Four mummified Māori heads returned to NZ from Germany

Four Toi moko - mummified Māori heads - have returned to New Zealand today from Germany.

The delegation prepares to enter Te Papa’s marae with the repatriated toi moko. Source: Supplied/Te Papa

The Toi moko were welcomed to the marae in Wellington’s Te Papa this morning with a ceremony by museum staff, local iwi and representatives from the German government.

Te Herekiekie Herewini, the head of repatriation at Te Papa, said the repatriation process offered “pathways to meaningful reconciliation and restitution not only for Māori, but also for the nation”.

“We are thankful to our colleagues in Germany for their efforts to return our ancestors to their homes,” Herewini said.

“Elements of the early history between Māori and Pākehā are challenging, and the trade of Toi moko is one of these.”

German Ambassador to New Zealand Stefan Krawielicki said he understood the importance of the return of the Toi moko, which had been housed in the Berlin Ethnographic Museum and the University of Gottingen.

“I am glad that the ancestors are now back home where they belong. It was the right thing to do,” he said.

“Their very long, wrong journey has finally come to an end in Aotearoa, New Zealand.”

As the iwi connections of the Toi moko is not known, they will stay at Te Papa while additional research is carried out to identify their origins.

Te Papa said it followed additional strict protocols in the repatriation of the Toi moko to mitigate the risk of Covid-19.

Most Toi moko were taken from New Zealand between 1770 and 1840 by visitors from Europe, Australia and the Americas.

They were sought after for their tā moko, the heads usually belonging to chiefs and warriors who had died in battle and taken by victors to trade.

To meet the high demand, slaves and prisoners of war were also tattooed and then killed so that their heads could be sold.

More than 150 ancestral remains have been returned to New Zealand from Germany since the 1980s.

A further 600 Māori and Moriori remains are thought to still be overseas.