Seventeen Māori and Moriori ancestral remains brought home to Te Papa

Seventeen Māori and Moriori ancestral remains have been brought home to Te Papa in Wellington on Friday.

The bones and preserved head have been repatriated from museums in the United States and Germany.

After nearly two centuries, the tūpuna and karāpuna - or ancestors - have finally returned.

Te Papa head of repatriation Te Herekiekie Herewini said: "Our aim is to make sure that they come home safely to a powhiri like this so that the tears of the people may be joined with their spirit.

The collection of toi moko and kōiwi tangata were welcomed back from overseas with a pōwhiri.

They'll now be kept at Te Papa's wāhi tapu where researchers will try to work out where they have come from and to which iwi and hapū they'll return.

Te Herekiekie Herewini has been at the helm of the programme:

"We basically in the past have scammed countries, their institutions and their museums, both with mail and with emails. So we wait for their response and if they say 'yes we have tupuna' we follow up."

And there's only one reply he's happy with: "A no to us is a yes about to happen."

Among those brought back today was a toi moko, or preserved head.

It's travelled the world, first leaving Aotearoa in the 1820s for Europe. It then turned up in an English collection in the early 1900s before being sold to a museum in Cologne in 1908.

Finally, nearly two hundred years later, the ancestor has rightfully been brought home.

Toi Aotearoa operations manager Tamahou Temara says the team's now working on other institutions, such as those holding remains in London:

"They might be of the assumption that ' h no this might open up a flood gate', but look we're only talking about human remains here, because those are our people."

Negotiations to bring tūpuna and karāpuna home began in 2003.

450 remains being held in 12 different countries have already been brought back, but there are still 600 sitting overseas.

So the mahi is far from over.