24 Jan 2012

Return of toi moko heralds 'new chapter of respect'

11:37 pm on 24 January 2012

Authorities in France have handed over 20 mummified Maori heads to New Zealand.

The preserved heads of Maori warriors, or toi moko, were taken in the 18th and 19th centuries by European seafarers fascinated by their elaborate tattoos.

After years of campaigning by Maori elders and New Zealand authorities, several hundred of the heads have been returned - although many remain in European museums.

The toi moko were returned to the Musuem of New Zealand Te Papa's repatriation team at the Musee du Quai Branly at a ceremony in Paris on Monday.

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said the handover opened a new chapter of mutual respect.

"More than everything, it's a tribute to the Maori community and to its history, and in fact we close a terrible chapter of colonial history and open a new chapter of friendship."

The museum had seven preserved heads which it is believed were collected during French expeditions in the 1820s and traded by Maori in exchange for muskets and gun powder.