Apr 13, 2021

TangataWhenua.com

Maori News & Indigenous Views

French parliament agrees to return Moko Mokai to NZ

2 min read

PARIS France’s parliament has approved the return of 15 moko mokai (tattooed and mummified heads of Maori warriors) to Aotearoa, wrapping up a years-long debate on what to do with the human remains acquired long ago by French museums seeking exotic curiosities.

For years, New Zealand has sought the return ofmoko mokai kept in collections abroad, many of which were obtained by Westerners in exchange for weapons and other goods. Dozens of museums worldwide have agreed to return them.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples told the NZPA that it was a matter of “great significance” for Maori.

Maori believe that, through their ancestors’ return to their original homeland, their dignity is restored, and they can be put to rest in peace among their families.”

The Culture Ministry has said it has counted 16 toi mokai in France, including seven at Paris’ Quai Branly museum for the primitive arts, which keeps them in storage.

The debate started in France in 2007, when officials in the Normandy city of Rouen offered to return a moko mokai in the city’s natural history museum. Local authorities got a scolding from the culture minister for not checking with national authorities first.

However, France’s culture ministry appealed against the move, citing fears it could set a precedent leading to the return of other treasures from abroad.

Today it’s a Maori head, but tomorrow it could be a mummy in the Louvre,” Olivier Henrard, legal adviser to the culture ministry, told the AP news agency.

Lawmaker Michele Tabarot, head of commission for cultural affairs at the National Assembly, told parliament last week:

These remains have awaited a dignified burial, in accordance with Maori rights, for too long.”

Some of the moko mokai heads, with intricate tattoos, were traditionally kept as trophies from tribal warfare. But once Westerners began offering prized goods in exchange for them, men were in danger of being killed simply for their tattoos, French museum officials have said.

The Associated Press reported that “Since 2003 Maori and New Zealand government agencies have worked on efforts to persuade museums worldwide to repatriate Maori remains back to Maori tribes, so far with mixed success. Maori believe that forebears’ remains deserve full respect and care and should rest in their home area without being disturbed.” Chur!

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