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Iwi kūpuna and treasures repatriated during trip to United Kingdom

Office of Hawaiian Affairs
The National Museums Northern Ireland returned iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi during a handover ceremony at Ulster Museum in Belfast in May 2022. From left to right: Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of NMNI; Dane Uluwehi Maxwell, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo; Mana Caceres, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo; Kalehua Caceres, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo; Starr Kalahiki, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo; and Aaron Snipe of the U.S. Embassy, London.

The National Museums Northern Ireland returned ancestral Hawaiian human remains, also known as iwi kūpuna, during an official handover ceremony earlier this month.

A Hawaiian delegation, museum colleagues and American embassy delegates attended the handover ceremony. The repatriation took place after talks between the museum, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo.

Five mea makamae pili aliʻi, or treasures associated with aliʻi, were also returned.

Researchers believe that Gordon Augustus Thomson removed the iwi from burial caves when he traveled to Hawaiʻi in 1840. He donated the remains to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1857. They were included in a 1910 donation to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, a precursor to NMNI.

The iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi had been part of the museum's World Cultures Collection.

“National Museums Northern Ireland believes it has legal and ethical responsibilities to redress the injustices shown to Native Hawaiian cultural values and traditions, and so through ongoing dialogue, it was agreed that these iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi should be returned by repatriation to the Native Hawaiians through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a self-governing corporate body of the State of Hawaiʻi," Kathryn Thomson, chief executive at NMNI, said in a statement.

“We are re-evaluating our World Cultures Collection on an ongoing basis, to better understand the complex global stories of some 4,500 items – and how and why they came to be in Belfast. We understand and respect cultural values and are in ongoing liaison with source communities and their representatives to establish if items within the collection can and should be returned to their ancestral homes. We remain open to further repatriations as these engagements develop," she said.

The Hawaiian delegation also repatriated an iwi poʻo, or skull, from Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The iwi kūpuna will be reburied on Molokaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island.

OHA will steward the returned mea makamae pili aliʻi.

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