How to get a preserved head into NZ

By Yvonne Tahana

A repatriated preserved Maori head which arrives home today has to enter the country like a foreign object - with an import licence.

Te Papa has a "routine" for toi moko such as the one returned this week by the French city of Rouen, says the museum's repatriation manager, Te Herekiekie Herewini.

This particular toi moko, donated 136 years ago to Rouen's natural history museum, won't be travelling home alone.

Three skulls, two other toi moko and two skeletons were picked up from Sweden, Norway and Germany on this trip.

At London's Heathrow Airport, an area had been set aside by the company that provides courier services for the bones.

"It becomes a temporary waahi tapu, we ask that no food is near the ancestors," said Mr Herewini. "At every point of the journey ... there is karakia to ensure safe passage."

An export licence was needed to leave Britain and the boxes the bones are kept in would be x-rayed. "It's to ensure there's been no tampering with anything."

Mr Herewini said the team also chose to fly an Air New Zealand route through Hong Kong that used the same plane after a short stopover to ensure as little movement as possible.

He said Te Papa worked with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture to comply with import licence conditions, and the process was like bringing back a deceased person.

Asked if there was a little irony in the fact that indigenous remains needed a licence to come home, Mr Herewini was pragmatic.

"It's done according to New Zealand law. Even though they've been overseas for hundreds of years - and they're recognised as important tupuna - they still need a piece of paper to land in their country."

- NZ Herald

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