Iwi Kūpuna Returned from Sweden

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

In 2009, we conducted eight repatriations: five in Hawaiʻi, one in the continental U.S., and two in Sweden. The first case occurred in January 2009 and involved two desiccated hands housed at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. The iwi were carefully prepared and ceremonially reburied on Oʻahu. It boggles the mind to think that a fellow human being removed two mummified hands from a kūpuna in a burial cave and sold it to the museum.

Then in August, two moepū were repatriated from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and ceremonially reburied at Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi. These funerary possessions were somehow left out of the original repatriation to Moʻomomi in 1999. Oversights like this by museum staff create immense kaumaha for those who undertake the kuleana to return the possessions once placed with our ancestors.

That same month, two more repatriations of moepū housed at the Bishop Museum took place. The first involved 30 funerary possessions and the second involved 14 more, all originating from a cave on Hawaiʻi Island.

Toward the end of August, the Bishop Museum identified yet another moepū from Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi, and this funerary possession was also returned home and reburied.

In November of 2009, two international repatriations were undertaken in Stockholm, Sweden – the first involving five iwi kūpuna housed at the Statens Historiska Museet Sweden and the second involving 17 iwi kūpuna housed at the Karolinska Institutet Sweden.

In both cases, the iwi kūpuna originated from Oʻahu and islands unknown. All iwi were repatriated to, and reburied on, Oʻahu. The trip involved three Hui Mālama members who traveled to Sweden via Boston and Iceland. The repatriation included a public handover ceremony attended by representatives of the Indigenous people of Sweden known as Sammi.

Ironically, these same two museums often opposed repatriation of Sammi ancestors so the living Sammi asked, “how it is that the Hawaiians were able to gain repatriation?” and we responded, “by keeping our eye on the prize, we were taught by our kumu.” We followed up with the Sammi to help them draft their repatriation claim letters based upon the repatriation policies of each museum in Stockholm.

Later that month, a repatriation trip took place from Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was a repeat repatriation except the first time it involved the Peabody Museum and this time it involved eight iwi kūpuna housed at the Harvard Warren Anatomical Museum. These iwi were ceremonially reburied on Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island.