June 26, 2004

Scottish museum to return Maori heads

Posted at 11:06 am in Similar cases

Following the return of the ghost-shirt to the Lakota Sioux Indians a few years ago, another Scottish museum has agreed to return the preserved heads of three Maori warriors to Wellington, New Zealand.

The New Zealand Herald

Maori win return of preserved heads from Scottish museum
1.00pm – By PAUL KELBIE

The preserved tattooed heads of three Maori 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 artefacts 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 purchased 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 the Maori people.

It follows a policy introduced by the city council to return artefacts 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 artefacts.”

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

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1 Comment »

  1. Tom Minogue said,

    07.06.07 at 4:06 pm

    In 2004 I complained to the Chief Constable of Fife that the residents of Broomhall House, Charlestown, Fife (The Elgins) are reported in the press to have (adorning the walls of the present Earl’s study) Greek stelae or grave markers and as such there was a prima facie case of possession of stolen goods by the occupants.

    I also asked the CC to pass on my new evidence that the 7th Earl of Elgin had lied to the Select Committee of Parliament in 1816 and as a result the British Museum was also in possession of stolen property.

    Not surprisingly the CC would not follow up my complaint but it did briefly highlight the Marbles and my documenation on the bogus Memorandum that misled Parliament is still the subject of enquiries from far and near.

    I see no difference in the returning of the human remains of Maoris to the returning of grave stones of the heros and elite of Greek civilisation.

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