Monday, January 23, 2012

France returns 20 Maori heads to New Zealand

Since 2003, New Zealand has been engaged in an ambitious program of collecting back Maori heads (mokomokai) and skeletal remains from museums around the world. On Monday, authorities in received 20 ancestral heads of Maori ethnic people once held in several French museums as a cultural curiosity. French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and New Zealand's ambassador presided over a solemn ceremony at Quai Branly museum in Paris. The heads were encased in a box.
Some Maori 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 practice of preserving heads was begun by Maori as a way of remembering dead ancestors. In the decades after Europeans arrived, the heads became a curiosity and sought-after trade item, prompting Maori to ramp up their production levels.
Associated Press, 'France returns 20 Maori heads to New Zealand', January 23, 2012

Vignette: mokomokai from Roen

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