Maoris win return of preserved heads hidden away in museum

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The Independent Online

The preserved tattooed heads of three New Zealand warriors which have been hidden away in a Glasgow museum for decades are to be returned to their homeland.

The preserved tattooed heads of three New Zealand warriors which have been hidden away in a Glasgow museum for decades are to be returned to their homeland.

The grisly relics of Britain's imperial past were kept under lock and key at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Members of Glasgow's cultural committee are expected to rubber stamp plans today to return the heads to their Maori communities, including one of a warrior chief with 40 wives.

The artifacts are to be sent to a secure facility at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington where they will be cared for by Maori curators and ceremonial specialists.

The first head was purch-ased by Glasgow Corporation in 1906 from James Conrad Cross, a Liverpudlian who ran a menagerie and later went on to become mayor.

He may have obtained the head from a curiosity shop which was owned by a relative, say historians.

The other two heads were donated to Glasgow in 1951 by Archibald Shanks, a chemist and amateur natural historian, who purchased them from the Blair Museum at Dalry in 1901.

An undated extract from Mr Shanks's diary states: "Two Maori heads received from Mr Rae Gordon at Blair, Dalry.

"1. Tecaro Chief of Wycota, New Zealand, was killed in battle by Wa Tero Great Chief of Coweri. 2. Had 40 wives (new Zealand Chief).

After a world-wide search for Maori remains, the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum wrote to Glasgow Museums last April requesting the return of the heads, which are known as Toi Moko. They are regarded as ancestors and venerated by the Maori people.

The request has already been approved by the council's newly-established Repatriation of Artifacts Working Group and once the decision is agreed today it will be the first time the city has returned remains to ther Maori people.

It follows a policy introduced by the city council to return artifacts to their rightful homes. A famous example was the ghost-shirt returned the native American tribe of the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota in 1999.

"The council's view has always been that each repatriation request should be considered on its own merits," said Councillor John Lynch, head of the working group and convener of the Cultural and Leisure Services Committee.

"The case put forward by the Te Papa Museum, combined with the information held by Glasgow Museums, was such that the Repatriation Working Group unanimously agreed that the return of the remains to their native culture was the right and proper thing to do."

A spokesman for Glasgow Museums said that following the request from the Te Papa Tongarewa the decision to return the items had been straightforward.

"It is no longer morally acceptable to put human remains on display and there is nothing more to learn about them," he said. "These remains are part of a community which still has a strong cultural identity and these are very important cultural artifacts."

Maori curators hope to link the heads with specific tribes which can then give them a traditional burial.

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