SHARE
COPY LINK

CULTURE

Austria returns looted Indigenous remains to New Zealand

The remains of scores of Indigenous Maori and Moriori people began a journey home to New Zealand on Tuesday, officials said, most of them stolen by a notorious 19th-century Austrian graverobber.

Austria returns looted Indigenous remains to New Zealand
A Repatriation Team carry 20 Maori mummified tattooed heads (Toi Moko) that were taken to Europe in the 1700s and 1800s into the Marae during a Maori welcome ceremony at Te Papa Museum in Wellington on January 27, 2012. Now, Austria is also returning looted Indigenous remains. (Photo by Marty Melville / AFP)

The bones of about 64 Maori and Moriori — the Indigenous people of mainland New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, respectively — are being returned by the Natural History Museum Vienna.

They will be received at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand in Wellington, on Sunday as part of a government-funded programme to bring Indigenous remains back to the Pacific nation.

The remains, including skulls, were housed for decades in Austria’s capital after being plundered from New Zealand’s “iwi” (tribes) more than 130 years ago, officials from the two countries said.

READ ALSO: ‘Love in midst of horror’: Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

Records show that most of the bones were collected by Austrian taxidermist and graverobber Andreas Reischek, who toured New Zealand for 12 years until 1889.

Reischek’s diaries recount how he looted graves without permission in several locations including the Chatham Islands, Christchurch and Auckland.

“These ancestors were stolen by those with no regard for the Maori communities they belonged to,” said William “Pou” Temara, chairman of Te Papa’s Repatriation Advisory Panel, in a statement Tuesday.

“In his diary entries, Reischek boasts of eluding Maori surveillance, looting sacred places and breaking ‘tapu’ (sacred rules) — he knew exactly what he was doing.

“His actions were wrong and dishonest.”

77 years of negotiations

The remains began their long journey home on Tuesday at a ceremony attended by New Zealand’s ambassador to Austria.

On Sunday a Maori welcoming ceremony, the Powhiri, will mark the repatriation in Wellington — the biggest so far from Austria.

It will conclude 77 years of negotiations between New Zealand and Austria, which began in 1945 when Maori leaders sought the remains’ return.

The remains will be kept at Te Papa’s “wahi tapu” (sacred space) while the museum consults with Maori and Moriori iwi to determine the final resting place.

Te Papa’s Maori co-leader Arapata Hakiwai said the repatriation was the result of lengthy discussions.

“This historic repatriation helps to reconcile the colonial past and opens a new chapter in relationships between Maori, Moriori, and the New Zealand and Austrian governments,” he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna Nazi art show seeks to address Austria’s WWII legacy

Katrin Vohland, the director of Vienna’s natural history museum, said the process was “driven by the wish for reconciliation”.

“I am happy we can contribute to the healing process,” she said. 

Sunday’s ceremony is the latest return of Indigenous remains since New Zealand created a government-funded repatriation programme in 2003.

In July, the Natural History Museum in London returned the ancestral remains of 111 Moriori and two Maori ancestors to Wellington.

Washington’s Smithsonian Institution returned the remains of 54 Maori people, including four mummified heads, as part of another significant repatriation in 2016.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CULTURE

All churned up: Austrian oat milk ad draws farmers’ ire

Austrian farmers were left fuming after an advert for winter tourism featured oat -instead of cow's- milk, in what industry representatives sourly slammed as an "affront to Tyrolean farmers".

All churned up: Austrian oat milk ad draws farmers' ire

The commercial was to promote Austria’s western Tyrol region, renowned for its rolling pastures and rugged peaks that are a magnet for winter sports lovers.

In the ad, a hairy, horned mythical figure called “Percht” — known for driving out winters in Alpine folklore — is invited into a Tyrolean mountain hut for a warming drink after returning a young girl’s glove that he found in the snow.

But it is the next scene that had farmers in a froth — when the “Percht” creature orders a “latte macchiato with oat milk”.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

“It can’t be that a promotional video for Tyrol features ‘oat milk’ and not the very own, genuine Tyrolean milk,” Josef Hechenberger, president of the Tyrolean Chamber of Agriculture said in a statement.

The ad is an “affront to Tyrolean farmers”, he added. 

Another regional Chamber of Agriculture and the Tyrolean Farmers’ Union had also voiced complaints, arguing that dairy-related names such as “oat milk” were banned by the European Union in adverts because they do not contain dairy products.

The uproar led to the advert which runs just over one minute long being pulled.

Tourism marketing organisation Tirol Werbung that commissioned the promotional video said the aim was to portray local hospitality and open-mindedness.

But it acknowledged that the underlying message that every preference and lifestyle is welcome in Tyrol had been lost on some viewers.

The ad called “Come as you are — in Tyrol everybody is welcome” was originally designed to cater to “modern, urban” clientele, for whom “climate protection is important” and who might be lactose-intolerant, Tirol Werbung’s communications chief Patricio Hetfleisch told AFP Thursday.

READ ALSO: Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

The punchline was that “every lifestyle and each preference, ranging from gender to food” would be welcomed with hospitality in Tyrol, Hetfleisch said.

“Obviously the punchline could not be decoded by some,” he added.

The commercial only aired for around 10 days before being suspended earlier this week due to criticism, Hetfleisch said.

Hashtags and memes surrounding the row are still trending in Austria.

It was originally shot in 2019 and produced by a Berlin-based creative film production agency.

SHOW COMMENTS