Return of human remains to Hawai'i

News from 02/07/2022

On February 11, 2022, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) will hand over 32 ancestral remains to a representative of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The ancestral remains have been in the keeping of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin since 2011.

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At the end of 2021, the SPK Board of Trustees decided that ancestral remains from the collection of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Prehistory and Early History) and funerary items currently in the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum (Ethnological Museum) should be returned to Hawai‘i. Now, as the first step, the ancestral remains, known as iwi kūpuna, are being repatriated.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, the OHA representative who will receive the ancestral remains at a ceremony in Berlin, remarked: “We acknowledge the anguish experienced by our ancestors, and take responsibility for their well-being (and thereby our own), by transporting them home for reburial. In doing this important work, we also acknowledge and celebrate our re-spective humanity – Germans and Hawaiians – together in aloha, as we write a new chapter in our historic relationship as human beings. We wish to thank all those who helped including the Consular of Cultural Affairs David Mees of the U.S. Embassy Berlin and Dr Robert Peters of the German Federal Foreign Office.”  

Hermann Parzinger, the President of the SPK, stated: "I am happy that these iwi kūpuna are now returning to their place of origin and can be buried there. I would like to thank the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and their representative Mr. Ayau, for their positive and professional work with us on identification and return. At its meeting on December 2, 2021, the SPK Foundation Board approved my proposal for repatriation. We are currently systematically examining the entire Luschan collection, which was taken over from the Charité in 2011, with a view to making possible the repatriation of further remains to other communities. I am pleased that we have already achieved this goal with regard to Hawaiʻi and have found a good solution."

Claudia Roth, Ministry of State, said: "Human remains from colonial contexts have no place in our museums and universities; their return must be a priority. I am therefore very pleased that, in addition to the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), other German museums and universities are returning iwi kūpuna to Hawaii. Colonial history has left many wounds. We must do our part to help close these wounds – through restitution, through a consistent examination of our colonial past, and through greater international cultural exchange. We need a decolonizing of our thinking in all areas."

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