22 Nov 2012

Toi moko returning from Canada

7:36 pm on 22 November 2012

A delegation of Maori is on its way home from Canada, with a toi moko.

The tattooed Maori head was part of the permanent collection of Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts.

But it was given back on Wednesday in a ceremony at the museum.

A traditional song was played as the toi moko was carefully wrapped in plastic and then placed in a box, ready to be shipped back to New Zealand.

It's the end of a long journey that spanned centuries - and continents.

The head is thought to have been taken from New Zealand to Europe in the late 1800s.

It was auctioned at Sotheby's in London in 1949, and donated to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Montreal, where it's been ever since.

The museum's director, Nathalie Bondil, says returning the head to Maori people is part of a shift in thinking that's taking place in museums around the world:

"Our vision on those objects is really changing. Are they objects - collection objects - or human remains?"

Te Papa Maori leader, Michelle Hipolitte, is part of the group taking the head back to New Zealand.

She says the next step is to learn more about where, exactly, it came from.

"We hope that moko artists, who've studied moko of the past, can give us more information about where that moko might have taken place."

This is the fifth and last toi moko to be returned by Canadian museums.