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First repatriation of Māori remains from Rouen Museum, France

9 May 2011

The first repatriation of Toi Moko (tattooed preserved heads) from France will take place from the Rouen Museum today, 9th May 2011.

‘This momentous occasion is filled with joy but is also a time for reflection on the journeys of these tupuna (ancestors). The French Government have provided Te Papa, on behalf of Maori, the ability to bring these ancestors home’, said Ms Michelle Hippolite, Te Papa’s Kaihautū. 

The Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation programme has been working with the Rouen Museum to see the safe return of Māori remains to Te Papa since 2007 and as part of a wider repatriation initiative across Europe.  

Rouen Museum was proactive in requesting the repatriation of the Toi moko housed at their Museum, citing the need to bring closure to the "hateful trafficking of another era".  

In order to expedite the many red tape issues around repatriation of human remains Rouen Senator Catherine Morin-Desailly and Senator Richet proposed a new bill which would allow the repatriation of Toi moko from France. This was passed by the French government on 5 May 2010 and signals a sea change in attitudes to the repatriation of human remains held in French museums.

For the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation programme this is the first repatriation of Mäori human remains from France.  Estimates vary between 12 and 20 as to the exact numbers of Toi moko held in French Museums which may follow.  

In addition to the Rouen repatriation a further eight Māori ancestral remains have been repatriated by Te Papa from five museums and institutions in Sweden, Germany, Norway and France between 29th April and 9th May 2011.

The institutions are: 

  • Lund University, Lund, Sweden. (29th April)
  • Frankfurt Museum of World Cultures, Frankfurt, Germany. (3rd May)
  • Senckenburg Museum of Natural History, Frankfurt, Germany (3rd May)
  • Oslo University, Oslo, Norway (5th May)
  • Rouen Museum, Rouen, France (9th May)

Of the ancestral remains being repatriated there are three Toi moko (tattooed preserved heads) and five kōiwi tangata (skeletal remains). The Toi moko and kōiwi tangata are to be received onto Te Papa’s Marae on Thursday 12th May.

‘I would like to thank our Museum and University colleagues involved in supporting and planning for the repatriation of these tupuna, said Michelle Hippolite.

Background Information