Montreal MFA Repatriates Maori Remains

Last week the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts returned a Toi Moko to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. The Toi Moko is a tatooed and mummified Maori head. This repatriation is the latest in a series of repatriations the Maori have successfully achieved in the past two decades. There is a lot of hard work and negotiation involved in these returns, so the ultimate return is a welcome occasion. At the ceremony the head was not permitted to be filmed or photographed. The head was laid “under a sheer black cloth, it was wrapped in cellophane and packaged in a series of protective boxes for transport. All the while, a group of Maori chanted, prayed and sang during an emotional ceremony”. The Globe and Mail, reporting on the ceremony reported:

In the 19th century, Europeans became enamoured with the heads and the Maori began using them almost like currency to trade for muskets and other coveted objects. While some were sold and traded, others were stolen because of their value as curiosity items. “Before, they were received as works of art. They were people and they are people,” said Michelle Hippolite, co-director of the Museum of New Zealand. “In our culture, remembering that they are people first is what is most important.” The head that ended up in Montreal was obtained by F. Cleveland Morgan in 1949 at the Berkeley Galleries in England, before being donated to the museum. The Maori estimate that they have retrieved about 320 of the 500 known remains around the world, located in 14 different countries. That doesn’t count private collections, but some collectors have come forward after hearing about the campaign to repatriate the heads.

  1. Sidhartha Banerjee, Canadian museum gives back mummified Maori head, The Globe and Mail, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadian-museum-gives-back-mummified-maori-head/article5546908/ (last visited Nov 28, 2012).
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