Berlin museum returns two mummified Maori heads to New Zealand

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
October 4, 2023


The ethnological museum in Berlin has returned two mummified Maori heads to New Zealand on Monday, as “a sign of reconciliation for societies affected by colonialism.” The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, in the city of Wellington, had requested the return of the two Toi moko in the autumn of last year.

Cabeza maori | Maori, Maori tattoo, Maori art

The Toi moko, as this type of tattooed head of Maori men is known, had arrived at the German museum in 1879 . But the names and the route by which they arrived in Europe are unknown, as reported by the German television network Deutsche Welle.

Maori mummy

‘Toi Moko’ Maori EFE

The tattooed heads of Maori men were considered a collector’s item in the society of 19th century Europe , so, due to high demand, slaves and prisoners of war were tattooed and then killed in order to sell their heads .

El museo de Berlín devuelve dos cabezas momificadas de maoríes a Nueva  Zelanda - NIUS

Since 2003, the Berlin museum has returned various Maori remains to New Zealand, as well as announcing the return of ancestral Aboriginal remains to Australia . “We will do everything possible to continue on this path to correct historical errors,” added the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which runs the Berlin museum.

This repatriation is “a sign of reconciliation for societies affected by colonialism ,” said the federal commissioner for culture and media, Monika Gruetters, in a statement reported by the aforementioned media.

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The singing of the ‘karanga’, as Maori women traditionally pay tribute to their ancestors, served to open the ceremony with which the transfer was staged. In an act in which ‘karakia’, another of the traditional prayers or invocations of the tribe, have also been recited.