German museum returns mummified Maori heads to New Zealand

Berlin’s ethnological museum marked the repatriation of two mummified Maori heads to New Zealand with a traditional Maori ceremony. 

The Toi moko, tattooed heads of Maori men, had been brought to the museum in 1879 and 1905. The museum said the repatriation was “a signal of reconciliation to the societies affected by colonialism.”

“Today’s ceremony marks the beginning of the return journey of the Toi moko from the Ethnological Museum,” said Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) which runs the museum.  

For the SPK it is the first repatriation of mortal remains, and I am very happy that this could take place this year despite the pandemic situation. I would like to thank our New Zealand partners very much for the uncomplicated cooperation and the fruitful exchange with them,” Parzinger added. 

The museum ceremony began with a karanga, a traditional call of the Maori women, which paystribute to the ancestors. The two mummified heads were carefully carried into the ceremony room in containers, carefully placed on a table and covered with black cloth, reported Deutsche Welle. 

The museum, one of the world’s largest of its kind, has been tasked since 2003 with returning Maori remains to New Zealand.  

Origins and traditional method of tā moko

The Western and Eastern Pacific method of tattooing is based on the use of broad toothed combs of varying widths called uhi, dipped in dark pigment, and struck into the skin with small mallets known as tā, according to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. 

Source: Berlin’s ethnological museum

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