Te Papa does not regard the Toi moko as objects in its collection, because they are considered and treated as tūpuna (ancestors). This means that when Toi moko are repatriated, they are not entered into the Museum’s collection catalogue. Instead, they are stored in one of two wāhi tapu (consecrated repositories) along with kōiwi and koimi tangata (skeletal or soft tissue remains of Māori or Moriori origin) which have also been repatriated. Access to the wāhi tapu is restricted so that only kaitiaki (custodians) may enter. While the Toi moko are under Te Papa’s care, the Repatriation Team is working to ascertain each one’s history and origin, so that it may be returned to its hapū and iwi.
Letter from Ministry for Culture and Heritage to Te Papa Tongarewa, 31 August 2004. Kōiwi and koimi tangata are ‘any part of the human body – skeletal or soft tissue – of Māori or Moriori origin, which is in an unmodified state since death’.