Exposition Universelle de 1889, La Tour Eiffel et le Trocadero, vue prise du Champ de Mars, 1889, ND Phot (date unknown–1913), Paris. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa


Since 2003, the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) has been responsible for repatriating Māori and Moriori ancestral remains home to New Zealand from overseas. 

Since 2003 Te Papa has repatriated 206 (August 2012) Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from overseas institutions through the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme. These remains are known as kōiwi or koimi tangata, which includes Toi moko – ‘tattooed preserved heads of Māori or Moriori origin’. 

It is estimated that there may be up to 500 Māori ancestral remains still overseas in Europe and the United States. 

Two successful repatriations have taken place from France, from Rouen in 2011 involving one Toi moko, and in January 2012 involving 20 Toi moko from 10 institutions. 

The repatriation of 20 Toi moko in January 2012 was the culmination of an enormous amount of work in both New Zealand and France, which began with the discovery of a Toi moko in the Rouen museum in 2007.   

The Manager of the Repatriation Programme at Te Papa, Te Herekiekie Herewini, has identified four important catalysts for the success of the repatriation in January 2012: 

1. Rouen, France

The first repatriation from France of a Toi moko took place in 2011, following a request for repatriation from the Rouen Museum in 2007.

See Rouen Repatriation for more information. 

2. The French Parliament

At the time of the Rouen Museum request, there was no legal possibility of repatriating the Toi moko from France.  The Rouen Senator Catherine Morin-Desailly and Senator Richet proposed a new bill which would allow the Toi moko to be repatriated from France.  Significantly, it was specific to Toi moko so did not extend to include artefacts of Māori origin. The member’s bill passed successfully on the 5th of May 2010.

See Organising Repatriation for more information. 

3. The France-New Zealand Relationship

The French Ministry of Culture, the New Zealand Embassy in Paris, and the French Embassy in New Zealand have all worked closely together in the period leading up to, during, and since the repatriations.   

4. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Te Papa has strong ties with a number of museums in Europe, including in France.  From late 2011 until 22 January 2012, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris hosted the Māori exhibition “E Tu Ake”.  Te Papa has hosted five repatriation interns from Europe since 2008.  Three of these interns have been from France and include Simon Jean-Pigne (Rouen), Alice Christophe (Paris) and Julia Ferloni (Rouen).  All three have fully participated at Te Papa and learnt about bi-cultural practice within a national museum, care and conservation of Māori and Pacific taonga/artefacts and the repatriation of Māori ancestral remains. 

The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme made contact with French museums and institutions in April 2009, providing information about the repatriation programme, the New Zealand government mandate to repatriate, and explaining iwi support of the work done by Te Papa on their behalf.  This information was also provided to the French government before the vote on the member’s bill took place.


Letter from Ministry for Culture and Heritage to Te Papa Tongarewa, 31 August 2004. Kōiwi and koimi tangata are ‘any part of the human body – skeletal or soft tissue – of Māori or Moriori origin, which is in an unmodified state since death’.  This includes a Toi moko, which is ‘a tattooed, preserved head of Māori or Moriori origin.’

"Māori Heads Return to New Zealand from France after 200 years", draft article by Jean Choi, 2012.