Musée du Quai Branly repatriation 2012 

On the 27th of January 2012, 20 Toi moko were returned from France to New Zealand. Though this was not the first repatriation of Māori ancestral remains to New Zealand, it was the single largest.   

Handover Ceremony

On the 23rd of January 2012, a ceremony took place at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, where the 20 Toi moko from French nine museums and a university were handed over to representatives from Te Papa.  The ceremony was guided by French Minister for Culture Frederic Mitterrand, and attended by delegates from both France and New Zealand.  The Toi moko were on stage prior to the entry of the New Zealand delegation, placed on a whāriki (woven mat) and covered with black cloth and kākahu (Māori cloaks). 

Read Mr Mitterand’s speech:

In French (Word, 42KB)
In English (Word, 42.5KB)

As the French Minister and guests stood, a taonga pūoro (Māori instruments) sounded from the New Zealand delegation entering the auditorium, with a conch shell trumpet signalling the visiting party’s entrance into the domain of encounter and exchange.  This was followed by a karanga (call of acknowledgment) by Georgina Kerekere from the New Zealand delegation, acknowledging the people of France and the Toi moko.  Derek Lardelli (Repatriation Advisory Panel) led the karakia (incantations) to honour the ancestors and deeds of the past, and to create a safe pathway of encounter between them and the living.  Next the New Zealand group stood before the Toi moko, giving a tangi (lament) to the memory of the ancestors.  Once the New Zealand delegation was seated, the whaikorero (speeches of acknowledgement) took place.

Following the speeches by the French delegation, Derek Lardelli gave a speech reflecting upon the Māori community in New Zealand.  Next Rosemary Banks, New Zealand’s Ambassador to France, spoke on the significance of the repatriation for the New Zealand government.  Finally Michelle Hippolite, Te Papa’s Kaihautū, talked about building relationship between museums.  All three whaikorero were supported by kinaki (sung poetry imbued with accounts of important tribal narratives).

Read Ambassador Banks’ speech:

In French (Word, 43KB)
In English (Word, 32.5KB)

Transfer documents were signed on behalf of New Zealand and France, followed by the giving of a koha (gift) to the French delegation, and a hongi (pressing of noses and shaking hands) which is an important Māori greeting symbolic of sharing the breath of life.  For those who wished to participate, bowls of water were available to dip fingers into and lightly sprinkle water over one’s head.  This wai whakanoa allows participants to separate themselves from the intensity of the ceremony and to safely re-enter the everyday world. 

Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012 

Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012.


 Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

 French Ambassador Francis Etienne and Michelle Hippolite, Kaihautū at the Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012.


 Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

French Ambassador Francis Etienne receiving a hongi at the Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

Te Papa Pōwhiri

On the morning of the 27th of January 2012, the Toi moko were welcomed home to New Zealand with a pōwhiri (ceremonial welcome) ceremony at Te Papa. This ceremony acknowledged the Toi moko’s homecoming, and greeted the ancestors with tears of affection and warmth. 

French representatives including the Ambassador Francis Etienne were present at the ceremony, during which pallbearers carried the Toi moko in caskets onto the marae. 

Welcoming speeches

Speeches of welcome to the Toi moko and their delegation were offered by elders from Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Tainui waka, Michael Houlihan (Te Papa's Chief Executive) and Wira Gardiner (Te Papa's Chair of the Board).

Response to the welcome

The delegation with the Toi moko responded accordingly, with speeches by Repatriation Advisory Panel members Professor Pou Temara (Chair), Derek Lardelli and Te Kanawa Pitiroi.

A summary of their speeches is as follows:
  • Acknowledgments to the Toi moko, the significance of their return, and that the time is now right for the ancestors to come home;
  • Acknowledgements to the work of the French government and their representatives in New Zealand to pro-actively return the ancestors home;
  • Acknowledgements to those who had gathered to welcome the tūpuna home.   

These speeches ended with the French Ambassador who spoke with eloquence and poignance.  Read his speech in English and French (Word, 48KB).



 Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

Haka pōwhiri at the Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012.



 Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

Te Marae Te Hono ki Hawaiki at the Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012.

The Next Steps

Following their return, the Toi moko underwent a period of quarantine and conservation assessment.  Te Papa does not accession Toi moko into their collections, but will have a guardianship role, caring for and housing the Toi moko in wāhi tapu (consecrated repositories) while research is undertaken to determine the provenance of the remains so that they can be returned to their places of origin within New Zealand.   

Te Papa will undertake research to reconnect the ancestors with their places of origin.  This process of domestic repatriation is expected to take between five and ten years.   

The research involved a lot of detective work, and over the next five to ten years it will concentrate on four streams of research which include:

  1. Verifying accession information held by individual museums about the Toi moko they house;
  2. Verifying historical information that is contained in Māori oral histories and early accounts by European and American explorers, traders and collectors from 1770;
  3. In particularly the inter-tribal battles that may have led to the trade of their enemies’ heads; and
  4. Working with experts in tā moko (Māori tattooing) to possibly identify provenance through moko (tattoo) designs and patters on the Toi moko.



Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012

 Repatriation of Toi moko from France 26th, 27th January 2012.



Letter from Ministry for Culture and Heritage to Te Papa Tongarewa, 31 August 2004.  

"Māori Heads Return to New Zealand from France after 200 years", draft article by Jean Choi, 2012.