Hawaiian ancestral human remains and repatriated treasures from the National Museums of Northern Ireland

The National Museums of Northern Ireland returned ancestral Hawaiian human remains – also known as iwi kūpuna – in a formal handover ceremony earlier this month.

A Hawaiian delegation, museum colleagues, and U.S. 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 visited Hawaiʻi in 1840. He donated the remains to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1857. They were included in a 1910 gift to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, a precursor to the NMNI.

The iwi kūpuna and the mea makamae pili aliʻi were part of the museum’s world cultures collection.

“The National Museums of Northern Ireland believes it has legal and ethical responsibilities to redress injustices done to Native Hawaiian cultural values ​​and traditions, and so through continued dialogue, it has been agreed that these iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi should be returned for repatriation to Native Hawaiians through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an autonomous corporation of the State of Hawaii,” Kathryn Thomson, NMNI’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“We are constantly reassessing our World Cultures Collection, to better understand the complex global histories of some 4,500 objects – and how and why they came to Belfast. We understand and respect cultural values ​​and are in constant contact with original communities and their representatives to determine if items in the collection can and should be returned to their ancestral homes. We remain open to further repatriations as these commitments develop,” she said.

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

The iwi kūpuna will be reinterred on the island of Molokaʻi and Hawaiʻi from where they were removed.

The OHA will handle returned mea makamae pili aliʻi.

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