Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Ritual as Maori bones return home

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The bones of twelve maori people which have lain in boxes in the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff since the 1920s have been handed over to New Zealand at a special ceremony

An ancient ritual was performed during a ceremony in a museum before the skeletal remains of 12 Maoris began their return from Wales to New Zealand.

The skeleton of a female and bones of 11 other people were part of the Welsh national collection at National Museum Cardiff.

But they are being repatriated after recent research showed features consistent with Polynesian ancestry.

Before the remains were packed, a call and chant of acknowledgement was made.

The remains - known as koiwi tangata - were greeted during the hour-long ceremony, attended by workers from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which has helped arrange the repatriation.

The ceremony at the Cardiff museum took place between 1200 BST and 1400 GMT.

Following a closing prayer, all participants of the ceremony pressed noses as part of the completion process and sprinkled water over their heads and bodies.

Research has shown that the remains were originally obtained from Ahuahu, or Great Mercury Island, which is the largest in the Mercury Islands group, located off the north-east coast of New Zealand's North Island.

Te Herekiekie Herewini, Te Papa's repatriation manager, said it was important to return the ancestors to their original community in New Zealand: "This is significant for Maori as it is believed that through the ancestors' return to their homeland, the dead and their living descendants will retrieve their dignity, and also close the hurt and misdeeds of the past," he said.

Richard Brewer, keeper of archaeology, National Museum Wales, said: "After studying the remains and realising their significance to the Maori community, Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales) felt it was appropriate to offer them back to their country of origin to lay their souls to rest."

The return of the bones forms part of Karanga Aotearoa, which is the New Zealand government-mandated authority that negotiates the repatriation of ancestral remains on behalf of Maori.

Since May 2004, it has repatriated ancestral remains from eight countries, bringing home 149 koiwi tangata (skeletal remains) and Toi moko (mummified tattooed heads).



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