scientists of the research project “Sensitive Provenances: Human Remains from Colonial Contexts in the Collections of the University of Göttingen” funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The focus was on the Blumenbach Collection and the Anthropological Collection.
“Through our investigations, we were able to at least partially understand where the remains came from and how they ended up in the two collections,” explains Dr. Marie Luisa Allemeyer from the Center for Collection Development at the University of Göttingen. For example, in the mid-19th century, a ship’s doctor sent four iwi kupuna to the Institute for Anatomy and Surgery in Braunschweig. Via the founding director of the State Natural History Museum in Braunschweig, they finally came into the hands of a medical student from Göttingen, who handed them over to the Anatomical Institute of the University of Göttingen in 1934.
“We recognize the agony experienced by our ancestors and take responsibility for their welfare (and therefore our own) by transporting them home for reburial,” said Edward Halealoha Ayau, a representative with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHH). who campaigned for the repatriation of people iwi kupuna for years. Ayau adds, “In this important work, we also recognize and celebrate our respective humanity—Germans and Hawaiians together in Aloha—as we write a new chapter in our historic relationship as human beings.” Ayau along with cultural creators Mana and Kalehua Caceres are the Members of the Hawaiian delegation representing OHA and traveling not only to Goettingen but also to Bremen, Jena, Berlin and Vienna on this trip to repatriate a total of 58 iwi kupuna.
“Much has changed among museum professionals and anthropologists in the last decade, showing a better understanding of indigenous peoples and the past injustices done to us. We certainly recognize this and applaud the rehumanization of these individuals and institutions,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “Today, these actions enable us to heal not only as individuals but also as a lāhui (Hawaiian nation).”
After the ceremony at the University of Göttingen, the trip of the OHA delegation continued with the return of three iwi kūpuna from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. More information about this “handover” ceremony can be found here.
Further information on the “Sensitive Provenances” research project and a recording of the ceremony at the University of Göttingen can be found on the university’s YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/ghgZECfEicw
dr Marie Luisa Allemeyer
University of Goettingen
Center for Collection Development, Weender Landstraße 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Phone +49 (0)551 39-26690
Email: [email protected]
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