May 12, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Angaanga (skulls) to be returned home to Aotearoa

2 min read


For over a hundred years a number of Maori angaanga (skulls) have sat forlorn and alone in the archives of the Karolinska Institute, Sweden’s third oldest medical school.

This collection of angaanga along with hundreds of others which had been stolen from graveyards around they world was put together by father and son Retzius who during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century devoted themselves to scientific racism and the measuring of a so called cranial index, believing they could classify differences between people by measuring their skulls.

The human skulls at the centre of this collection, come from looting and simple grave-robbers. Mainly poor people, criminals, people who have committed suicide and people who could not afford their own funeral.

[pull_quote_left]No-one in here has chosen to be part of the collection. No-one has given their consent to end up here,” Olof Ljungstrm, senior lecturer at Karolinska Institute’s unit for medical history, told the newspaper.[/pull_quote_left]

The handful that came from an urupa (cemetery) in Aoteroa were delivered to the Institute in January 1890 by a zoologist Conrad Fristedt. He has himself described, in a book published 1891, how he would plunder burial caves before selling on his finds in Sweden.

Te Papa wrote to ask about the return of the remains in 2008. But the response from the Karolinska Institute but according to Olof Ljungstrm the decision dragged on, in part because the collection had been deserted for so long, and needed to be gone through and organised.

“No-one has gone through this properly since the 1960s. It has basically just been lying around,” Olof Ljungstrm told DN.

But in the end of last year, the Karolinska Institute reached the decision to return the skulls in question. According to Dagens Nyheter, it is now up to the Ministry of Education to formally decide who should have them. A departmental secretary tells the paper they are dealing with the case as a matter of urgency, and that it is likely to be returned to New Zealand during the course of the year.

Te Papa’s repatriation manager Te Herekiekie Herewini told the NZ Herald, that Te Papa was extremely proud of the relationship it has built with Swedish institutions to return Maori ancestral remains to their homeland.

[quote_box_center]We welcome reports that more ancestral remains will be returning home and look forward to receiving formal confirmation from the Swedish Government,” he said.[/quote_box_center]

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