Kawhia the final destination for mummified child 100 years on

Repatriated remains to be welcomed to Te Papa Tongarewa - the national museum of New Zealand.
Luke Appleby

Repatriated remains to be welcomed to Te Papa Tongarewa - the national museum of New Zealand.

A mummified child is destined to be repatriated to Waikato but will have to wait a little longer before reaching the final resting place.

The remains were held in an Weltmuseum Wien Museum in Vienna for more than a century but the Austrian Government gave approval for the mummified child and other remains to be returned.

Professor Pou Temara, chairman of Te Papa's advisory panel on repatriation, said it was a significant occasion for Tainui when it is repatriated to the coastal village of Kawhia.

"It's one of the repatriations that began in the 1980s," said Temara.

In 1985, the late Maori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu brought back the remains of Tainui ancestors taken from burial sites and exported to Austria in the 1880s by Andreas Reischek.

"They were taken by Reischek and this is one from that group of remains that went from that particular waahi tapu."

Reischek was an Austrian taxidermist and collector and the Te Ara online encyclopedia refers to his removal of the Kawhia mummies as his "most famous exploit".

He gained the trust of the Kawhia tribes before he took the tupapaku (deceased) from Hautapu - a 188m limestone rock formation next to the Awaroa River near Hauturu. 

A delegation from Wellington's Te Papa Museum headed to Vienna to formally receive the remains and three other sets of remains.

They include nine human vertebrae, a coffin with skeletal remains from three different individuals and a Toi moko or mummified and tattooed head.

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"We thought we would have diverted them to Kawhia in order to hand over the mummified remains of the child but we didn't have time to organise that," said Temara.

The remains will arrive in New Zealand on Monday to a ceremony at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum but Temara said there was no information on when they would finally be laid to rest.

Te Papa will hold them for quarantine, conservation and assessment before their final journey.

Te Papa's repatriation programme was government mandated in 2003 and $50,000 has been allocated to bring the remains back from Vienna.

Research is underway into preservation techniques but the Te Papa website shows information on preserved heads which included steaming in an earth oven and smoke drying.

Temara said the process revealed a high level of preservation and a person's likeness was well maintained.

Kawhia kaumatua John Kaati said several tupapaku were removed from the burial cave of a high ranking Tainui ancestors.

"There were several taken but the only one that I can recall, was named Tupahau. They've brought others back over time."

Tupahau was a prominent chief in the Kawhia region and an ancestor to Ngati Maniapoto and Waikato hapu and Ngati Toa at Porirua.

Reischek came into the Kawhia harbour during a turbulent time in New Zealand history.

It was the aftermath of the invasion of Waikato and the King Country was  prohibited territory for Europeans.

"Kawhia befriended him and it was through that, he was able to get into the King Country in a time when white people weren't allowed in," said Kaati.

Kaati owns property next to the ancient burial caves on Hautapu and said all Maori ancestors should be returned.

"I don't think there is any value if you are only going to bring one home and leave the rest there," he said. "My view is you bring them all home or they all stay."

 - Stuff

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