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Germany to return ancestral remains to Hawaiʻi from museums

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BERLIN — The body overseeing Berlin's museums will hand over Hawaiian ancestral remains collected by a German naturalist in the 19th century to authorities in Hawaiʻi.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation said Monday that the remains of 32 individuals, known as “iwi kūpuna," will be handed over Friday to a representative of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a semi-autonomous state agency directed by Native Hawaiians.

Most of the bones are probably several hundred years old and were collected from a beach at Waimānalo on Oʻahu. Two more skulls came from a place in Hawaiʻi that can't be identified precisely, the foundation said.

“Human remains from colonial contexts have no place in our museums and universities,” Germany's culture minister, Claudia Roth, said a statement. “Their return must be a priority.”

The remains were part of collections that the heritage foundation took over from Berlin's Charite hospital in 2011 and whose provenance it is researching. The foundation said the bones were acquired by collector and naturalist Hermann Otto Finsch around 1880 during a voyage to the South Pacific and were sent to Berlin.

Discussions about repatriating the remains had been ongoing since 2017. The German foundation has said it will return human remains from “colonial contexts” if the countries and groups they come from are known and their return is desired.

In addition to the human remains, the Berlin foundation plans to return to Hawaiʻi this year funerary items that were removed from burial caves around 1885.

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