France is set to approve by Monday a new bill to return to New Zealand more than a dozen mummified Maori heads in what supporters say is a belated move to right the wrongs of European colonialism.
“The Maori heads that are still dispersed in European and US museums have a history that reminds us of the worst hours of colonialism,” read the summary of the draft bill, which is due to be debated by the Senate in Paris.
The bill is due to get the go-ahead from French senators despite reservations within the government, a source inside the UMP ruling party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy told AFP ahead of the debate.
France’s culture ministry blocked the return of a Maori chief’s head from a museum in Rouen to New Zealand’s national Te Papa Tongarewa museum in 2008 saying the move could mean that France would have to return mummies to Egypt.
The culture ministry has said however that it favours the current proposal.
Museums in Australia, Europe and the United States have already returned hundreds of the heads for burial according to Maori tradition in recent years.
“During the colonisation of New Zealand, Europeans became interested in these tattooed human heads, a Maori tradition, and private collectors began a real hunt for heads that became the object of a barbaric trade,” the bill said.
The British government in 1831 passed a law forbidding the export of the heads to Australia, which served as a hub for the Maori head trade.