Ignorance of Moko Mokai Abound

  • Tau Henare
Maori Affairs

It's apparent there's either a lack of understanding, or people choose to be ignorant of the issues, surrounding my proposed trip to repatriate moko mokai from overseas the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Hon Tau Henare, said today.

"In The Press today Labour's treaty spokesman, Jim Sutton, described the mission as 'political correctness gone berserk'.

"All I can say to Mr Sutton is thank god he's Labour's treaty spokesman. But I wonder if his views are shared by his Maori colleagues," he said.

Mr Henare said there was much lead up work to be done before the trip went ahead, including information gathering on the number of moko mokai and taonga Maori in overseas collections and, out of those, which might be repatriated freely.

"There is certainly no intention to go over there with an open cheque book and, with the numbers of artefacts held in collections in various countries, there is also no intention to make a single trip overseas every time one of these items becomes available.

"Cabinet specifically asked me to look at the big picture; the big picture is there are some moko mokai, some taonga Maori in collections being offered freely to be returned home.

"While we might not be able to repatriate all of these things right now, part of the objective of this mission is to determine how New Zealand might best handle this issue in the future."

The Minister said the task was an onerous one that needed to be handled delicately and sensitively.

"There's been some ludicrous suggestions that we get whoever holds these items to put them in the mail; there was another suggestion by somebody in Christchurch who was going to England that he/she could pick them up.

"Have people actually lost sight that moko mokai are more than just tattooed heads. To Maori the mauri of moko mokai is significant.

"In a pakeha sense... imagine these are the remains of one of their grandparents, great grandparents. Regardless of who or what they may have been in their pastime, wouldn't they want them back in their own care?

"I'm mystified by people's preoccupation with this issue," said Mr Henare.

Details of the mission are still being worked through. There is not set date for it.

Mr Henare said he detected a mood of co-operation from British authorities.

"And there's certainly a movement from those in the know here to see me press ahead with this one."