Tupuna rest at home

'A celebration ... for us all to live together'

Last updated 13:50 17/04/2009
HOME AT LAST: Rangitane iwi carry the 700-year-old bones of their 60 ancestors back to three burial sites on the Wairau Bar yesterday, after waiting 70 years for their return from Canterbury Museum. The burial ended a three-day journey for the iwi, many of whom have travelled from around New Zealand and Australia for the event.

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Rangitane reburied their ancestors at Wairau Bar yesterday, 70 years after their bones were exhumed for science. Now they are looking forward to regaining ownership of the burial site.

The Department of Conservation owns the land, but the burial site and, potentially, the entire 120-hectare Wairau Bar site will be included in a $300 million top of the south iwi settlement deal.

Rangitane development manager Richard Bradley said Rangitane were meeting with the Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, and officials on Monday.

Senior iwi member Jeffrey Hynes said Rangitane had strengthened their resolve to get the land back since the repatriation and he had no reason to believe it would not happen.

It it understood the iwi are the first group in New Zealand to officially reclaim their ancestors from any museum or institution.

Iwi members hope this will set a trend for other iwi to reclaim their ancestors and other taonga.

Rangitane hope other taonga housed in museums and institutions will all eventually be returned.

Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright apologised to Rangitane at a ceremony at Omaka Marae after the reburial for the hurt caused by removing the remains.

"I recognise that things that have happened in the past that would not happen today.

"I am very ready to make an apology on behalf of the museum for any hurt that has been caused. We wish for that to be put behind us."

Members of the iwi travelled to Canterbury Museum on Tuesday to reclaim the bones of 60 Rangitane ancestors (tupuna), estimated to be about 700 years old. The tupuna were excavated from the Wairau Bar by the museum up to 70 years ago for study and display purposes.

The journey culminated with yesterday's moving reburial ceremony, attended by about 300 iwi members and members of the Marlborough community.

As the iwi carried the tupuna, led by seven men performing the mau rakau ritual, they grieved aloud. Hand-woven flax mats and the iwi's parekawakawa (leaf arrangements on their heads as a sign of mourning) were placed into the graves with the caskets.

The four caskets, and one smaller one containing "Aunty", the oldest-known ancestor from the Bar, were reburied in three sites, as close as possible to their original locations.

Mr Bradley told the group at the Bar that every person there had a responsibility to ensure the bones were not taken again.

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He later said he had never been as proud of his iwi as he had been over the last few days.

"What you are witnessing today is one generation making sure they know where they came from, and that's a cool thing."

Rangitane chairwoman Judith MacDonald said the day had been significant for Rangitane, Marlborough and all of New Zealand.

"Today is a celebration for us, no matter what race or creed or colour you are, for us all to live together.

"There is a saying that you don't know where you are going until you know where you have come from.

"We have always known where we are from, but until now, part of that past has been missing. It has been returned today."

Rangitane's Aroha Bond described yesterday as a "bitter-sweet" end.

"We are lucky to have shared in this. It is such a privilege."

Kuia Rea Patuaka, 53, from Foxton, said a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

"It's been beautiful ... I am just so happy."

For Rangitane kaumatua Phillip MacDonald, who at age seven witnessed the tupuna's removal, said the day had been a good conclusion. He said that at the time of the removal, his father, Rangitane head Manny MacDonald, protested what was happening.

He said his father would have felt "quietly chuffed" about yesterday.

Rangitane from around New Zealand and Australia attended the reburial, as well as MPs and other dignitaries. They included Mr Finlayson, Te Tai Tonga MP Rahui Katene and Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman.

The 10-kilometre boulder bank at the mouth of the Wairau River is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites in the country, having provided the first conclusive evidence that New Zealand was originally colonised from East Polynesia.

- The Marlborough Express

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