Twenty ancestral heads of Maori held in French museums as a cultural curiosity have finally returned to the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Collected by European explorers, they were traditionally kept as trophies after tribal wars and later traded for modern weapons and European goods.
None of the toi moko will go on display to the public. The repatriation team at Te Papa will begin to trace the origin of each moko and then return them to their whanau, a process they say could take up to ten years. “We have to investigate Maori history and link the battles with the time the tupuna left to go overseas,” repatriation manager Te Herekiekie Herewini said.
Three hundred and twenty toi moko have been returned to New Zealand from various countries since the 1980s but around five hundred remain in public and privates collections overseas.
Image: Portrait of a Maori man by Sydney Parkinson, published in 1784 by the Alexander Turnball Library, from the UNESCO site on Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property