Homecoming ends hurt of generations

By Yvonne Tahana

More than 70 years after they were dug up for study and display, Rangitane tupuna returned home yesterday to one of the earliest sites of known human settlement in New Zealand.

That homecoming was witnessed by hundreds on an emotional day where the remains of more than 40 ancestors, some up to 700 years old, were reburied on the Wairau Bar in Marlborough.

Tribal member Richard Bradley said that the hurt of successive generations had finally been addressed.

"The sense of heaviness that's been carried has been laid to rest. Our fathers, grandfathers and in my case great-grandfather protested for years."

He said Canterbury Museum deserved credit for the approach it had taken in the repatriation.

"I've been told the word 'stolen' is too emotive [to describe what happened] but that's how we've always viewed it. We haven't been easy to deal with, but they've really taken a leading approach."

At the mouth of the Wairau River, the site has yielded middens as well as significant amounts of human and moa remains.

But it is important to remember that the place, close to the sea, lagoon and forests, which was settled in the 13th century, was once a "living, thriving village", one of the country's first, archeologist Roger Fyfe said.

Leading up to the return, geophysics machinery had been used to map subsurface features which revealed the place once supported up to 300 people.

"Calling it a burial ground will be like calling any small town a burial ground if it had a cemetery in the centre of it," said Mr Fyfe. "It really is one of those unique situations where it was an original site of the founding population of New Zealand."

Museum director Antony Wright said the day closed five years of hard work by the museum, tribe and Otago University.

"It was utterly required in terms of human dignity. The koiwi [bones] and taonga were removed very early on for what was then the standard [practice in] archeological discovery."

- NZ Herald

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