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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Scottish museum returns iwi kupuna to Hawaiʻi

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND (March 4, 2022) – Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh repatriated iwi kupuna (ancestral Hawaiian skeletal remains) today to a Hawaiian delegation consisting of Halealoha Ayau, Mana Caceres, Kalehua Caceres, Starr Kalahiki and Dane Maxwell of Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo and Kamakana Ferreira of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

The Museum was approached in 2020 by OHA to discuss an item recorded in the museum catalogue which was donated by Sir John Struthers (1823-1899) in 1896. After discussion with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Heritage Committee, repatriation was agreed to in September 2021. A private, solemn ceremony was held today to mark the beginning of the journey home for the iwi kupuna.

From the beginning of Struthers’ teaching career, he actively encouraged his students when working or traveling abroad to collect human remain specimens for the study of the “different races of man.” This process of collecting most often included theft, removing human remains without the consent of the community or relatives. These remains were then sent back to Struthers for his own collection and research.

The Kingdom of Hawai‘i introduced a law which made it illegal to remove human remains without consent in 1860. While the museum has not been able to ascertain exactly when this skull was removed, given Struthers’ teaching timeline, it is most likely to have come after this date. Making the removal not only ethically and morally questionable, but also very much illegal.

Chris Henry, Director of Heritage at Surgeons’ Hall Museums said:

“This is our first repatriation from the collections of the College and we are delighted to welcome delegates from Hawaiʻi. By participating in this process we are demonstrating our commitment to the spiritual wellbeing of communities around the globe.”

Photo: Chris Henry & Edward Halealoha Ayau

Chris Henry, Surgeons’ Hall Museums Director of Heritage and Edward Halealoha Ayau of Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo

In the Hawaiian language, the word for family is ohana. It is this value of ʻohana that forms the cornerstone of Hawaiian cultural identity. In addition, mālama kupuna, the Hawaiian value for caring for an elder or ancestor, has a significant impact on the need for repatriation. There is real concern for the wellbeing of members of the Hawaiian ʻohana who have been forcefully removed from their interment, from their beloved homeland and family.

“Iwi kupuna sit at the core of Hawaiians’ connection to ancestry that strengthens and guides our understanding and interaction with our homeland, and with one another,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “We extend our heartfelt thanks to Surgeons’ Hall Museums for recognizing the need to return the iwi kupuna to their one hanau (homeland).”

The repatriation effort brought two cultures together to talk about the past, correct a historical wrong, educate, learn, and heal. Surgeons’ Hall is honored to be able to help members of the Hawaiian ‘ohana on their final journey home.


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