„To us they are deeply sacred.”

Te Herekiekie Herewini

Aotearoa - New Zealand

Tēnā koe (greetings) my name is Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, and I am of Māori ancestry. I have been working at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) since October 2007, and it is a privilege and honour to ensure our Māori and Moriori ancestors are repatriated from around the world with respect and dignity.

This work helps to heal and reconcile the dark period in Aotearoa New Zealand history associated with the colonisation of the country by the British Crown, and where colonial museums were active in the looting, collection and trade of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains and their burial items.

Doing Research

Finding the Collector

„The details of their provenance
were lost during World War II.”

Handwritten markings applied directly to three different skulls by the collectors.

c. 1905 / Blumenbach Skull Collection

As head of the Restitution Department at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, I have experience of transcribing the handwriting of collectors and traders. In the case of Göttingen, however, it was the first time I had done a comparative analysis of handwriting to find the collector.
Among the known dealers with human remains from New Zealand were Andreas Reischek (1845- 1902), Julius von Haast (1822-1887), Felix von Luschan (1854-1924), Henry Travers (1844-1928), and Sir James Hector (1834-1907). I sourced examples of their handwriting and through comparative analysis I came to the conclusion that the handwriting belonged to Sir James Hector, the director of the Colonial Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, from 1865 to 1903. Hector is a known collector and trader of New Zealand fauna and flora, which also included Māori and Moriori ancestral remains. He is recorded as sending Māori ancestral remains to both Austria and Germany.
I based my research methodology on the Māori cultural element known as whakapapa, which is a philosophy that all elements in the world have a genealogy or are connected by a series of events. Therefore, I knew the inscriptions did not exist in isolation, but were connected by whakapapa to a trader.

Te Herekiekie Herewini

This invoice from the company Umlauff to the Völkerkundemuseum in Hamburg was important for my research in Göttingen, because it connects and confirms the trade with Moriori and Māori ancestors with the Hamburg museum. These ancestors were then transferred to the University of Göttingen.
It is a very sad part of colonial history that the remains of indigenous people were commodified and commercialized. The redeeming factor is that through the repatriation process, these ancestors have returned home with dignity and respect. These ancestors have whakapapa,
and it is their culturally and spiritually connection to their living descendants that is our focus, and the enduring connection that facilitates their return to their communities where they will be respected, cared for, and offered a place of eternal rest.

Te Herekiekie Herewini

Invoice from the Hamburg company Umlauff, which specialized in the trade with ethnogafica and human remains, to the then Völkerkundemuseum Hamburg for ancestral remains of the Māori and Moriori

J. F. G. Umlauff / 1907 / Museum am Rothenbaum Hamburg, MARKK-Archiv I 1195

Giving Context

Aotearoa – New Zealand

“We are embracing our cultural norms from
over 3000 years and implementing them now.”

The acquisition contexts of the human remains of 28 individuals from Aotearoa / New Zealand stored in Göttingen vary. One of the four Maori ancestors in the Blumenbach Collection were stolen by the Austrian collector Andreas Reischek in Taiharuru in Northland in 1883 and came via Vienna in 1930. The other three Maori ancestors are associated with Sir James Hector, the director of the Colonial Museum in Wellington from 1865 to the early 1900s. From the Chatham Islands came the human remains of 22 Moriori Ancestors, which were acquired by the collector Henry Travers in 1906 and sold to the Hamburg company Umlauff. The company, which specialised in the trade of ethnographica, naturalia and human remains, sold the skulls to the Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg in 1907. Finally, two skulls associated with the Anthropological Department can be traced back to the anatomist and later director of the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology Georg Thilenius. Between 1897 and 1899, Thilenius undertook a research trip to the colony of New Zealand, which was under British rule at the time, and stole several skulls from a burial cave in the Waitakere Mountains near Auckland. In June 2023, all 28 ancestral human remains were returned to New Zealand.


Herr Direktor Prof. Dr. Thilenius, Museum für Völkerkunde [Hamburg]

Sehr geehrter Herr Professor,

ich sende Ihnen hiermit die Neuseeland Schädel und zwar:

Nr. 133-158 Moriori Schädel 26 M[ark]
Nr. 161 und 162 Moriori. Lose Unterkiefer 2 M[ark]
Nr. 159 und 160 Maori Schedel 2 [?] Stück



J.F.G. Umlauff


Director Prof. Dr. Thilenius, Museum für Völkerkunde [Hamburg]

Dear Professor,

I hereby send you the New Zealand skulls, namely:

No. 133-158 Moriori skulls 26 M[ark.]
No. 161 and 162 Moriori. Loose mandibles 2 M[ark]
No. 159 and 160 Maori skulls [? 2 pieces



J.F.G. Umlauff