Te Papa will welcome home to New Zealand 20 toi moko (human remains) from France at a ceremony next week.

Staff from the museum's Karanga Aotearoa repatriation programme team are in Paris for a handover ceremony at the Musee du Quai Branly today.

Both institutions will sign a memorandum of understanding to formalise and strengthen the relationship of co-operation between the two museums.

French Minister of Culture and Communication Frederic Mitterrand will be present.


The ceremony will signal the end of Quai Branly's exhibition E Tu Ake and follows on from France's high-profile return of remains in May last year, which was made possible only by a landmark law change to allow the objects to leave the country.

Controversially, the northern city of Rouen had wanted to return a mummified head in 2007 but a previous culture minister stopped the return because of concerns it undercut the country's heritage laws.

There were also fears that if the head went, France might be at risk of losing other objects collected from around the world.

Senator Catherine Morin-Desailly, Rouen's former deputy mayor, championed repatriation of all remains by introducing a 2010 law to allow restitution.

France is the only country the Te Papa team has dealt with since its programme began that has had to pass specific legislation.

Last year, Senator Morin-Desailly told the Herald: "You do not keep a collection of insects as you keep people, there is a difference.

"This was a demand from a contemporary people. These human remains have been turned into objects of art using very bad, violent and barbaric methods. They are the result of the horrible and despicable human trafficking of the time."