Ancestral remains finally put to rest

LAID TO REST: Rangitane pallbearers return the first tupuna remains to Marlborough's Wairau Bar yesterday.
LAID TO REST: Rangitane pallbearers return the first tupuna remains to Marlborough's Wairau Bar yesterday.

Anger, resentment and disagreement were laid to rest on Marlborough's Wairau Bar yesterday with the burial of the bones of more than 60 people dug up there 70 years ago by the Canterbury Museum.

The tupuna of local iwi Rangitane were finally put back into the earth, ending a long campaign for their return.

"The only way you know where you are going is if you know where you come from," iwi spokesman Richard Bradley said as the funeral party arrived.

"The reason why we know who we are is because we know where we come from," he said.

Then, led by a Maori guard of honour, dozens of mourners trudged along the bar, carrying the ancestral remains in four simple wooden coffins.

A dark, angry sky accompanied the burial party and its hundreds of mourners to three grave sites, but as the last coffin was lowered into the ground the sun broke through the clouds. Streaks of bright light bathed the wailing mourners, making their tears glisten.

"We finally, after seven decades, have got our people," said Rangitane chairman Judith MacDonald.

"They are home, they are back in the ground where they always should have stayed.

"Today is a celebration for us, no matter what race, creed or colour, for us all to live together, and I think what you're looking at today is really the epitome of that. I feel great."

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson attended the ceremony and shovelled soil over the last coffin.

"It was good to be with them. It was an honour. I think they were very keen that I be seen to be one of the gang, so I was very pleased to do that," he said.

"They've been yearning to have this day for some time, and so they've reconnected with the past and, yes, onward they move. That's the way it should be."

Later, at Omaka Marae, Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright told tribal members he was sorry about the past.

"It was a clear apology for any hurt caused or felt, which we believe to be unintentional, but it is very, very clear, particularly from the emotions that flowed at the museum on Tuesday, that there is a tremendous sense of hurt," he said.

"By the same token, I'm proud of my antecedents, my tupuna at the museum. They were doing, I really believe, the best by the light of their day."

About 100 Rangitane members travelled to Christchurch on Tuesday to collect the coffins from the museum, and then accompanied the remains to the Wairau Bar.

The iwi now intends to negotiate with the museum for the return of treasures removed by archaeologists when they dug up the human remains.

The Press