Iwi kupuna in England for over a century return to Hawaii – along with an apology

Updated: Mar. 2, 2020 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some 20 iwi kupuna that were housed at the University of Cambridge have returned home to Hawaii.

OHA and a group of cultural practitioners went to pick up the collection of 20 skulls in England. They have been housed at the university for over a century, according to OHA.

The remains arrived in Honolulu Sunday night, and it came with a surprising apology.

“To your kupuna, I say that I am sorry that your voyage home has been so long interrupted, but I hope that you may now travel back in peace,” said Stephen J. Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

To some in the group, the much-appreciated apology caught them off guard.

“That was a shocking moment. Did he just say what I thought he said,” said OHA community engagement director Mehana Hind.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs says the remains originated in Nuuanu, Waialae and Honolulu.

“They all were taken without consent without notification, without discussion. The majority of them were taken during the time of the kingdom,” said Edward Halealoha Ayau, former executive director of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei.

In 1990, the state asked Cambridge if it had any iwi kupuna and the university initially said no.

“If we had just stopped there and not pursued it anymore, these 20 iwi kupuna who have come home now would still be there,” said Hind.

OHA added that the international repatriation of sacred objects and iwi kupuna remains at the top of their priorities.

“We extend a warm mahalo to our team of experts and the dedicated community members whose passion and commitment are what made the return of these kupuna possible. In addition, we thank the University of Cambridge for their respectful collaboration with us," said OHA Chief Executive Officer Sylvia Hussey.

"OHA hopes that this unprecedented repatriation by the University of Cambridge can serve as a model for other international museums and collections to return the ancestral remains of native peoples,” Hussey added.

The bones arrived in England between 1866 and 1903. This is the first time in the school’s 800-year history that remains have been returned based on a request from an indigenous group.

“Humanity benefits every time human beings agree to restore dignity to the deceased whose remains were removed without consent, which is to say, when we collectively embrace and celebrate ohana," Edward Halealoha Ayau, volunteer member of the hui and iwi kupuna repatriation, said.

OHA will now begin the process of identifying lineal and cultural descendants of the bones. Consultations regarding reburials will follow.

OHA acknowledges there is still much work to do with museums across the globe to restore ancestral Hawaiian foundations.

The group says private individuals have iwi kupuna and they hope those people come forward.

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