Dozens of ancestral remains were reburied in an emotional
ceremony at Puketeraki Marae, Karitane, yesterday.
Enclosed in specially made boxes, the remains of 63 people -
ranging from babies to old people - were laid to rest at the
Huirapa pa site.
Upoko David Ellison said the reinterment ceremony offered a
chance to ''lay our ancestors to rest''.
''They have finally found their resting place and that is
important to us as an iwi and as a runanga. It is emotional
enough to attend an ordinary funeral, but a funeral for 60
people ... well.''
Mr Ellison expressed thanks for the help of the Otago Museum,
which looked after the remains, to the University of Otago
Anatomy Department, for doing scientific analysis, and to
archaeologist Brian Allingham.
''It is gratifying for all our runanga to receive so much
information about our tipuna.''
The boxes were welcomed on to the marae at 10am yesterday,
before being carried to their final resting place, which had
been lined with flax and surrounded with stones.
''They were just ordinary people, but to us they are very
sacred,'' Mr Ellison said. ''They should be happy here.''
''This is part of putting right the wrongs of colonialism,''
Victoria University pro vice-chancellor of Maori, Prof Piri
''That was the way it was then. People would pick up bones
and study them. But it always sat uncomfortably with us,
because human bones are sacred.''
Ngai Tahu entered negotiations with the Anatomy Department 20
years ago for the return of the remains. Some had been in the
department since the 1880s.
In 2003, the remains were transferred to the Otago Museum.
Three years ago, Kati Huirapa Runanka ki Puketeraki signed an
agreement so remains could go back to the anatomy department
for scientific analysis before reinterment.
University of Otago anatomy department Assistant Prof Hallie
Buckley told the Otago Daily Times a team was able to
determine the age, sex, ethnicity, and even diet from
examining the remains.
''They were very similar to many Polynesian groups around New
Zealand: tall, muscular, strong people.''
Although it was difficult to determine the cause of death,
some had lived into old age - about 50 in those days - while
the remains of babies were also examined.
The earliest remains had been collected since the 1880s and
were initially collected as ''specimens'', but discoveries
over the past few years had come from eroded clay banks.
The bones were believed to be between 250 and 300 years old.