Museum called on to repatriate Maori Skull to its homeland

Falconer Museum - Maori skull being repatriated?
Falconer Museum – Maori skull being repatriated?

MORAY COUNCILLORS WILL be asked this week to agree that a Maori Skull held by the Falconer Museum in Forres is repatriated to New Zealand.

The skull is the subject of a request by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa, who were tasked by their government in 2003 to support the repatriation of Maori human remains.

In a letter to the Falconer Museum in September, Te Papa revealed that an artefact donated to the Museum via Mrs Edmonds of Carisbrook, Blackheath in 1883 was skeletal remains uplifted from Waikouaiti in Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, and requested that the skull be repatriated.

The request is not an unusual one for a European museum – in 2011 the mummified and tattooed head of a Maori warrior was returned to New Zealand after spending 136 years as an exhibit in the Rouen Museum in France.

Earlier this year a collection of 800 skulls were located by Te Papa gathering dust in the vaults of the Karolinska Institute in Solna, just north of Stockholm in Sweden, while years ago the anatomy department of the University of Birmingham also returned a tattooed and preserved skull to Te Papa after contacting the Museum of New Zealand on learning of their quest.

Falconer Museum has stored the skull as part of their large ethnographic collection for over 130 years – now members of the Children and Young People’s Services committee are being asked to agree its repatriation in a special ceremony, before the New Zealand museum arranges its collection and shipping home next year.

The co-leader of the New Zealand museum, Arapata Hakiwai, explained how important the ceremony is, saying it was “for the elders to tell the ancestors they’re going to journey home soon”.

Manager of the repatriation programme, Te Herekiekie Herewini, said: “In our beliefs your spirit and life force comes from the particular part of the country you are from. It is important for your life force to go back to that place.

“Repatriation allows both sides to reconcile their histories.”