Skip to main content

News Release

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh repatriated iwi kupuna (ancestral Hawaiian skeletal remains) yesterday to a Hawaiian delegation consisting of Halealoha Ayau, Mana Caceres, Kalehua Caceres, Starr Kalahiki and Dane Maxwell of Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo and Kamakana Ferreira of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

The Museum was approached in 2020 by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to discuss an item recorded in the museum catalogue which was donated by Sir John Struthers (1823-1899) in 1896. After discussion with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Heritage Committee, repatriation was agreed to in September 2021. A private, solemn ceremony was held today to mark the beginning of the journey home for the iwi kupuna.

From the beginning of Struthers’ teaching career, he actively encouraged his students when working or traveling abroad to collect human remain specimens for the study of the “different races of man.” This process of collecting most often included theft, removing human remains without the consent of the community or relatives. These remains were then sent back to Struthers for his own collection and research.

The Kingdom of Hawai‘i introduced a law which made it illegal to remove human remains without consent in 1860. While the museum has not been able to ascertain exactly when this skull was removed, given Struthers’ teaching timeline, it is most likely to have come after this date. Making the removal not only ethically and morally questionable, but also very much illegal.

Chris Henry, Director of Heritage at Surgeons’ Hall Museums said: “This is our first repatriation from the collections of the College and we are delighted to welcome delegates from Hawaiʻi. By participating in this process we are demonstrating our commitment to the spiritual wellbeing of communities around the globe.”

In the Hawaiian language, the word for family is ohana. It is this value of ʻohana that forms the cornerstone of Hawaiian cultural identity. In addition, mālama kupuna, the Hawaiian value for caring for an elder or ancestor, has a significant impact on the need for repatriation. There is real concern for the wellbeing of members of the Hawaiian ʻohana who have been forcefully removed from their interment, from their beloved homeland and family.

“Iwi kupuna sit at the core of Hawaiians’ connection to ancestry that strengthens and guides our understanding and interaction with our homeland, and with one another,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “We extend our heartfelt thanks to Surgeons’ Hall Museums for recognizing the need to return the iwi kupuna to their one hanau (homeland).”

The repatriation effort brought two cultures together to talk about the past, correct a historical wrong, educate, learn, and heal. Surgeons’ Hall is honored to be able to help members of the Hawaiian ‘ohana on their final journey home.

About Surgeons’ Hall Museums

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505, with the award-winning Surgeons Hall Museums’ collections growing from 1699 after 'natural and artificial curiosities' were publically sought. In the 1800s, the Museums expanded to include the remarkable collections of Sir Charles Bell and John Barclay. Initially established as a medical teaching resource, access for all is now a priority and visitors can explore The Wohl Pathology Museum, The History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection.

About The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

RCSEd was first incorporated as the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1505 and is one of the oldest surgical corporations in the world. RCSEd has a membership of over 22,500 professionals in over 100 countries worldwide. The Duke of Edinburgh has been Patron since 1954.

About The Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Established by the state Constitutional Convention in 1978, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is a semi-autonomous state agency mandated to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians. Guided by a board of nine publicly elected trustees, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs fulfills its mandate through advocacy, research, community engagement, land management and the funding of community programs. Learn more at

About Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo

Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo is a group of volunteers dedicated to restoring the ancestral foundation of the lāhui kānaka. The purpose of this group, led by Edward Halealoha Ayau, former executive director of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna o Hawaiʻi Nei, is to re-establish the interdependent relationship where the living and the deceased look after one another. By repatriating stolen Native Hawaiian human remains, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo seeks to repair this relationship and thus heal the Hawaiian people, both the ancestors and their descendants alike. 

Office of Hawaiian Affairs - logo