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Cultural Institutions: November 2012 Archives

Museums changing approach to displaying human remains

maori_03.jpgThe Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has returned a mummified, tattooed head of a Maori warrior to New Zealand.

In an emotional ceremony at the museum, a delegation of Maori people played music and chanted prayers.

They carefully wrapped the head in plastic, and then placed it in a box to protect it during the journey back to New Zealand.

The head was likely transported to Europe in the late 19th century.

Once seen as collectors items 

At the time, the intricately tattooed Maori heads known as "toi moko" were considered a curiosity and collectable item. The facial tattoos were a sign of status in the community.

According to Maori mueseum leader Michelle Hippolite, the Maori people themselves participated in the trade.

Hippolite says the heads were usually sold after the person died, but sometimes the bearer of particularly "valuable" tattoos would meet an early death to accomodate the travel schedule of European traders.

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