Photo: Te Papa Tongarewa

Berlin Museum Will Give Back Mummified, Tattooed Māori Heads to New Zealand

News Museums
by Eben Diskin Sep 3, 2020

A German museum just announced that it will return the mummified, tattooed heads of two Māori men to New Zealand. The heads, known as Toi Moko, were acquired over a century ago and have been at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin since 1879 and 1905.

The tattooed heads belonged to eminent Maori people and were acquired through trade with Europeans.

The return is part of the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Program, set up by New Zealand back in 2003 and organized by the Te Papa Tongarewa museum in Wellington, New Zealand, to bring back Māori and Moriori human remains to their rightful homes.

The Māori and Moriori peoples believe that returning the mummified heads to their homeland will allow the dead to rest with dignity. So far, around 400 indigenous ancestral remains have been returned from international institutions including in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Oxford.

Hermann Parzinger, the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said in a statement, “Toi moko have already been repatriated from many museums worldwide and the work of Te Papa is impressive. I am glad that we too are starting to address the misdeeds of the past with this return, even if we cannot undo them.”

The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Program estimates that another 600 Māori and Moriori remains are still abroad.

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