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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Group of Native Hawaiians to bring home iwi kūpuna housed at English institution for over a century

CAMBRIDGE, England (February 29, 2020) ­– OHA and a hui of cultural practitioners today received 20 iwi kūpuna (ancestral bones) housed for over a century at the University of Cambridge, ending a decade-long effort to return the Native Hawaiian remains to Hawaiʻi.

“The international repatriation of iwi kūpunamoepū (funerary possessions) and mea kapu (sacred objects) continues to represent a significant priority for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” said Sylvia Hussey, OHA Ka Pouhana (OHA Chief Executive Officer). “We extend a warm mahalo to our team of experts and the dedicated community members whose passion and commitment are what made the return of these kūpuna possible. In addition, we thank the University of Cambridge for their respectful collaboration with us. OHA hopes that this unprecedented repatriation by the University of Cambridge can serve as a model for other international museums and collections to return the ancestral remains of native peoples.”

Native Hawaiians bring home iwi kūpuna from England

Professor Stephen J. Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “The University of Cambridge is honoured to be able to return the iwi kūpuna to their ancestral home. The iwi kūpuna came to be in Cambridge many decades ago and it is only appropriate that we now do what we can to help them complete their journey. I am sorry that their journey home has been so long interrupted but I hope they may now travel in peace.”

Today’s event is part of a major initiative by OHA and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners to repatriate iwi kūpuna from international collections. Earlier this week, the hui of Native Hawaiians held consultations with six German institutions regarding claims for repatriation of iwi kūpunamoepū and mea kapu. In 2017, the Museum of Ethnology Dresden in Germany transferred three iwi kūpuna to OHA and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, marking the first time the eastern German state of Saxony repatriated indigenous human remains.

“Humanity benefits every time human beings agree to restore dignity to the deceased whose remains were removed without consent, which is to say, when we collectively embrace and celebrate ‘ohana (family),” said Edward Halealoha Ayau, a volunteer member of the hui that traveled to England and a longtime advocate of iwi kūpuna repatriation. 

The hui of Native Hawaiians on this trip includes:

·            Mehana Hind, OHA Community Engagement Director;

·            Edward Halealoha Ayau, former Executive Director, Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei;

·            Noelle M.K.Y. Kahanu, assistant specialist, American Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa;

·            Mana Caceres, cultural practitioner; and

·            Keoki Pescaia, cultural practitioner.

The hui will receive 20 iwi poʻo (skulls) originating from NuʻuanuWaiʻalae and Honolulu. The iwi were transferred from three separate private collections to the University of Cambridge between 1866 and 1903.

This will be the first time in the 800-year history of the University of Cambridge that the institution is returning remains based on a request from an indigenous group. The iwi kūpuna are among 18,000 individuals from around the world housed at the University of Cambridge’s Duckworth Laboratory, one of the largest repositories of human remains in the world.

According to Dr. Cressida Fforde, who led historic documentation research efforts on behalf of OHA: “This is an historic moment in the history of repatriation from British institutions. Cambridge University should be congratulated for recognizing the right of Indigenous peoples to the repatriation of their human remains, as is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

 The Native Hawaiian hui will escort the iwi kūpuna home, arriving in Honolulu on Sunday evening, March 1. OHA will then support the process to identify lineal and cultural descendants by the Oahu Island Burial Council and State Historic Preservation Division. Consultations regarding reburial will follow.

 “While OHA is pleased with the outcome of this repatriation, we recognize that there is much more work to do with other museums across the globe as we continue the sacred work to restore our ancestral Hawaiian foundation,” said OHA Chair Colette Machado.

Native Hawaiians bring home iwi kūpuna from England



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