Photo: Hawaiian delegation with German museum officials
A Hawaiian delegation formed by OHA Ka Pouhana Kamana’opono Crabbe and members of Hui Mālama i Nā Kūpuna o Hawaiʻi nei with German museum officials. Photo Courtesy: Dresden Museum

Human remains stolen from burial caves in Hawaiʻi and taken to Germany more than a century ago have finally returned home.

A group of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, which included OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, went to Germany to retrieve the four iwi kūpuna (human remains) in October.

On Oct. 23, the Museum of Ethnology Dresden in Germany transferred three iwi poʻo (skulls) and an alalo (jaw bone) to the Native Hawaiian group in a ceremony that brings to a close a 25-year effort to return the kūpuna (ancestors) to Hawaiʻi. The event was historically significant because it marked the first time the eastern German state of Saxony, which owns the museum, repatriated human remains to representatives of the country where the human remains originated.

During the ceremony, OHA CEO Crabbe acknowledged the courage and compassion of Saxony government and museum officials involved with the repatriation. “Their leadership is progressive and will reverberate throughout Germany and across Europe, and will hopefully usher in a new era of reconciliation and spiritual healing with native and indigenous peoples throughout the world.”

Watch a video of CEO Crabbe’s remarks.
Watch the KFVE news report on the repatriation. 

The remains were stolen from burial caves in Hawaiʻi between 1896 and 1902 and were sold directly to the Museum of Ethnology in Dresden. The Hawaiian delegation that traveled to Germany also included members of Hui Mālama i nā kūpuna o Hawaiʻi nei Halealoha Ayau, Kaleikoa Kaeo, Noelle Kahanu and Kauila Kealiʻikanakaʻoleohaililani, the grandson of Edward Kanahele, who submitted the original petition for the iwi 26 years ago.

Learn more about the protection and repatriation of iwi.