Exchanging the inalienable
The politics and practice of repatriating human remains from Museum and Maori tribal perspectives
Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen
Kandidatspeciale / MA-thesis
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Methodology of the study
The structure of the thesis
Locating the ethnographic contexts: New Zealand today
Chapter 1 - 'Relics of a dying world': The practice of collection and its legacy
Cultural contact, local heads and lost heads
Chapter 2 - An ancestor's head returns to Aotearoa New Zealand: The response
to a repatriation request at the National Museum of Denmark
Coming into light: The entangled meanings of human remains
Contemplating repatriation: Museums and the logics of exchange
Circulation: The biography of an unidentified man
Chapter 3 - Concerns of the present, legacies of the past: Museums and the politics
of human remains in Aotearoa New Zealand
Institutionalising the inalienability of culture
Chapter 4 - Coming home to the descendants: Tribal care taking and historical
Historical and contemporary memories of collection
Caring for the dead
Debating repatriation: Reburial or retention?
Relating to history
Appendix 1: Maori glossary
Appendix 2: List of abbreviations
Appendix 3: Map of New Zealand
I owe many people, more than I can possibly mention by name here, my warmest thanks for their openness, support, inspiration, and assistance, without which it would not have been possible to complete fieldwork for this thesis. I realise that for a number of those who have shared their knowledge and experiences with me, it has not been easy to discuss the emotional and controversial topic of my research. This only increases my gratitude for those who gave of their time and knowledge for this project. I hope that what I have written will, in turn, contribute to an increased understanding of what is at stake in the debate on the repatriation of human remains.
To the National Museum of Denmark, the first institution to open its doors for me, I am indebted for much support from current and former employees at the Ethnographic Collection, who generously gave of their time, and provided me with access to the museum's repatriation files. Likewise, employees of both Auckland War Memorial Museum - Te Papa Whakahiku, and Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, have helpfully given their assistance in interviews and by supplying me with relevant policy documents. TVNZ kindly provided me with access for television records at their superb viewing facilities. Not least, the Maori people I met in Te Tai Tokerau have shared their daily lives, experiences and memories with me, and granted me both hospitality, and insight in the meanings that the topic of repatriation hold to them. All of the people who took time out of their busy lives to see me have contributed with invaluable knowledge and experiences, without which I could not have written the present thesis.
Thanks are also due to my supervisors during synopsis and thesis writing, Katja Kvaale and Inger Sjørslev. Both have provided moral support, as well as insightful and inspiring comments during the progress of my work. I am also grateful to archaeologist Mille Gabriel for supplying me with a copy of her thesis on the National Museum of Denmark, to anthropologist Martin Skrydstrup for an inspiring correspondence and sharing of drafts and literature suggestions, and to Dr. Rangihiroa Panoho for drawing my attention to a number of New Zealand publications related to my research topic.
Several friends and colleagues have given helpful comments on my thesis drafts at various stages, and for this I especially owe thanks to Mette Nygaard Jensen, Hanne Pedersen, Trine Fuglkjær Sørensen, and Inge Merete Jensen.
For financial support for my fieldwork I thank Institute of Anthropology at University of Copenhagen, Overretssagfører P. A. Hansens Legat, and Vordingborg Gymnasiums Legatforening.
the big museum
Eight or nine years old I was,
and my eyes gaped in disbelief, as I peered into that glass case, and saw grimacing
at me, a mask of agony and anger, a chiselled face
I was horrified
it was, he was, a dead Maori. One of MY OWN.
Maori museum curator Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, 1985: 15
Behind the anonymous identification number '322' and a number of no less cryptic codes, such as 'OCSYNE', one of the protagonists of this study was hidden. Although I had sought out many people to assist with knowledge for my research, he was one I never met. He was dead. These and other codes and numbers designated the preserved tattooed head of a long dead Maori man, as he fitted into the categories of identification and registration at the National Museum of Denmark, where he had been for 105 years. There he did not remain. In his 103rd year in the museum, a Maori visitor showed up to reclaim him, sparking off a series of events, which set the deceased out on a new trajectory, this time back to his homeland, New Zealand. Thus it came to pass that a dead man travelled the world back and forth, leaving behind both a paper trail and a number of persons - museum staff and concerned Maori people - with debate and dilemmas, new and old, to handle. And which dilemmas? Why and how did such a preserved head end up in a European museum, what sense is to be made of this, and which responses are to be accorded to it? This study sets out to investigate the complex and contentious issue of repatriation of human remains from museums to indigenous peoples; the actual practice of repatriation as well as the backgrounds of understanding that the involved people in museums and Maori tribes bring to bear on it.
The fact that a repatriation case eventuated at all from the claim to the National Museum of Denmark (NMDK) is due to developments which have taken place internationally for a number of years. In parallel with the acquisition of political independence in many former colonial countries after World War II, the world has seen a resurgence of political and cultural awareness amongst indigenous peoples (Sjørslev 2001a: 45)(1). In this connection, indigenous activists worldwide have repeatedly stated claims for cultural rights, including repatriation (e.g. the Mataatua Declaration, UN-WGIP 1993a). The critique from indigenous peoples has not gone unnoticed, and it has gradually been taken up for consideration in institutional and professional ethics amongst those who handle the contested remains, such as in the guidelines of the International Council of Museums (ICOM 1986, 2001). Especially during the past three decades a steadily growing number of conventions, declarations, policies and guidelines on the cultural rights of indigenous peoples and the management and protection of cultural heritage have been produced, and indigenous rights are currently in the process of being formalised in a UN declaration(2). Where such a development might previously have seemed unthinkable to most museums, debate as well as actual repatriations have increasingly taken place in the museum world, particularly since the late eighties (Layton 1989, Simpson 1996, Hubert & Fforde 2002). Thus, repatriation has become an issue which present-day museums and indigenous peoples must relate to and handle, both as concept, relationship and practice.
The term 'repatriation', derived from the Latin term 'patria', fatherland, refers to return to a country of origin and was originally applied to movements of living people returning from displacement, such as the homecoming of refugees. In the present-day museum context the term is used about material remains from the past, designating "the return of an object of cultural patrimony from a museum collection to a party found to be the true owner or traditional guardian, or their heirs and descendants" (Legget 2000: 29). This concept is not entirely unproblematic to put into practice. On which grounds is it decided which 'objects' ought to be repatriated, and why, not to mention whom might be identified as 'the true owners or traditional guardians'? These issues bring us back to our protagonist and his fate: To whom does such a dead man belong, and which are the forces that set him out on his trajectory? The Maori case can serve as a means of elucidating logics and experiences operating in a growing issue of museum and indigenous politics of culture that is global in scale and implies multiple actors and localities. Thus, the problem that this thesis seeks to explore is the following: How is the repatriation of human remains perceived and practiced in museum and Maori tribal contexts, and which meanings and roles do the remains and their repatriation acquire in this process?
Since the relations and events I have set out to investigate span lengthy periods of time and are international in scope, I have resorted to a number of different sources and methods to grasp them. The topic of my research inevitably meant that to a large extent I had to enter the field 'after the fact', which made written sources - historical and recent - an invaluable component of the study. Thus, in analysing circumstances of the repatriation case from Denmark, I have made use of files from the archive of NMDK, as well as carrying out interviews with staff involved in the repatriation, which took place in 1998. To take into consideration the historical background of the current situation, I have also sought out historical accounts from the period when Maori human remains such as the preserved head entered the collections of museums across the world.
Having covered the ground on the case and its background as far as possible from my part of the world, I set out to follow the debate on the repatriation of Maori human remains to its ethnographic source, spending five months carrying out fieldwork in New Zealand. Here I not only preoccupied myself with the country's two largest museums, Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), and Auckland War Memorial Museum - Te Papa Whakahiku (AWMM), but also with the experiences of Maori people from several tribes (iwi) and subtribes (hapu)(3) in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland), the northernmost part of New Zealand's North Island. In both museums I conducted in-depth interviews with staff charged with handling repatriation in practice and policy, just as I collected relevant acts, policy documents and publications that the museums and associated staff have issued on the topic. Likewise I carried out in-depth interviews and conversations with members of northern iwi and hapu to gain insight into their experiences with museums, collection and repatriation, as well as their own practices of care taking for human remains. Just as importantly I had the opportunity to carry out participant observation by living amongst, and visiting, Maori people in the north to learn about the everyday social and cultural relations and practices that form a background for the understandings and debate of repatriation amongst Maori people. To gain further insight into the general debate on repatriation within New Zealand, I also collected a number of media representations such as newspaper and magazine articles, television news items and documentaries. Thus the present study is set in a number of contexts: Historical and recent, policy and practice, international and local - from the goings-on within single museums and tribes, to the ways they enter into relationships with each other and with the contested remains(4).
Understanding repatriation is an exercise that might be carried out on several levels of abstraction and scales of encompassment. Given the larger contexts that the phenomenon is set in, such as the spheres of international politics of both museums and indigenous peoples, it might seem an option to construct the theoretical frame of my thesis around these levels of discourse, as they are expressed in various international declarations and conventions. However, although these larger scales of operation are by implication important contexts of the study, I will not base my study on discourse analysis. The real dilemmas and meanings of repatriation are to be gleaned in practice, and I will therefore endeavour to anchor my analysis firmly in the concrete. Therefore, concrete case material will here be investigated to identify the operating logics and processes, and their wider implications in the field of repatriation.
In part, theoretically I will lean on the notion of the social life of things, specifically by applying the concept of the cultural biography of things, which was introduced by the anthropologists Arjun Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff (both 1986). Importantly, in referring to 'things' here, neither I, nor the original propagators of this approach, mean to imply just artefacts, but in fact anything - hence also human remains - which enters into a form of circulation where it is, at some point of its history, treated in a way similar to an object, notably by being regarded as a saleable commodity. The basic tenet of the approach of these two theorists is that in social terms the value of a 'thing' thus conceived (whether referring to dimensions of moral, economy, aesthetics, or any number of other dimensions of valuation) does not inhere in the thing itself, but is a judgment made by the persons handling it. Furthermore, in being thus handled, the thing may be said to progressively acquire its own biography, predicated on the series of judgments that its various possessors have made on what is possible, desirable and appropriate to do to this thing. Thus, as a strategy to illuminate any phenomenon of concrete historical circulation, one may follow the things themselves and the uses to which they are put, as their meanings can be revealed through the analysis of these trajectories (Appadurai 1986: 5). Conversely, the trajectories of the remains will reflect the classificatory schemes and moral values prevalent in the social and historical contexts that they pass through, including differential valuation not just in passing through time, but also simultaneously, by different actors (Kopytoff 1986: 64, 68, Gabriel 2002).
The concept of the cultural biography does not in itself contain any fixed assumptions about the nature of the subject matter of the biography, and can therefore serve to illuminate the shifts of meaning that are to be encountered as the remains that the study will focus on traverse cultural and historical contexts. The case I shall deal with will show that the trajectories of these remains, the forms of transactions they enter, and the contexts of meaning in which they become embedded, can be conceptualised in terms of theories on exchange and the constitution of identities, values and social relationships. As this thesis aims to demonstrate, analysing the phenomenon of repatriation may in fact contribute to broadening our perspectives on classic anthropological theories in the field of exchange, alienability and inalienability (Mauss 1990 , Weiner 1985, 1992).
Repatriation is not only a matter of how the involved parties relate to the contested remains per se, nor of the derived attempts at directing the appropriate destinies and courses of circulation that the remains may enter. It is also a matter of the relationships between the involved parties themselves, with respect to the wider consequences and contexts of the trajectories that the remains enter. Considered from this perspective, the topic may also interpretatively be framed within what might be termed the politics of culture and history, in terms of issues such as the contemporary identity politics of museums as well as the involved indigenous groups, and indeed the nations that are implied in the history of collection. That is to say, in becoming the focus of attention, the contested remains, as we shall see, simultaneously come to carry a symbolic and relational significance, which must also be taken into account if the phenomenon of repatriation is to be understood. To get a grasp on this aspect of repatriation, I will draw on theories of cultural heritage and identity politics, represented by theorists such as the anthropologist Jonathan Friedman (1994), who will be introduced more fully in the course of the analysis.
The chapters of this thesis will each emphasise different perspectives and contexts. First I focus on the historical context of collecting in New Zealand; then on the modern-day museum concerns surrounding the international repatriation of Maori human remains from Denmark to New Zealand. I thereafter turn to exploring the significance of repatriation within the museum politics of New Zealand, and lastly, to current Maori tribal perspectives. In dealing with these different actors and contexts it is not my intention to accord a position of moral privilege either to museum or Maori perspectives, but rather to explore the underlying rationales that are brought to bear in each context with respect to repatriation.
Understanding the current situation and debate on the repatriation of Maori human remains requires knowledge not only of present-day politics of culture surrounding Maori people and their rights. It is also necessary to look into the historical background upon which the current situation and stances concerning the presence of Maori human remains in museums came into being. After introducing the ethnographic setting of the study, I shall therefore proceed to unravel the first part of the story of the preserved head in chapter one, namely: How and why did something such as a dead Maori man end up in a European museum in the first place?
This background being established, in chapter two I move from the general historical conditions to specific present-day reactions to them, and analyse the circumstances that lead to the repatriation of the preserved head from Denmark to New Zealand. In doing this, I do not intend to focus my analysis on the general traits of NMDK as an institution, or the specific Danish context, but rather to make use of the case as an example that allows me to explore the considerations and processes that come into play in an international negotiation of repatriation. The main topic of my interest will thus continue to be the various understandings of such a head and the field of relationships that it enters, being what it is - human remains.
In chapter three I continue to follow the trajectory of the preserved head encountered in Denmark, albeit now again from a broader scope of analysis, as I here turn to explore the environment of debate which the deceased would enter upon his repatriation: The field of museum politics and practice with respect to Maori in New Zealand itself.
Chapter four examines the motivations that may be said to be at core of the current-day debate on repatriation; namely the tribal perspectives on museums and the care taking of the remains of their ancestors. Looking into the questions of what sort of contemporary significance the remains, their history, and associated practices have to Maori people today shall be the last component of the thesis, before rounding off with the conclusion. Now, let me first set the stage for all of this by introducing the relevant social and cultural settings of the study, as I encountered them in New Zealand.
New Zealand, or Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, as Maori have named it, is a nation that has its background in the colonial history between the British and the Maori, the indigenous people of the country (or, in local terms, the tangata whenua, the people of the land). It is also a nation currently entrenched in the often controversial processes of dealing with the hangovers of this background, in both emotional, political, legal and cultural terms.
Today, Maori constitute 14,7 % of the population of New Zealand, or well over 500,000 persons(5). The majority of these are, in line with historic tradition, to be found on the North Island, in particular concentrated in the top half of it, and mainly living in urban areas, as is also characteristic of the rest of the population of the country. Beyond simply identifying as Maori, people are traditionally affiliated to (and in varying degrees socially and culturally engaged in) different tribes, each belonging as the tangata whenua in a certain territory in which they have historic connections and ancestral claims; although today the majority of Maori do not own or live on their tribal lands. Making up quite a large element of the national population as compared to indigenous peoples in other settler countries, Maori people are a visible part of society in New Zealand, in terms of everyday affairs as well as ideologically; in which regard Maori culture is for instance emphasised ceremonially on formal occasions of the state (Sissons 1993). Unfortunately, Maori - though of course a diverse population group - also occupy disproportionately bad positions in the national statistics on education, health, employment, crime, and similar frames of comparison (Statistics: 2001 Census, Ethnic Groups); a fact which testifies to remaining structural inequalities, and is subject to much debate and criticism (Durie 1998, Webster 1998: chapter 1).
Particularly during the past three decades, New Zealand has witnessed a cultural and political resurgence amongst its Maori population. Activists and leaders have increasingly put pressure on the state to take action against the inequalities that many Maori people experience on a day-to-day basis in terms of disadvantaging social conditions, established by the historical background of dispossession and cultural dominance in the course of colonisation (Walker 1990, Webster 1998). This development has implied a strong involvement of Maori people in the struggle to regain lost or diminished rights in everything from land to intellectual property and cultural heritage. Maori protest as such is not a recent phenomenon, but a steady element throughout the history of New Zealand since colonisation. However, protest has gained much more visibility and impact within recent decades, and Maori have not been in a stronger cultural and political position since the onset of colonisation. This development has also given rise to much debate on the motivations and authority of the cultural rights claims that are put forward by Maori people; an issue that has for instance manifested itself in controversial discussions on the relative presence of cultural continuity and politicisation in current claims. Thus, within an anthropological context, Maori are also known as subjects and participators in heated discussions on theories of culture and history, such as the notion of 'the invention of culture' (Hanson 1989, Friedman 1994, Thomas 1997: 8-11).
In national terms the most important frame of reference for the debate on the rights of Maori people is the Treaty of Waitangi, the political compact with the British Crown that was signed by a number of Maori chiefs in 1840. After being largely ignored politically for more than a century, the Treaty has been accorded increasing legal and political prominence since the mid-eighties(6). Today it is regarded as the foundation of the modern state of Aotearoa New Zealand and of the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent). In practice this reinterpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi has taken shape as an official embracement of the ideology of biculturalism. Thus, for instance, all governmental institutions operate under both English and Maori denominations, and Maori language, cultural values, forms of knowledge and customary practices are (at least ideally) sought to be incorporated in official contexts and the workings of the state, on equal footing with their European-derived counterparts (Sissons 1993, Durie 1998).
The development towards biculturalism and the renewed reference to Treaty rights also makes itself felt in the museums of New Zealand, and certainly in the country's two largest museums, those that have been the subjects of attention for the present study. Te Papa, situated in the capital, Wellington, is the national museum of New Zealand, and is conceptually founded on the ideal of bicultural partnership, sharing its strategic leadership between a conventional chief executive and a specifically Maori one. As a national museum with obligations to cater to all of New Zealand, Te Papa is aiming to develop relationships with iwi, cooperating on a wide range of activities, such as iwi-based exhibitions. AWMM, also a large and prestigious institution, is a regional museum that belongs in the country's biggest city, Auckland, where it allegedly holds the world's largest collection of Maori taonga, ancestral treasures. Like Te Papa, AWMM is making efforts to integrate Maori aims and aspirations in its activities. Taking regard of Maori values is sought to be furthered by means of such arrangements as incorporating a director Maori at the executive level, and attaching to the museum a Maori advisory council, the Taumata-a-Iwi, made up of members from the local tribes of the Auckland region, who as the tangata whenua are invested with the customary and spiritual authority of the land the museum stands on.
The aspirations wielded by Te Papa and AWMM for the inclusion of Maori people and culture in institutional values and governance principles are stated with explicit reference to Treaty rights, which are written into the acts providing for the various functions of each institution. Hence both of the two museums are now actively seeking to engage Maori people and their perspectives in their work, by such means as consultation, employment of Maori staff on all organisational levels, and by incorporation of correct forms of practice according to custom (tikanga) in the care taking and use of all materials of Maori origin. Both of these institutions also hold Maori human remains, the management and ultimate deposition of which is considered to be an issue of key importance in their relationships with the Maori communities that are part of the public the museums are meant to serve.
As for looking more closely into the concerns of some of the Maori people whose perspectives the museums are trying to accommodate, Te Tai Tokerau, Northland, where much of the fieldwork for this study was conducted, is a region with a comparatively large proportion of Maori residents - around 31,6 % of the region's population. Te Tai Tokerau stretches from above the Auckland region to the very tip of the North Island (see the map of New Zealand, appendix 3), and thus belongs to the subtropical part of New Zealand. The region is green and hilly and well suited for agriculture, for which reason Maori people also concentrated here prior to the arrival of Europeans. The great scenic beauty of the region notwithstanding, making a living here might in financial terms have been more attractive than the case is. Of the Maori people living in the region today, 40,8 % have no formal qualifications, and people are typically employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing, manufacturing and service, with the unemployment rate reaching 21,7 % (as compared to a rate of 16,8 % for Maori nationwide, and higher still when measured against the national unemployment rate of 7,5 % for non-Maori)(7). In terms of history, the north was the first part of New Zealand to become a centre of European settlement and more permanent cultural contact; something which is to date borne in mind for its impacts amongst local Maori people, as it brought about a number of early social and cultural changes (Oppenheim 1973: 20, 33). Today, Maori people in the area are for instance characterized by a multiplicity of religious denominations; Catholic, Anglican and Latter Day Saints, to mention but a few, blending with beliefs and practices of pre-Christian origin(8).
Several tribes belong in the region of Te Tai Tokerau, the number of members in the different iwi ranging widely, from over 95,000 to a couple of hundred persons(9), each iwi in turn consisting of a number of hapu, subtribes, which in most matters of daily life and interaction are more socially relevant than the more encompassing scale of the iwi. As one of my informants explained the local relevance of these levels of tribal affiliations: "iwi is a very general concept hapu is where people actually meet and relate because we have a meeting house, and we go there for all sorts of things, and those are the people we see it's very rare that the whole iwi will turn out at one particular thing". A more intimate level of organisation than that of iwi and hapu is the whanau, the extended family, which is often large, making it possible for its members to draw on wide networks of siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Indeed, this was often how I made contacts in the field, as talking with one person would lead to recommendations that I should also see a particular cousin or uncle. Social and organisational relations are thus built up on wide-reaching networks of kin and descent, creating a dense grid of relationships within and across the tribes.
One central institution in both local and wider social networks and cultural organisation, generally based on the hapu level, is the marae; the ceremonial gathering place consisting of a forecourt, a meeting house, kitchen and dining facilities, providing the physical and ritual space to meet with larger kin groups and to host visitors. The marae, named after ancestors of the kin groups who belong to them, are the places where important communal occasions such as funerals take place, and hui (meetings) on pressing matters - amongst others, debates on cultural rights - are held (Salmond 1975). Therefore the marae also provide a context in which key cultural practices such as the Maori language, the tradition of oratory, songs, and rituals are allowed to take centre stage, in a society in which these practices have become less of an element in everyday life to many Maori people. By way of example, presently 58 % of the Maori population speak and understand no more than a few words or phrases from the Maori language, and only 9% speak it fluently(10). Similarly, a number of Maori people experience a deficiency in knowledge on issues of traditional importance, such as tribal history, whakapapa (genealogy, or ancestry), and tikanga (custom). Thus, during my fieldwork I experienced locally arranged learning sessions, in which kin groups got together in order to formally practice aspects of tikanga, which they found they were no longer familiar with simply from daily practice.
The present situation regarding the distribution of Maori traditional knowledge is to a large degree the result of previous state policies of assimilation, pursued in decades, meaning for instance that school children were prohibited from speaking Maori, just as in other respects Maori were dealt with through monocultural institutions, and prompted to take up Europeanised ways of life. After WWII, and increasingly during the 1960s, many Maori people migrated from their tribal areas to the cities to seek employment in alleviation of their economic hardships, a development that made the retention of tribal links difficult (Durie 1998: 54 ff.). Even as assimilationist policies were abolished, these factors have rendered it difficult for Maori people to retain and transfer cultural practices and knowledge between generations, particularly because Maori are, demographically, a young people (37,3 % of the Maori population being under the age of 15, as compared to 22,7 % of the general population of New Zealand)(11). Some Maori people consider their lack of proficiency in traditional cultural practices to be embarrassing (O'Regan 1984), and while this may keep some people from joining contexts where they feel that their ignorance of their cultural heritage - their dispossession - is exposed, the marae is also a place where efforts are made to counter the cultural assimilation and reinvigorate the practices and forms of knowledge that are considered quintessentially Maori.
As demonstrated in this introduction, Maori people are a diverse lot situated in different spheres of belonging and in different circumstances of life. Therefore, it must also be stated that the present thesis is not to be read as an attempt to arrive at such a thing as a 'general Maori view of repatriation', a construct that would certainly be a homogenisation of my informants' views. I shall in due course discuss a number of experiences and stances that I found my Maori informants to hold on repatriation. Still, however, the scope of my findings needs to be qualified further. While I have endeavoured to learn about as many perspectives as possible, and have shared the company and heard the stories of people as diverse as tribal leaders (rangatira), people who were unemployed, academics at the university, and the potato peeling ladies in the kitchen of the marae I visited, the focus of my research outside of the museum institutions has remained on the tribal context, centring on people who in actual practice retain relatively strong tribal contacts.
Secondly, my inquiries have - for quite natural reasons, given the focus of my research - had an inclination towards persons who play expert roles in their tribes and who therefore have personal experiences in dealing with human remains and museums, by way of playing practical roles, notably in taking responsibility for negotiating and carrying out repatriation. Thus, especially rangatira and elders (kaumatua), with the knowledge and experiences they have been willing to share, have been important informants to me. But also most of the Maori people I otherwise talked with, whether I bumped into them at hui, or met them casually over a cup of coffee in somebody's kitchen, had some story to recount about repatriation or museums, and often also had strong opinions about both. Furthermore, referring to debate in the news media has given a broader context to the study. However, the reader should bear in mind that the study was conducted with its focus on people who show a concern to the tribal context, including a fairly traditionalist emphasis on values and practices held to be quintessentially Maori; and it is first and foremost about this context that I purport to speak when I refer to Maori people.
Having now established a basis for understanding the field with this overview of the current position of museums and Maori People in New Zealand, I will take a step back in history, to where the museum interest in Maori culture and human remains took shape - foreshadowing the ensuing modern-day dilemmas of repatriation.
Nothing is held so much in veneration by the natives as the head of their chief.
Missionary Samuel Marsden [1765-1838], in Elder 1932:196
The topic of ethnographic collecting has, as one commentator has remarked, gone from theoretical and political obscurity to obloquy in the course of the twentieth century (O'Hanlon 2000: 28). Moral issues including the question of repatriation have increasingly been raised, as critical matters, such as the equity of the transactions that brought ethnographic items into metropolitan collections, have been questioned. In the course of this development, "ethnographic collections have come to be seen as incarcerated sources of indigenous identity" (ibid: 4). The current debate on repatriation thus easily lends itself to shallow range of analysis focused on the more recent politics of culture in the postcolonial context; but as I shall demonstrate in this thesis, if we are to understand the present developments, they must be traced through the longer-term dynamics of the situation (Thomas 1991: 9). The recent developments in the politics of museum collections and indigenous cultural rights therefore call for a focus on the ethnography of collecting, as a means of historicizing present debates, revealing the historically contingent intercultural relations that made collecting - and thus also the subsequent repatriation debate - possible (O'Hanlon 2000: 3-4). This, then, is where I shall commence my enquiry.
Europeans and Maori(12) first entered into cultural and material exchange with each other during Captain James Cook's circumnavigation of New Zealand on the Endeavour in 1769-1770(13). It was not to be long before preserved tattooed heads, such as that later to be encountered in Denmark, entered the history of contact between the two peoples, along with a number of other items that drew the interest of the Europeans, such as Maori woodcarvings and greenstone artefacts. Indeed, the first known purchase of such a Maori head was made in Totara-Nui (Queen Charlotte Sound) in 1770, by the expedition's naturalist Joseph Banks, and that same year 3 more heads were acquired by members of Cook's crew (Salmond 1991: 246 and 1997: 67). The first transaction was made only reluctantly on part of the sellers (ibid), but was nevertheless to be one of many, as cultural contact intensified. Cook's expedition was followed by a steadily increasing stream of European visitors to New Zealand; first came sealers, whalers and traders, and subsequently missionaries and settlers (Salmond 1997: 175 ff.). As I will show, the preserved heads and the practice of collection came to occupy a peculiar position in the continued development of contact between Maori and Europeans.
Already at hearing of these first transactions, questions are prompted as to what made such human body parts turn into an object of trade, and why the heads mentioned had been preserved by Maori in the first instance. Fortunately, as a means to illuminate this phenomenon, several contemporary written sources are to be found, albeit only from the hands of Europeans, since the Maori culture was an oral one and thus did not leave similar accounts. (This, however, is by no means to say that no Maori accounts of the period exist. To this day, stories about such heads and their fate circulate amongst the descendants; but this is a matter which I shall take up separately in chapter four). The single most important source on the European interest in preserved heads and the traditional role of these amongst Maori people is the collector Major General Arthur Gordon Robley. Robley studied the art of Maori tattooing (ta moko) and therefore took particular interest in preserved heads as specimens, of which he himself amassed a collection of no less than 35. In 1896 he published a book on the issue, 'Moko', which remains a source of authority referred to today. The benefit of Robley's book is not least that he compiled a great deal of the widely scattered information already written and published on the issue throughout the entire period of cultural contact and colonisation. I shall therefore draw quite extensively on Robley's accounts in this chapter, supplemented with other sources, as I now turn to discussing the role of the heads and their coming into European hands.
On the part of the European newcomers, those practices of Maori people attracted attention, which most seemed to contrast with their own (Vayda 1970: 560). Amongst these were the various elaborate customs associated with death and warfare; and thus most early European accounts from New Zealand contain some reference to preserved heads (Oppenheim 1973: 13, Robley 1998 : 131). Take this instance, an experience related by Samuel Marsden, who in 1814 settled at the Bay of Islands in Te Tai Tokerau, as the first missionary in New Zealand: "The first object that struck my eye near where we landed was a man's head stuck on a pole the face appeared beautifully tattooed or carved This sight naturally excited feelings of horror in my breast" (Marsden, in Elder 1932: 151-152). Fear and attraction merge in these observations, and perhaps inevitably the heads became a source of macabre fascination to the Europeans; and sailors, whalers, and traders who came to New Zealand eagerly sought them as curios. In appearing on this scene, the preserved heads even entered world literature: The narrative in "Moby Dick" has scarcely commenced, before one of the main characters, the harpooneer Queequeg, is introduced as a trader in "[em]balmed New Zealand heads" (Melville 1991 : 18, my insertion in brackets).
At the same time as the heads excited European interest precisely because they were human remains, they were also treated and talked of much as any other curiosities and artefacts that the Europeans took interest in. An example is the way in which the collector Robley himself writes of the preserved heads in his possession, in this excerpt from his lengthy descriptions of their tattoos, hair and other traits, on which he remarks: "The Maori teeth, too, are always splendid; and in the dried head they remain like ivory" (Robley 1998 : 187-188). One might almost think that the object thus praised was carved from an elephant's tusk. The living, too, were similarly objectified by the collector, spoken of more in the vein of artworks than persons, as it may be gleaned from the explanatory comment to one illustration from Robley's book, marvelling at "a Maori and the prow of [a] war canoe; both showing fine carving" (Robley 1998 : 91).
The heads with their characteristic incised, or 'carved', tattoos (moko) are here perceived as specimens on a par with material culture. But in beginning with the views of the Europeans, I am going ahead of the events. Before ever any preserved tattooed heads ended up as collection items in the hands of people like Robley, they meant something quite different to Maori people, who had their own reasons for preserving them, according to traditions established long before Captain Cook and the first Europeans arrived with their interests. What were the heads meant for, then, to begin with?
The preserved heads were not intended for sale in their traditional pre-European context. It was customary amongst Maori to preserve the heads of chiefs, who were finely tattooed. The practice was thus a mark of distinction reserved for persons of importance, in the same way that the tattoos that so impressed the Europeans were. When such an important person died, often in battle, the head was severed and underwent a process of conservation. In order to preserve the head, soft parts such as tongue, eyes and brain were removed, the head was steamed and had a stick inserted under the skin to preserve the form of the nose, before it was sun dried and smoked, with the eye sockets stuffed with flax and the lids sewn shut. Heads thus preserved kept the traits that had distinguished them in life: Their facial features, tattoos, and hair, often even pendants in their ears; and the process made them extraordinarily durable. The heads of chiefly friends as well as enemies were accorded this treatment (Robley 1998 : 135-138). The head was (and is) regarded as the most tapu part of the body amongst the Maori, and even more so that of a chief. The concept of tapu was central to Maori society, and the various observances of its rules were much remarked upon by European observers. It designates a state of varying degrees wherein an object, person or place is temporarily or permanently restricted, or sacred, as opposed to being noa, 'common', profane and unrestricted (Oppenheim 1973: 15-16). Thus the missionary Samuel Marsden stated on the Maori that: "If they worship any idol it is the head of their chiefs" (Elder 1932: 244). Death, too, was held to bring about a state of tapu, and the preserved head of a chief was thus intensely charged with social and cultural significance.
When preserved by friends, the heads were accorded the deepest respect and were kept carefully in secluded spots, so that they might be honourably mourned over, while from time to time being brought out to view for important occasions such as death ceremonials for other relatives, or tribal gatherings. The heads of enemies received a less tender treatment; after preservation they were stuck on poles and exhibited in public, draped with cloaks in as lifelike a manner as possible. Here they were made subject to derision and verbal abuse from their defeaters in a manner similar to what might have been directed at a living person, thus venting the emotions built up in the progress of hostility between the warring parties, and demonstrating that the war fought had been brought to a satisfying conclusion. The importance of the preserved heads in their original Maori context was however not exhausted by their sentimental value, or by the display of enemies as trophies; they also had an integral role to play in the progress and cessation of warfare. Just as a defeated party was forced to surrender its dead for this fate, no settlement of peaceful relations was brought about without the return of the heads taken between the parties. Consequently, not even an enemy's head would be readily disposed of to outsiders, unless the possessor was certain that he would never intend, or need to, make peace with his opponents (Elder 1932: 167-168, Polack 1976 : 40-41, Robley 1998 : 136-138).
The initial unwillingness of Maori people to part with such remains is hardly to be marvelled at, considering the great importance they had to their possessors, emotionally and politically. - And certainly, not all of the heads that ended up in the possession of Europeans were willingly sold: As I shall return to briefly a few pages hence, and in more detail in chapter four, theft and grave robbery, too, was a practice that Europeans actively engaged in, in order to procure the desired curios. When the heads did become subject to sale after all, the cause is to be found in the social dynamics both between Europeans and Maori, and amongst Maori themselves.
Amongst the goods and technologies introduced in New Zealand by the Europeans were muskets, which were to have a profound effect on the scale and impacts of tribal warfare. Warfare was an integral part of the relations between the various iwi and hapu also prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Meticulous accounts of victories, defeats and offences were kept for generations, in order to eventually settle the scores; and cycles of revenge and counter-revenge continually sprang up, as in time defeated parties became able to retaliate. This took place in accordance with the principle of utu, a central Maori concept that carries the meaning of balanced return, compensation, or reciprocity, both in a positive sense, such as the return for a gift, and in a negative sense, as revenge, which can be both immediate and long-term, delayed for generations (Tapsell 1997: 338, Firth 1972 : 412-415, 421). Prior to the contact with Europeans, tribal hostilities were played out by means of close-quarter fighting with weapons made of stone and wood, and if combat occurred in the open, the defeated might thus make their escape by scattering. As muskets were introduced, that balance was offset and the casualty rates of tribal warfare much increased. First to acquire the new weapons in number were the tribes of the north, as this was an early area of contact and trade with the Europeans. Thus, 1818 saw the beginning of the musket wars fought between Maori; a development much exacerbated when the chief Hongi Hika, of the Ngapuhi iwi in Te Tai Tokerau, was able to acquire a large number of muskets for his tribe after a gainful visit to England in 1920 (Walker 1990: 82-87, Vayda 1970).
Hongi Hika set out with the newly procured muskets to avenge old injuries, gain prowess and plunder, making war on an unprecedented scale, which lead to bloodshed and destabilisation amongst tribes further to the south. By way of illustration, the missionary Samuel Marsden writes of how he was informed by local settlers that one single canoe returning from a campaign by Hongi Hika was seen to arrive carrying 70 trophy heads, while from the same campaign 2,000 prisoners of war were brought as slaves (Elder 1932: 173). The musket wars debilitated Maori society through population decline and concurrent disease and lowering food productions (Walker: ibid, Vayda 1970). Acquiring muskets for self-defence in the escalating tribal wars hastily became a matter of emergency and simple survival to the Maori of the day. Robley relates how an entire ton of flax, the chief article of barter with the Europeans, processed by time-consuming and laborious scraping with shells, could only be exchanged for a single gun (ibid: 138-139, see also Walker 1990: 83). Thus, as Maori found that Europeans were willing to pay exceedingly well for preserved heads as compared to other articles they had to offer, they adapted to this state of affairs and began actively procuring heads for sale.
For quite obvious reasons the heads sold were not those of the vendors' friends and relatives, which were adamantly sought to be protected from such a fate. The growing European demand for preserved tattooed heads by far exceeded the immediately forthcoming supply, and this led to a radical change in the traditional practice and rationale for preserving heads. Not only were the heads of chiefly enemies now targeted as booty rather than as trophies of war, by reason of being sought for the trade; slaves, too, were now drawn into this commoditisation. Rank was (and continues to be) a matter of great importance in Maori society, which, based on the seniority of descent-lines, was divided into chiefs (rangatira), commoners, and slaves (Te Rangi Hiroa 1962 : 337-338, 401-402). Slaves were prisoners of war, and their descendants, who were traditionally kept to carry out menial tasks, and were liable to be killed at will (Johansen 1954: 178-179). This condition must have eased the process of their commoditisation for the traffic in preserved heads: What had been a practice strictly reserved for distinguishing chiefs and free men now became forced upon slaves, who were tattooed in order that their heads might be preserved and made available for sale. Allegedly, at the height of this traffic, slaves' heads were in some cases even bartered over with European agents of the trade, while the victim was still alive, with promise of delivery upon agreement (Robley 1998 : 170, 173). The trade in heads thus did not develop evenly from its modest beginnings in 1770, but followed the wider conjunctures of cultural contact and its social effects, the absolute heydays of the trade being the 1820s, fuelled by the musket wars and the increasing demand from European collectors and museums. The imperatives of the collectors are to be looked into more closely a page hence.
With the developments of the 1820s, the commercial circulation of Maori heads reached such heights that 'baked heads' acquired a separate entry amongst the imports at the Sydney customs, and were not uncommonly seen to be traded in the streets there (Robley 1998 : 171). Terrifying courses of events took place in the name of the profitable trade. The way in which slaves were deliberately dispatched for the traffic in heads has already been mentioned; furthermore instances are reported where relatives chanced to recognize chiefly heads in the hands of European traders, only to be denied any right of involvement when they demanded the heads surrendered, having to see them carried off on European ships (Elder 1932: 498, Robley 1998 : 178-179). By way of what might be termed poetic justice, if indeed that is not too suave a denomination, some European traders in this article ended up with their own heads decapitated and preserved for utu, revenge.
In the end, the trade in human heads assumed such proportions that it became too much of a scandal and calamity in the eyes of not just the unhappy relatives of the deceased, or of protesting and embarrassed missionaries such as Samuel Marsden, but also of the nearest British authorities. In 1831 the governor of the British colony in New South Wales finally passed orders forbidding the import of heads from New Zealand (Elder 1932: 500-501)(14). In addition to condemning the trade, the proclamation added:
His Excellency further trusts, that all persons who have in their possession human heads, recently bought from New Zealand will immediately deliver them up for the purpose of being restored to the relations of the deceased parties; this being the only possible reparation that can now be rendered (quoted in Elder 1932: 500).
This initiative did not stop the demand that fuelled the trade, and it certainly did not lead to restoration of the heads already in circulation, but it did contribute strongly to a decline in the traffic, along with other factors. The explosive development of the traffic itself prompted Maori to cease preserving the heads of friends, to prevent that they by any means should fall into the hands of enemies, and hence, of traders and collectors (Robley 1998 : 135, 170). Also, as the possession of muskets became more general, the balance of physical force got more equal and the fatalities of war and the concurrent social upheaval became too great on either side to motivate continued bloodletting, and as surcease was increasingly sought, much of the original imperative to deal in slaves' heads fell away (Walker 1990: 84, Polack 1976 : 20).
While the European interest in the preserved heads was especially that of a practice deemed exotic and macabre, suitable as museum objects of fascination to a foreign audience, there was another dimension to it too, growing as the impacts of cultural contact and European settlement made themselves steadily more felt. The social upheavals effected by the introduction of muskets instigated a cultural stagnation and population decline amongst Maori, which was to worsen in times to come (Walker 1990: 80-81). Simultaneously with the social upheavals, the ideological impacts of increasing European settlement wrought a number of changes. Missionaries actively discouraged a number of practices, amongst which were those of tattooing and traditional death practices, decrying them as barbarous customs, and attempting, not without effect, to impose upon Maori what they saw as civilised, i.e. Europeanised, behaviour (Elder 1932: 167, Robley 1998 : 121, Oppenheim 1973: 20-21).
By the late nineteenth century these developments had led to the well-established social-Darwinist assumption amongst Europeans that the Maori culture and people were dying out (Meijl 1996: 312-313). In the words of the contemporary reverend James Buller: "The Maories [sic] are fewer now It is a popular opinion that they are dying out. With many, I fear, the 'wish is father to the thought'" (Buller 1878: 164). The reverend gives as reasons for the decrease: "1. Their intertribal wars 2. Vices imported with colonisation 3. Their transition state", and the most optimistic assertion he has for the situation is that "[p]erhaps the use of English customs will prepare them for an amalgamation with their Anglo-Saxon neighbours. In that case they will become extinct as a people, but merged into a composite body" (ibid.). Therefore, paradoxically a major premise of collection by then was that authentic specimens of arts and practices characteristic of Maori culture had to be salvaged while they were still to be found, for the future benefit of science. This, for instance, was Robley's motive both as a collector and in publishing his book (1998 : ix-x, 122-123). Ironically, this principle made the collector, who had bought so many heads, albeit at a slightly later point in history, lament that with the trade of the 1820s "[f]reshly done and inferior heads took the place of old and genuine" (ibid: 169).
Increasingly failing to find supplies of human remains available for willing exchange, collectors took to grave robbery to obtain them, holding that their own ends justified the means. This was done knowing that local Maori would grieve, and if possible avenge, any transgression of their highly tapu and venerated gravesites, so that for the collector "[t]he undertaking [of entering a burial cave to remove the contents] was a dangerous one, for discovery might have cost me my life" (Reischek 1933 : 215, my insertion in brackets). Such sources, then, also had their limitations to collectors, even as such men, here the Austrian collector Andreas Reischek(15), might declare with pride upon securing specimens from a dwindling supply of preserved Maori human remains, that "[now] these ancestors of the Maori adorn the ethnographical collection of the Imperial Natural History Museum" (ibid: 215-216).
Thus, due to a mixture of factors such as the introduction of both muskets and Christianity, in combination with demands from museums and private collectors, preserved tattooed Maori heads entered a peculiar cross-cultural conjuncture. A burgeoning trade in human remains erupted and died out, and the heydays of collection came and went. However, collecting did not die out before a situation had arisen that would allow a present-day museum ethnologist to state in summary on the heads, that by then "every tin pot museum had one" (Simmons, quoted in the Dominion Weekend, 10 March 2001: 21)(16). One such head was that which found its way to the National Museum of Denmark, where it remained in relative obscurity as a part of the collections, till a new development in international politics of culture caught up with it and drew it back into world-spanning circulation and debate once more.
[C]ertain possessions become subjectively unique, removing them from
ordinary social exchange as they attain absolute value rather than exchange
value. The paradox, of course, is that such possessions, from time to time, are
Anthropologist Annette Weiner 1992: 37
The one preserved Maori head bought by NMDK in the late 19th century eventually joined the other ethnographic items on display in the so-called Polynesia room of the museum. For their edification on what they here saw in the glass case alongside wooden flutes and greenstone pendants, generations of museum visitors might consult the exhibition guide under the section of New Zealand, which read: "Tattooed male head, which has been stored either as a trophy of victory or as a commemoration of a deceased" (Nationalmuseets vejledninger 1940: 46)(17). Who knows, given the traffic in heads that has already been laid forth for the reader to consider, whether this head was ever meant for either of the purposes stated in the guidebook? Quite regardless of historical fact, whatever that might be, this was what the preserved head had become: A museum item decontextualised from the social and crosscultural relationships and processes that had brought it to its current position. Present-day visitors, too, might have passed the head on their stroll through the ethnographic collections and read the same laconic label, if it had not been for what could be characterized as the coming into light of the head along with a number of other exhibited items in the eighties, as contextualised in a new set of problems, on which we shall now have a look.
It is hardly a coincidence that the International Council of Museums published its first code of ethics in the year 1986(18). It was time for an attempt to catch up with a by then growing critical debate on museums and their roles both historically and in the contemporary world. That debate occasioned the need to navigate increasingly conflicting institutional obligations and perceptions of the collections held by museums. Questions surrounding the fate and uses of what museums held as specimens were at the time becoming a problematic issue for cultural institutions worldwide. The postcolonial self-consciousness of tribes, ethnic groups and former colonies generated increased attention and critique of museums, and new disputes took the matter of discussion beyond the classic scholarly debate on how best to display museum objects, to the questioning, in many instances, of the moral rightness of collecting and display per se (O'Hanlon 2000: 28, Handler 1985: 193, Clifford 1988: 247 ff.). Thus, the issue that is to be analysed here is not the debate on representation, which was also a central topic of discussion in the museum world at the time (O'Hanlon 2000: 2). The problem to be addressed is a more radical one: Namely the fact that certain items in the possession of museums are by some critics considered to be unsuitable as objects of collection or display, quite regardless of the applied mode of representation.
NMDK did not then define a formal written repatriation policy of its own, and still has not done so, but in terms of repatriation practice the Head of the Ethnographic Collection has stated to operate in concurrence with the ICOM code of ethics (Gabriel 2002: 29). According to this code "[t]he primary duty of the museum is to preserve its collections for the future and use them for the development and dissemination of knowledge, through research (...)[and] displays" (ICOM 2001: 2.9). On the other hand the code has also recognised that the museums themselves are not the only ones who hold a legitimate interest in their possessions, in particular when it comes to 'collections of human remains and material of sacred significance'. The same code states that the handling and use of such material "must be accomplished in a manner consistent with [both] professional standards and the interests and beliefs of members of the community, ethnic or religious groups from which the objects originated" (ICOM 2001: 6.6).
Insofar as requests for repatriation are an obvious case in point, where a clash of values may arise between the stated institutional objectives of preservation, dissemination of knowledge, and compliance with contemporary interests in the communities of origin, such a document is in this respect of an ideological character, more so than it is practically applicable. Ethical conduct is advocated in the successive versions of the code, but not specified beyond the exhortation to address requests "expeditiously with respect and sensitivity" (ibid). Thus, a critical issue for any museum remains that of how to tackle the ambiguity of such sensitive material held in its collections. We should therefore ask, what are the underlying principles according to which the dilemmas of respecting divergent perspectives on items in a museum collection are acted upon. I suggest that to elucidate actual practice at NMDK, we may begin by looking towards exchange-oriented theories of the role of material objects in the constitution of social groups and identities, as exemplified by the concept of inalienable possessions developed by Annette Weiner (1985, 1992)(19).
Weiner, building on ethnographic material from a number of societies in Oceania, including Maori, concerns herself with the fundamental processes of social exchange and identity formation. She argues that classic anthropological theories of the constitution of value, social identities and relations through exchange, harking back to the writings of Marcel Mauss, have overlooked the central social significance of simultaneous efforts of keeping, in which some possessions become inalienable to their owners, attaining an absolute value beyond exchange value (Weiner 1985, 1992). Thus, families, descent-groups, and even nations, keep items ranging from heirlooms to royal regalia, which attain status as an intrinsic and authenticating part of their collective identity. The primary value of such inalienability is expressed through the power these objects have to define the owners' identity in an historical sense, acting as a vehicle for bringing the past into the present, thus creating a semblance of continuity (Weiner 1985: 210). The value created through keeping must therefore also be seen in relation to the constant social needs and threats of exchange and loss, and in this way Weiner holds social exchange to be implicitly motivated by efforts of 'keeping-while-giving' (1985: 223-224, 1992: 5 ff). Her theoretical scope of inquiry is thus centred upon material objects and the ways in which their values may be associated with being kept, rather than circulated (ibid: 211).
While her theory is developed by means of ethnographic examples from Oceania, Weiner holds that creating inalienable possessions is universally practiced (1992: 155). Though she does not herself draw any parallels between the principles operating in the ethnographic contexts that she builds her theory on, and the Western tradition of museum collections, her theory opens up for analysis also in this context. In the case of museums it might similarly be argued that the collected items attain status as inalienable possessions, as they are here preserved and kept out of ordinary commodity exchange and circulation, being endowed with value by representing the identity of groups and societies (Pannell 1990). After all, as one museum anthropologist has remarked in the context of repatriation debate, the commonly accepted raison d'être of the museum institution is precisely that of 'keeping things' (Anderson 1990a: 97). This again brings us back to the dilemma of how museums are to respond to indigenous claims on their collections.
The critical development in museum politics that is exemplified by ICOM's successive codes of ethics did not go unreflected at NMDK. As the now retired Head of the Ethnographic Collection recounted to me, the first step in dealing with sensitive items such as human remains was to remove them from display, to prevent that people in the communities of origin should take offence at the exposition of the remains to 'macabre interest'. Here an interpretation is brought to bear, in which the exhibition and the interest from the public, which was previously construed as cultural and historical edification, comes to be seen as an act of violation. Moreover, not just a violation of the human remains, but of the community of origin. Hence the head becomes symbolic of relations between Maori people and its current possessors. Consequently, in 1988 the preserved head, along with other items deemed to be of a sensitive character, was taken out of its place in the exhibition room to be deposited in one of the museum storerooms, and was since then by tacit agreement, rather than explicit policy, kept from being put on display, as were all human remains held in the Ethnographic Collection at NMDK(20).
Then, human remains were deemed unsuitable for one of the major purposes of the museum, namely display, but were still kept as part of the collection. Not just the preserved Maori head, but human remains as a general type of material were accorded a special status in the Ethnographic Collection at NMDK; but that was not by itself enough to motivate a complete exclusion from the museum context. Within the Western museum context, such a preserved head, like in other contexts slaves and relics, may be seen as belonging to an anomalous category of objects that can be seen as both persons and things, giving such remains an ambiguous status (Geary 1986: 169, Kopytoff 1986, Pentz 2000). But then why respond as NMDK did? The concept of inalienability may shed some light on the situation.
According to Weiner, inalienable possessions may be differentiated in two classes: those that should never circulate, and those that under certain circumstances may be given to others, while still retaining affective qualities constituting the original owner's identity and thereby creating an emotional lien upon the receivers (1985: 212). Significantly, the matter which Weiner draws forth as the manifestation of 'the ultimate in inalienability' is precisely human remains, buried or deposited in caves and considered to be tribal property (ibid: 219). The preserved head and similar remains at the museum thus transgress categories of both inalienability and distinctions between persons and objects. As I will argue, what might be suggested from the course of action at NMDK in the case of the preserved head, is that the notion of ultimate inalienability on the part of the community of origin seems not to have been completely erased, but to have been implicitly present in the choice of removing the remain from display.
Thus, the coming into light of certain collection items as problematic objects with an ambiguous status also meant their going out into darkness: The awareness and ethical attention newly accorded to the preserved head at the museum was followed by its relocation from the exhibition to a storeroom, a place where it was unlikely to become the subject of attention from anyone, for whatever purpose. As NMDK's subsequent course of action will demonstrate, this is not to be interpreted as a calculating attempt to hide sensitive materials away from potential claimants. It is rather to be seen as a way of both recognising contemporary indigenous feelings of involvement with remains in the museum's possession, and sidestepping the entanglement of meanings that give such human remains their ambiguous character, while still honouring the institutional purpose of preservation and keeping. In effect, the disposition was an act of balancing two sorts of inalienability: That of cultural origin, and that of being part of a museum collection.
Out of sight, however, is not quite the same thing as out of mind: The head had not yet had its last visitor at the museum; only the visits to follow were of an entirely different nature, demonstrating the entanglement and instability of meanings, in which the head was now situated. As discussed in chapter one, such preserved Maori heads had been scattered over museums worldwide in the course of cultural contact and colonisation. However, their positioning in a global network of relations did not end with their withdrawal from circulation in the nineteenth century. The Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, was one other institution in which such a preserved head was to be found (Lind 2002), and this had come to the attention of a Maori woman who had settled in the country. She took to visiting the remain, which to her was a deceased more so than a museum object. As she heard from the staff here that a similar Maori head was located in the neighbouring country Denmark, she contacted NMDK to seek an agreement about making visits in the storerooms here, too. A cultural attachment had been asserted, on the basis of what must be interpreted as the woman's conception of the head as inalienable - and the connection was accepted at the museum.
The head now became the receiver of visits, crying and ritualised calling from the woman, who later on when I sought her out, told me that while she did not fault the individual members of the museum staff, but Western culture, for the predicament of the head, it was painful for her knowing of, and seeing the deceased "so far away from home", caught up as it seemed to her, in a "prison of preservation"(21). These terms capture the paradoxical position of the head: For the visiting Maori woman an ultimate inalienable possession out of place; but for NMDK a cultural relic respectfully kept. Importantly, however, the preserved head was by means of these visits instated in a subject relation, rather than an object relation, as had hitherto been the case in its museum career. Furthermore this was a culturally motivated relation, which the museum in its own terms did its best to accommodate and respect. The head was once more part of social relations reaching outside of the museum.
This modus vivendi would most probably still have prevailed today, if the question concerning the museum's possession of the preserved head had not been brought to the fore by yet another unexpected visitor. As staff at the museum recounted to me, one August day in 1996 a Maori man from New Zealand arrived unannounced at NMDK, inquiring in general terms into its holding of Maori human remains. He was told about the head, the only such remain in the possession of NMDK; and after two hours of queries concerning the possibilities of repatriation for the purpose of returning the remain to its source community, the man left without further specification of his intentions. Such more or less informal inquiries into the holdings of the museum are not unusual, and more often than not no further claims ensue from them. Thus at NMDK no additional notice was taken of the occasion, other than recording it on a slip of paper. However, the museum's journals reveal an ongoing course of events in this case. On the 11th of November 1996 a formal letter from the Trust Board of the visitor's iwi arrived, referring to the meeting at the museum and requesting the return of "the human remains of our Ancestor" for interment, with the iwi Trust Board as the prospective receiving agent(22). The standing of the preserved head in the museum had now gone from being associated with the broad question of showing ethical and cultural awareness, to the challenge of making an explicit decision on the proper context of inalienability in which to interpret the head.
In spite of the great number of conventions, declarations and ethical guidelines in circulation concerning the cultural rights of indigenous peoples, in practical terms materials removed from their context of origin in pre-colonial or colonial time remain in a legal void. On an international level there are no formal and binding laws or structures through which claims for such materials may be argued with any force other than that of ethics (Barkan 2002: 17-18)(23). In legal terms NMDK was therefore not compelled to initiate repatriation upon the request, and the museum could quite easily have excused itself from so doing, if the management had been adverse to it(24). The preserved head had been physically alienated from its original possessors for more than a century, and NMDK could have insisted on conceptualising its possession of the head in terms similar to those of a commodity relationship, where purchase equals permanent rights of ownership, and thus have dismissed the claim. Yet it did not. Which other frame of logic was then operating in making a decision on the museum's course of action?
"One must give back to another person, what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence", Marcel Mauss concluded in his seminal essay on the principles of exchange and obligation involved in the act of giving (Mauss 1990 : 16). The concept of inalienability discussed in the above was Weiner's theoretical re-conceptualisation of the dimension of keeping, which Mauss' original work did not fully recognize in its focus on cycles of giving and the way these compelled receiving and reciprocating. However, the paradox remains, that inalienable possessions can be lost to the possession of their original owners. Having already applied the concept of inalienability, it might now be productive to return to Weiner's theoretical font of origin, to see how the principles of keeping and exchanging are negotiated when the matter in question is something as paradoxical as an 'ultimate inalienable' long having been kept in alien hands (Weiner 1985: 219, 1992: 37).
If the gift as a generic phenomenon is held to be effective because in a symbolic sense it continues to possess something of the substance of the giver, how much more would this not hold for human remains, being, as they are, in the most concrete sense, of the substance of their originators? And although not a gifting relationship in the conventional terms of a continual exchange of gifts and countergifts, repatriation undeniably appears as a form of giving, which begs the question of whether we might not elucidate the phenomenon by means of the Maussian understanding of exchange(25). Notably, I am not hereby implying that the preserved head was received, or considered, as a gift at NMDK. What I will suggest is that some of the insights we owe to Mauss' analysis of the principles operating in gift exchange may, by way of analogy, be applied to repatriation. Indeed, the perspective may not be so far fetched after all: In the letter from the requesting iwi Trust Board, a promise was also set forth that "[i]n accordance with our customs we will reciprocate in a manner befitting your kindness", though the offer remained unspecified. The claim for repatriation was thus skilfully phrased in a mode that sought to establish a relationship of mutual obligation, reflecting the principle that "a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction" (Douglas paraphrasing Mauss, in Mauss 1990 : x).
On the part of NMDK, this wooing for exchange, presented by a hitherto unknown party of uncertain standing, affected an evolving chain of activity and considerations prior to deciding upon the proper reply. Being human remains, the preserved head was, as demonstrated in the above, already conceptually and physically set apart as material entailing particular ethical obligations, and therefore as perceived at the Ethnographic Collection of NMDK also in principle liable to repatriation upon request from representatives of the culture of origin. The envisaged transaction, though, was not so simple. The course of action applied at NMDK was firstly to draw on an informal network of colleagues with experience from New Zealand, in an attempt to both confirm the identity of the claimants and to gauge the local context and the possible motives for the request. As the Head of the Ethnographic Collection explained to me, "it might be an individual person who ... for some reason or other raises a claim. It might be political, or for other reasons. So we would want to know who it is that approaches us"(26). What such concerns illustrate is not only the museum's obligations as institutional keeper and protector of its possessions, but also the fact that more than the preserved head itself was at stake in the prospective transaction. In accepting such a claim, something more than a possession is exchanged; the act will invariably also be one of recognition, in that if one gives things, it is because one is giving respects, acknowledging obligations towards the receiver (Mauss 1990 : 59). Precisely therefore it was incumbent on the museum as a prospective donor to ascertain to what sort of purpose and partner it committed itself, bearing in mind the fact that exchange also lends itself to strategies for enhancement of prestige and political status (ibid: 47).
What eventuated from the enquiries conducted in New Zealand, was the verification that the letter of request did in fact come from the iwi Trust Board concerned, but also that there was nothing to indicate or confirm any special association between that particular iwi and the preserved head, for which NMDK had no information on provenance other than the general identity as 'Maori'. Furthermore, a letter from the anthropologist conducting these informal inquiries for NMDK sounded the caution that "there is a lot of political unrest surrounding the heads"(27), indicating that repatriation to an iwi might implicate the museum in local political controversies beyond its ken. In the end, the iwi Trust Board was not recognised by the museum as an exchange partner, and we might note, with Mauss, that "[t]o refuse to give is to reject the bond of alliance and commonality" (1990 : 17). Significantly, though, that did not amount to a refusal of repatriation per se, as we shall now see.
Apparently NMDK did feel obliged on account of the claim that had been made for the preserved head, even in refusing a relationship with the claimants. The preserved head's inalienability with the culture of origin was thus not questioned once it had been posed as a direct claim, and as I found in the journals, this is how NMDK later represented the case to the Danish Ministry of Culture:
[R]epresentatives of the Maori population of New Zealand, who express a strong emotional binding to these ancestor heads, have in recent years been very active in tracing these heads at museums and reclaiming them In our museum the practice has been that we recommend 'human remains' for return when representatives of the culture of origin express their wishes for it(28).
This understanding of human remains in museums thus makes for a case where the inalienability associated with a possession necessitates that it is set (back) in 'circulation', rather than kept by its present possessor.
The dilemma in this case was thus not predicated on the assessment of the item requested for repatriation, but on the issue of 'alliance and commonality' alluded to above - that is, on the politics of exchange, as NMDK contemplated the possible consequences of engaging in a relationship with the claimant iwi. This problem was circumvented as the museum chose to proceed with the case by involving a third party, one that had ironically not put forth any claims for the head in question. Amongst the information from the inquiries conducted in New Zealand was also the fact that repatriations of Maori human remains, including preserved heads, in a number of cases had been sought by, and made to, the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa. A national museum, unlike a Maori iwi operating on a scale and logic unfamiliar to NMDK, was an institution with which NMDK shared commonality and could enter into a relationship, without risking to compromise itself. Therefore the ultimate solution to the dilemma of both handling the dimension of politics, and heeding claims for returning inalienable material, was to approach Te Papa and indicate willingness to repatriate the head on an institution-to-institution base. If NMDK did not seek to keep the head, at least it made sure that it was kept within an institutional structure for which it could safely vouch, supporting this disposition by the understanding that Te Papa is "operated in cooperation between the indigenous population, the Maori, and representatives of the settler society"(29). As a further remark, which illustrates how the logic of gift giving may subtly enter this form of exchange, one of the staff suggested to me that the repatriation of the head might also in part be perceived as a 'gesture' in association with the reopening of the Museum of New Zealand in 1998! Thus, in contemplating repatriation, both current understandings of the material in question, and the principles and politics of exchange come into play.
Finally, then, repatriation was agreed upon with this new partner, and between the museums it was arranged that two representatives from Te Papa, one a Pakeha and the other the Maori chief executive, were to travel to Copenhagen in December 1998 to have the head handed over at NMDK with due ceremony in terms of Maori protocol(30), and then accompany it on its travel back to New Zealand. As I was told by staff, at NMDK a certain tension initially arose between the potentialities of leaving the event to unfold on its own terms of exchange and ceremony, or objectifying and 'anthropologising' it by making it subject to documentary efforts in keeping with the institutional purpose of creating cultural and historical records. Was it not, some of the staff speculated in preliminary discussions, an obligation of the museum, which for so long had held the head in custody, to preserve knowledge of the final disposition of it, by means of photographs, interviews, and the like? Here, perhaps, we see manifested the last impulse towards some form of keeping-while-giving. But in the end, the question of creating further documentation was not brought up to the two couriers from New Zealand. The preserved head was now situated in a set of relationships where such an act would have been experienced as both painful and embarrassing to all of the participants. As one of the staff present at the event rendered it: "You can't stop; when such a man [the Maori chief executive of Te Papa] is standing there crying, and talking Maori to the head, why, then you can't walk over and prod him on the shoulder, saying 'excuse us, could you wait a while, we have to fetch a camera'"(31). Here again we see how, corresponding with Weiner's characterisation of inalienable possessions as having primary importance as markers of continuity, the preserved head's implication in living cultural practice, as an ultimate inalienable possession capable of drawing forth intense, culturally motivated emotions, takes on key importance in shaping attitudes to what constitutes proper dispositions surrounding it at the museum.
Having analysed the ethics and politics of the more recent events and relationships surrounding the repatriation of the head, it is now time to readjust my focus and have a closer look at what sort of biography the museum history of the head would add up to. Here, I thus apply the theoretical lens of Arjun Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff, investigating the meanings that may be revealed by the trajectories of the head. Delving into the particulars of shifting valuations and the accompanying practical courses of action as they have evolved in time and space will add a perspective which both links the choices of the implied actors and, by way of contrast, reveals much that is obscured from view at any one point in time. It will be seen that the biographical layers of events and phases are subject to shifting retrospective and prospective emphasis on the part of the implied actors, and thus not just proceed, but interrelate in the course of history. Focusing here on the museum perspective, and remembering that the theme of any biography is of necessity selective, to our purpose the overarching trajectory that might be reconstructed for the head is the story of being subject to a sequence of exchange in various guises that implies first going from New Zealand to the Danish museum and then, in the repatriation, back.
Appadurai argues that "what creates the link between exchange and value is politics, construed broadly" and, furthermore, that "the politics of value is in many contexts a politics of knowledge" (Appadurai 1986: 3, 6). With the term 'politics' the intention is here to refer to the dynamics of relations, assumptions, and contests pertaining to power (ibid: 57). If practice shows us the kinds of meanings with which a collected item has been charged, then inquiring into the politics of knowledge and culture associated with collecting and exhibition shows why and how the collected object is subject to different valuations, and the importance which this has. Politics thus raise questions such as how, and by whom, collecting values are recognised, and how the judgement of the material changes (Pearce 1995: 32). Thus, I will here investigate how such politics apply along the historical trajectory that developed in the case of the preserved head in Denmark.
As for making out the beginning of this biography, by and large we can only speculate. The deceased was, before entering the trajectory which concerns us here, a living man; Maori, from New Zealand - and here, seemingly, our horizon of knowledge ends, as regards the life of this specific person. He is likely to have been a slave; the preserved head has been judged by an ethnologist to be tattooed post mortem, which would seem to indicate that the procedure was carried out with trade in mind, rather than to distinguish a chief (Dr. Dave Simmons, personal communication). Thus, if a slave, the dead man at NMDK, even before his head was preserved, was already implicated in a world-spanning system of ethnographic commoditisation, trade, and production of cultural knowledge, fuelled by collection.
Upon death and preservation, the head, by whatever means, found its way into the system of 19th century circulation of ethnographica, exchanged as a commoditised article of trade. As I learned from the museum's journals, it is from the onset of contact in 1893 between NMDK and a dealer in ethnographic objects, Mr. G. A. Frank from London, that a more certain and detailed trajectory can be traced. The original correspondence and final receipt of the purchase have remained in the museum's archive, and can now assist in shedding a bit of light on the circumstances of acquisition(32). NMDK had specifically sought such a head for its collection and ordered specimens for review. Thus Mr. Frank opens the first letter of his to be found in the archive by stating: "at last I have the pleasure to send you the box containing the 2 Maori skulls". Apparently being of an enterprising nature, Mr. Frank took the opportunity to send along a number of 'various other specimens' with an attached price list, the contents ranging, amongst other items, from two much cheaper Dayak skulls, to New Guinean bowls and a Javanese sarong; a list from which the sheer variation in the contents and their origins speaks volumes of the networks of collection and trade in ethnographica of the day (see also Welsch 2000). Obviously these various articles had already circulated through other links, prior to coming to England and into the hands of Mr. Frank. Short of being 'old' and 'very fine' - adjectives clearly meant to vouch for authenticity in order to raise both interest and price - the Maori heads came with no information whatsoever. NMDK kept the one head for a price of £ 35, no small sum in those days. The preserved heads had, in the perceptive collector Robley's words, become "subject to all the vicissitudes that affect the value of other works of art" (Robley 1998 : 193), becoming valuable (and expensive) as they became scarce in supply.
One shrewd 19th century observer aside, as recent critics notice, there has been a general lack of scholarly acknowledgement and attention to the processes of commoditisation that were one important feature of the way in which various collection items in spe entered both academic disciplines and the logics of museums as cultural institutions (Phillips & Steiner 1999: 3, O'Hanlon 2000). As I shall demonstrate, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on the circumstances of economy, though it is a dimension that I will show to be submerged in the proceeding parts of the biography. As Robley went on to remark in his reflections, such heads, once safely lodged in museums, were not supposed to be subject to further commodity (or other) circulation (ibid). The dimensions of valuation that took precedence after the purchase, on which the museification of the head hinged, were of other sorts.
Though museum staff of later days were (with no success) to search the archives of NMDK high and low for any more specific information on the origin of the head pending repatriation, obviously its individual history and tribal origin had been considered of no particular importance in the museum economy of knowledge at the time of its acquisition. If indeed such information had been thought to be of value or relevance at the time, probably at least some sort of speculative account would have been provided by the seller, in order to increase interest in his goods. But then, collecting per se served to establish claims to knowledge, by means of the very possession of the collected items, which were to function as evidence of, and ways of access to, cultural realities outside the compass of the viewers' experiences (Phillips and Steiner 1999: 3). Indeed, knowledge was at the time thought of as unproblematically embodied in material objects, which were deemed all the more important and worthy of preservation as the peoples which were the subject matter of ethnographic interest did not leave other tangible traces of their past, such as written histories (Stocking 1985: 114, O'Hanlon 2000: 5).
This frame of perception - that the materiality of the obtained specimens constituted knowledge in itself - may then in part account for the fact that prior to the efforts for repatriation, the preserved head had in fact been subject to no research of any sort while at the museum. Robley, thorough as he was in his own studies, registered its very presence at NMDK in a list of museum holdings of specimens printed in his book (Robley 1998 : 204), and many years later, in the 1980s, an ethnologist from New Zealand also noted its existence, when checking the inventories of various museums. The head's very being there, rather than attempts at increasing scholarly knowledge about it, was to all appearances the paramount concern, insofar as anyone did concern themselves with the head after its entry into the museum. The meaning of the head was thus quintessentially that of being part of the collections in the museum, where, amongst a number of other Maori items, it partook in the institutional representation of the world(33). This operation was thus carried out by taking the displayed objects out of specific sets of relationships - cultural, historical and intersubjective - and making them serve as ethnographic metonyms standing for the more abstract phenomenon of Maori culture (Clifford 1988: 220).
As I have demonstrated, with the coming of the critical indigenous and museological debate in the eighties, the head again came to be seen as having a potential culturally and emotionally salient relationship with present-day Maori people; a relationship reflecting back on the museum's own standing. The changing museum perception of the head implied a shift to emphasising a previous historical layer of its biography, constituting the head as a sensitive reminder of circumstances of collecting judged to be unethical by present-day standards. Simultaneously it demonstrated an understanding of the head as a potential symbol of the conditions and relationships that are sought to be redressed in the current quest for indigenous cultural rights. If the preserved head was still thought of primarily as a museum object, it was now additionally an object with an implicit political dimension to it, as it was also evident in the later contemplations surrounding the claim for repatriation. Ultimately, in being subject to Maori visits and ritualised attention at the museum, and later, to claims for return, the head was from a Maori perspective accorded the status of an ancestor, a dimension emphasized and culminating in the repatriation to New Zealand.
The dimension of economy that was operating at the entry of the head into the museum is at this point conspicuous in its absence. In leaving Denmark, arrangements had to be made (somewhat ironically, perhaps, in such a case) to comply with current legislation protecting cultural property. Permits and documentation had to be supplied, and here, in the accompanying documents for the customs authorities, we find the head carefully registered as having 'no commercial value'(34). Events in the intervening biography of the preserved head had thus erased from view its status of more than a century ago, as a commodity worth £ 35. While it might seem self-evident to many that human remains should not be estimated in economic terms, neither past nor contemporary estimations of values (economical or ethical) should be taken for granted. The valuation had more to do with the particular transaction and the set of relationships that the head was now part of - the circumstances surrounding the repatriation - than with any independent judgement of its continuing commercial potential. The trade history of such remains is in fact not just a phenomenon of the 19th century: Also within the latest decades, such old preserved Maori heads have occasionally, though by no means often, been offered for sale, individually or as part of collections (Simpson 1996: 235, The Dominion Weekend 10 March 2001: 21)(35).
The valuation of the head from the museum's side, then, is a moral judgment, not a financial one: An implicit assessment of what sorts of biographical trajectories the head, as currently perceived between the transacting parties, might enter and not. Brought into play in making judgments on the proper fate of such human remains are thus conceptions of the relationship between their humanness and object status, ethics and historicity, all entangled in particular social and cultural relationships as they are played out both in the present and over time. Arguably, then, the shifts and differences in treatment and perceptions of the head along its biographical trajectory reveal moral as well as political economies standing behind the visible exchange transactions (Kopytoff 1986: 64). To carry the level of abstraction beyond this one head and the specific actors engaged in handling its fate, it seems that such cases may hold potential for enlightening anthropological inquiries about the negotiation of cultural knowledge and categories through forms of practice and materiality.
Having followed the trajectory of the deceased thus far, we have seen how conceptions and interests ranging from pecuniary gain to the construction of knowledge as possession, and ancestral inalienability, have predicated a series of physical relocations and forms of transactions. On the final note the preserved head had travelled the world for the second time; and notably, travelled from one museum institution to another - not from a museum to a tribe. Numerous working days and resources had been spent on the matter in both museums, and from an institutional point of view the affair was considered to be a success: Repatriation had taken place. Still, going beyond the surface relations and the immediate contentment of the involved actors, one might ask what difference it makes, if any, which - or whose - storeroom such a head is held in. NMDK not only transferred the preserved head to New Zealand in genuine recognition of the ethical sensitivity of its continued presence in the collection. The institution also in another sense conveniently managed to displace the encapsulating problem of resolving the ambiguous particulars of the case as an issue of indigenous rights and motives in a museological context. But back in the country of origin, what becomes of the entanglement of categories, histories and relationships, in which we have seen the head embedded? To begin to answer that question, we shall have to consider what sort of significance such matters have in the context of the politics of museums and Maori culture in New Zealand, to which I now turn my attention.
have cause to blush when they recall some incidents far in
their past. New Zealanders
shudder at the scale of savagery that has left
human heads from this country in European collections.
The New Zealand Herald 3 July 1998, editorial: A10
Repatriation, in New Zealand as elsewhere, is not a phenomenon that can be adequately understood outside the wider context of current institutional and (inter)national attempts at redressing history (Barkan 2002). In this respect, repatriation of Maori human remains is inevitably tied up with the politics of culture in a postcolonial context. As Jonathan Friedman (1994: 117) has pointed out, with specific reference to the politics of postcolonial cultural revival in the Pacific, cultural realities are always produced in specific sociohistorical contexts. This makes it necessary to account for the processes that generate those contexts in order to account for the nature of both the current practice of identity and the production of historical schemes. A discussion of the contemporary meanings and roles of repatriation and Maori human remains in New Zealand will therefore also make more sense when it is held up against the historical background of the positions that museums currently hold in relation to Maori people. This issue will thus be the starting point of analysis in this chapter.
As I will demonstrate, the debate on repatriation in New Zealand entails paradoxes of dealing with inalienable possessions circulating outside of their original context of meaning, as well as the historical and present constitution of relationships through exchange. The current situation thus poses the question of how to handle the legacy that the museums of New Zealand hold: The tangible remains that they possess, the histories these carry, and the relationships with the living people who are associated with these possessions and have their own expectations on what should happen to them. In using the term 'possession' here, I refer to it in the sense of having physical control over something, rather than in the sense of having rights of ownership. As it will be demonstrated in this chapter, ownership is in many respects a problematic concept, with regard to the situation of the Maori human remains under discussion here.
The current relationships between Maori people and museum institutions, especially within New Zealand, are created both by, and against, the history they share. As discussed in chapter one, items such as the preserved Maori heads were implied in an intertwining process of colonisation and ethnographic collecting, which towards the end of the nineteenth century culminated with a final rush to salvage what was by then held to be the last remnants of traditional Maori culture, before its anticipated demise through Maori extinction or, at best, assimilation with the Pakeha (Meijl 1996). The incorporation of such remains into museum collections thus implied both a specific temporal position and a form of historical narration; and as we shall see, so does the debate on their repatriation. Thus the topic of collecting and museums cogently re-enters the current scene of debate, where the once-predicted cultural extinction has failed to take place, and the people whose demise was expected now self-consciously defend their culture as a set of values and practices to be lived, as we have seen it in the Maori cultural revival of recent decades (Sahlins 1999). Being defended against are thus institutional conditions such as those revealed in an anecdote from a report on Maori exhibitions perspectives, in which "A Maori child was heard to ask the question of [sic] a teacher about a Maori display in a museum about when the people to whom the objects belonged died out" (Te Papa 1989, unpaged).
The practices of collecting and the associated academic institutions such as museums have thus come under intense criticism from Maori people, reflected for instance in the writings of the Maori decolonisation theorist Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999). According to Smith, collecting is to be seen as part of a colonial legacy of fragmentation and alienation of matters as diverse as territories, ancestral remains and cultural knowledge, in short, of an entire cultural 'estate'; thus tearing apart the material connection between people, their places, their beliefs and practices (ibid: 61, 89). Furthermore, this legacy has continued to make itself felt, as
[the] collective memory of imperialism has been perpetuated through the ways in which knowledge about indigenous peoples was collected, classified and then represented in various ways back to the West, and then, through the eyes of the West, back to those who have been colonized (ibid: 1-2).
Such claims might be said to mirror the above anecdote of a Maori child's meeting with a museum exhibition in the eighties, and though Smith's stance may appear to express a radical position, during my fieldwork I found that it does in fact accord with quite widely shared opinions amongst Maori people. (I will return to these in chapter four.) In this respect it is hardly surprising that the starkest critiques of past and present academic imperialism in fields such as museology, history, and anthropology (e.g. Trask 1991) come not from the independent Pacific, but from New Zealand and Hawaii, where the indigenous populations continue to exist encompassed within settler societies, as minority groups with a keenly felt sense of past oppression and present marginalisation (Munro 1994: 233, Jaarsma 2002: 53). The historical background of ethnographic collections is therefore not only a matter of academic interest, for it has left a distinct and long lasting resentment of museums and academic research amongst many Maori people (Smith 1999: 83, O'Regan 1984, Munro 1994, Meijl 2000). The dominant Maori image of the museum in generic terms has thus for long been that of an exclusively Pakeha institution, of which one of my informants, a man from an iwi in Te Tai Tokerau, could state, that "the museums, in days gone by, were an empire onto themselves". Contemporary developments towards the inclusion of Maori people and perspectives in the museums of New Zealand thus depart from a situation where, less than two decades ago, even a museum curator could make the summary comment that "for almost all Maori people, the museum represents a place of death, of bones, of plunder and relics and pillage" (Te Awekotuku 1985: 15). Such an understanding, with the prominent position it accords human remains in its characterisation of the museum, renders the repatriation of Maori human remains an important element of the institutional development towards coming to terms with the past that is shared by museums and Maori people.
In a nation aspiring to biculturalism and thus basing its self-legitimation on the validation of both Pakeha and Maori constituents (Sissons 1993), the image of museums as representative of colonial oppression is untenable. And if the moral question of redressing historical injustices has become an issue of growing international concern in the past decades (Barkan 2002: 16-17), then New Zealand is certainly a nation in which this issue makes itself most prominently felt, as framed in terms of the newly embraced principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Kawharu 2002: 296-298, Ward 1993). The broader political and legal context of the position that museums are in with respect to redressing grievances of the past is a national development in governmental and organisational policies and practices that has developed since the Treaty of Waitangi Act (1975). This act established the Waitangi Tribunal to inquire into Maori Treaty grievances, and has given rise to a process of claim settlements, which, though not progressing as fast as all claimants would prefer, has impacted upon a wide array of issues, and prompted Treaty rights to be incorporated in an array of legislation (Kawharu: ibid). This development in the moral understandings of the historical relationship between Maori and the Pakeha settler society has also effected a reconsideration of the roles and obligations of museums in relation to Maori people. Repatriation is in this context perceived as an integral element of relationship building between the museums and Maori tribal groups (Te Papa 2001: 4, AWMM Annual Plan 2003/2004: 7). The relationship between museums and Maori tribes within New Zealand is now conceptualised according to an ideal of reciprocity, in which the envisaged common goal is "the dynamic perpetuation of culture and identity" (Tapsell 2002: 290).
As we may glean from the discussion in the above, the fate of collected Maori human remains, and hence also the topic of repatriation, touches on the general relationship between museums and Maori people. For instance, in the Annual Plan of AWMM, databasing and return of human remains explicitly figure as actions to be implemented as part of the institution's measures to achieve "recognition by Maori and others as a fine and appropriate location for taonga [i.e., ancestral treasures]" (AWMM 2003/2004: 12, my insertion in brackets). Perhaps we may then, to paraphrase Weiner, see the development in repatriation as a way of 'giving back in order to keep'? Here, the repatriation of collected human remains is perceived as a precondition of a positive relationship between Maori people and museums; an action that in its recognition of Maori rights and values is also legitimising the continued museum possession of taonga, the Maori artefacts which remain significant collection items to museums, and are by Maori held to be significant as ancestral treasures. Indeed, some of my Maori informants have commented to me that giving back ancestral remains to the descendants, and thus recognising their rights, would in their eyes enhance the status of the museums. As one man argued to me, concerning his hopes for repatriation:
[T]here are still descendants ... Maori still exist the way I think about it is the more institutions actually give up power, cede power, the more powerful they become giving up accumulated wealth to receive what we would term mana [in this context translatable as authority].
These concerns again mirror the insights developed in terms of exchange theory in chapter two, illustrating that "exchange is always, in the first instance, a political process, one in which wider relationships are expressed and negotiated" (Thomas 1991: 7). The character of any exchange transaction - in this case repatriation - thus at once reflects and constitutes relations between groups. Most importantly, it inevitably has a historical dimension and thus mediates conditions and relations that are not wholly constituted just within the current frame of exchange (ibid: 7-9).
With the repatriation of Maori human remains as a means of redressing the past, the hope is that, as the Maori director of AWMM has expressed it: "If negotiations of contestable items originate from museums, rather than tribes, it will undoubtedly foster a sense of goodwill, trust and partnership" (Tapsell 2002: 288). The logic operating here decidedly recalls the Maussian principle of exchange as a key practice in the constitution of alliance and solidarity between the contracting parties (Mauss 1990 : 6-7, 17). However, the classic anthropological perception of museum items points out that they have become what they are precisely by being withdrawn from the local social systems of exchange in which they originally acquired their meaning (Sjørslev 2001b: 37-38). By way of a preliminary consideration, the question has recently been asked: Does it then make sense to conceptualise the circulation of museum items which have undeniably passed through long and complicated series of different exchange forms, in terms of reciprocity? And is it thus possible to perceive the world in a historical light as a global system of exchange (ibid: 41-43)? The conclusion of the present analysis is: Yes.
In this respect it must furthermore be emphasised that exchange is not simply the transfer of possessions, but also significantly involves elusive moral values such as rightness and justice. In this way repatriation, like other forms of exchange, "involves a continual struggle to give, claim, or redistribute some elusive existential good - such as recognition, love, humanity, power, presence, honour, or dignity" (Jackson 2002: 42). Thus, repatriation, as a complex process that constitutes and gives expression to multiple social institutions and concerns, may be conceptualised as a total social phenomenon (Mauss 1990 : 3, 6-7). The aspect of recognition between the parties involved in exchange is a key element in the process of repatriation, and it is also in this respect that the notion of museums themselves initiating repatriation negotiations with the descendant communities is rendered socially significant.
As anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has emphasised in his theorisation of reciprocity, there is a reciprocal connection in which the material flow of exchange underwrites or initiates social relations (Sahlins 1972: 186-190). Here, with regard to repatriation to Maori descendant groups from AWMM and Te Papa, we might identify a different pattern of relationships from the one exemplified in the international repatriation of the preserved head from NMDK. Whereas the Danish museum had no specific interest in engaging in a direct relationship with a Maori tribal group, such relationships are precisely that which is sought for the corresponding museum institutions within New Zealand, as a necessary means to amending a historically strained set of relationships. Thus, within recent years both AWMM and Te Papa have initiated extensive research plans to prepare for international and internal repatriation of Maori human remains on a proactive, rather than merely reactive, basis(36). Te Papa, in its capacity as the national museum of New Zealand, has recently received government funding towards this purpose, after having already for more than two decades been engaged in repatriation activities, as well as functioning as a repository for the Maori human remains that have been repatriated from other institutions. Indicating the wider relational significance of the development towards repatriation of collected Maori human remains, a member of the staff at Te Papa commented to me: "[T]hat process of reconciliation, of coming to terms and understanding those times is going to be full of emotions, but we will be better for it as a nation".
Repatriating Maori human remains is however not just a matter of institutional goodwill. A major problem with respect to the return of these human remains to their descendants is that of establishing provenance, in order to know which specific tribal groups to approach for the discussion of further dispositions concerning the remains. Koiwi, bones, in the possession of the museums are in many cases, though far from universally, accompanied by archival references to the sites or regions from which they were originally removed. It has therefore been possible for several returns and reinterments of koiwi to take place internally in New Zealand (e.g. Auckland Institute and Museum 1988-1989: 15-16, see chapter four for more on this). However, the museums are at present still left with a body of human remains, many of which are unprovenanced beyond their general identity as Maori, a fact that motivates the current diligent research programmes, which are to establish the identity of the remains that are currently in the possession of public institutions. Amongst the still unprovenanced remains waiting to be identified, we also find the vast majority of the preserved tattooed heads. As we shall see, this situation poses a number of questions regarding the status and management of the remains while they continue to be in the possession of museum institutions.
As it is evident from the case I analysed in chapter two, the problem of determining provenance, as well as the museum politics of exchange, favour institution- to-institution relationships in international repatriations. In academic debate it has been remarked on repatriation that it is in fact a common state of affairs that the items concerned are placed in the possession of another museum upon their return, which may establish a new relation of ownership, but seems to position the items in an institutional context and logic similar to the one they were repatriated from (Handler 1985: 194, Sjørslev 2001b: 43). In the present case, however, we find an institution such as Te Papa conceptualising its involvement in the repatriation and holding of returned remains with the assertion that:
Maori human remains held within institutions continue to contain Matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) which can only belong to Maori [These] human remains are part of a living culture, and as such it should be recognised that there are genealogical links with descendants in New Zealand, and those peoples have an interest in the ongoing care and placement of these remains (Te Papa 2001: 10).
This stance clearly expresses a logic of cultural inalienability, in which an essential relationship of identity is posited between the collected remains and contemporary Maori people. Notably, the remains are here associated with an intangible component, 'Maori knowledge and living culture', which emphasises the implication of the remains in contemporary cultural practice and identity. Such relationships between tangible remains and social identities have been theorised by the anthropologist Richard Handler, who has analysed the role of material objects in ethnic and national perceptions of 'having a culture' (Handler 1985).
Handler points out that the very materiality of tangible objects renders them eminently suitable to stand for the identity of a social collectivity, such as an ethnic group or nation, thereby validating its existence and in effect making it possible for culture to be objectified and imagined as the possession of such a collectivity (ibid: 193, 210-211). This is a process in which the very materiality of the concerned possessions comes to signify an objectivity that reflects back on the represented collectivities and associated intangibles such as cultural identity and values. As Handler notes, and as the preceeding discussions in the present thesis have demonstrated, this relationship also makes material remains into symbolic objects around which social legitimation as well as conflict can be effectively condensed and played out (ibid). What we are seeing at present with respect to repatriation, especially in the context of museums within New Zealand, might be described as a process of legitimising museums and recognising Maori by means of the same powerful medium.
However, the current problem of determining provenance, with a view to initiate direct negotiations on the fate of the remains with the relevant descendant groups, means that at present most of the collected remains continue to stay in an institutional context. This is the case, even as the concerned institutions step away from the notion of owning the collected remains or using them for traditional museum purposes, such as display and research for scientific purposes. In this respect the current situation of the remains amply demonstrates the paradoxes involved in dealing with inalienable possessions circulating outside their original context of meaning. Both at AWMM and Te Papa, institutional policy and practice is being adjusted to accommodate this situation. In the following discussion, I will focus mainly on Te Papa, which as the national museum of New Zealand has taken on an all-encompassing engagement in repatriating collected Maori human remains.
An overarching argument behind Te Papa's work for the international repatriation of collected Maori human remains is that "the cultural and knowledge base context must contribute to the overall management and care of these ancestors. In order to do this, remains must be in the country from which they originated" (Te Papa 2001: 7). This stance reflects the bicultural aspirations of the museum, according to which the immediate benefit of repatriation is that the remains can be managed in accordance with Maori cultural values and practices. These are sought to be integrated into the practice of the museum, for instance through the use of appropriate karakia, prayers, during any handling of the remains (Koiwi Tangata Policy - Summary Information n.d.). In being returned to New Zealand, the remains thus continue to be physically located in an institutional setting, but are made subject to separate policies and excluded from the museum's collections and their purpose. The Maori human remains at Te Papa are kept in a wahi tapu, a consecrated repository, which is closed to the public, and to which access is restricted to a few members of the museum staff.
In this way the culturally appropriate management of collected Maori human remains has become a matter of institutional legitimacy, and rather than referring to a traditional museum logic of collection and ownership, Te Papa refers to its role in holding the remains as that of a kaitiaki, a guardian (Te Papa 2001: 5). This stance is also reflected in the way Maori staff at Te Papa explained to me how they relate to the remains that are held at the museum:
[W]e are looking after them, we are taking care of them there is a special relationship there, because to us they are our ancestors, and it is not as if they are totally removed from us; they are actually an integral part of us, although in many cases we don't know who [i.e., which iwi, hapu, whanau or personal identity] they represent. And that's why the utmost respect is had around them; how we treat them that's due.
Considering the ongoing work towards integrating Maori cultural values and practices into the management of Maori ancestral remains at Te Papa and other museum institutions in New Zealand, it is clear that repatriation involves an operationalisation of cultural identity and authority, and thus becomes a field for negotiation of identities (Handler 1985, Barkan 2002: 16-17). In effect, what is happening as repatriation is being rationalised and pursued by museums as we have seen it here, is that the notion of cultural inalienability is being institutionalised. Significantly, this process of negotiating identities and values is far from limited to the institutional setting itself, and in these respects the sensitive and controversial topic of repatriation periodically appears in the news media of New Zealand.
The public debate in the media is a field that displays many of the tensions associated with coming to terms with the trajectories of exchange that the collected Maori human remains have passed through, and their implication in a wider societal debate about Maori cultural rights, institutional obligations, and the history, present and future of the nation. It is for instance a forum where repatriation efforts occasionally become subject to irate 'letters to the editor', demonstrating that not all people in New Zealand share the current conceptions of cultural inalienability and aspirations of redressing history, as here:
If these heads were sold by Maori, how come we are paying again for their return? How come getting them back again is such a big deal when selling them in the first place wasn't? Lastly, so that we can all be culturally correct, can we have back the muskets that our Pakeha ancestors paid Maoris for each head? We are, after all, two people with one treaty, so we can surely make a claim for our property. (The New Zealand Herald 10 July 1998: A10).
Such comments reflect the fact that the public also understand the topic of repatriation in relation to wider questions concerning the position of Maori people in contemporary society. These are questions of redressing the colonial past of New Zealand, a process also including controversial as well as politically and economically weighty issues such as Maori claims for land and fishing rights (Durie 1998, Ward 1993). This wider context renders repatriation a complex concept and practice to handle for all actors involved. In terms of 'Pakeha backlash' to the political development towards redressing the past (Sissons 1993: 101), repatriation may by some people be seen and criticised as symbolic of the wider field of Maori historical and cultural claims. Conversely, some Maori commentators have also been critical of repatriation efforts, not so much concerning the purpose itself as the issue of funding priorities, arguing that "Maori are having enough problems getting money from the Government for the living" (M.P. Willie Jackson, in Backchat 30 April 2000). Thus the topic of repatriation is politicised, making it an issue that reflects the position of museum institutions and collected human remains in a wider field of negotiation, in which the interpretation of institutional and (inter)national legacies of the past, and their impacts on current social and cultural relations, rights, and identities, is played out.
In spite of recent institutional efforts, it seems highly unlikely that the initiated research programmes will provenance all of the preserved heads and other Maori human remains that are currently held in museum institutions. Thus, though the museums of New Zealand now recognise the inalienability of collected Maori ancestral remains to their descendant groups, direct descendant groups can presumably not be involved in deciding the fate of all collected remains. At AWMM, the decision has been made that Maori human remains whose origin cannot be established will ultimately be reinterred under the guidance of the tangata whenua, the local tribes, of the Auckland region in which the museum is situated. Records will then be maintained, in case it should subsequently be possible to identify the remains and return them to their place of origin (Dr. Paul Tapsell, personal communication). With respect to decisions on the fate of unidentified preserved heads and other human remains that are kept at Te Papa, the final course is still an open question, subject to further negotiations, on which no conclusions can be made here. Certainly, the fate and management of collected Maori human remains is an issue that will continue to be subject to debate for the years to come.
The repatriation debate surrounding Maori human remains has been revealed as a phenomenon of symbolic density and significance, acting as a prism that reflects multiple local and global perspectives on issues of historical and cultural identities, relationships and values concerning Maori rights and institutional obligations. The issue of repatriation is thus also subject to a diversity of opinions, which I will continue to explore in the following chapter. Still, it must be stated that there is a quite broadly shared agreement in New Zealand that the Maori human remains that are held in institutions abroad ought to be returned to their country of origin. Acknowledged as ultimate inalienable possessions, these remains are now part of an institutional process of recognising Maori cultural values, rights and practices. As we have seen, this also means that ideally their journey home does not end at a museum institution, but is subject to ambitions of seeing the ancestral remains returned to their descendants. Therefore, in the next chapter I proceed to consider experiences, beliefs and points of view on the repatriation issue amongst tribal descendants.
If I had the head of your great-grandfather sitting on my mantelpiece, how
would you feel?
Tau Henare, former Minister of Maori Affairs
As I have demonstrated in the previous chapter, Maori human remains have in the current New Zealand museum context come to be perceived as inalienable to their descendants, after a lengthy and contested history of collection and institutionalisation. But what do these remains and their fate mean in a contemporary Maori tribal context, and what happens when they are successfully reclaimed? In spite of the considerable difficulties that are often involved, some collected Maori human remains have in fact been returned to their descendants for reinterment. In this chapter, I will therefore explore a case of repatriation involving two ancestral heads, to elucidate the localised social and cultural significance of reconnecting with lost ancestral remains. The Maori quest for repatriation will then be analysed in the wider context of local historical experience and memories of collection, as well as the significance of ancestry and the current debate on the proper treatment of the contested ancestral remains. This course of analysis will reveal the force of cultural continuities, which has been questioned in academic debate of the latest decades (e.g. Hanson 1989), as well as demonstrate concerns created in the current postcolonial context, concluding with a discussion of the tensions that are involved in relating to the past and its contemporary implications.
In April 1999 the preserved heads of two Maori ancestors were returned to their descendants for reinterment. This took place after 160 years of absence from their people and tribal area, and more than a decade of negotiations with the holding institution, AWMM. Since I arrived in the field 'after the fact', my rendering of this case rests on conversations and in-depth interviews with involved descendants and museum staff, to all of whom I am grateful for their openness(37). The analytical focus is here put on the return event, more so than on the preceding negotiation process. Negotiations for the return of the two preserved heads had commenced in the 1980s; a period characterized by increasing contact between the museum and Maori communities. In terms of policy, there was a beginning openness to discuss repatriation, and at the same time Maori researchers were working on the compilation of an inventory of material from Te Tai Tokerau, held at AWMM (Te Aniwaniwa Hona 1989: 5), creating increased attention to the holdings of the museum. In the course of these developments, discussions on the fate of parts of the museum's collection of Maori human remains were established between AWMM and a number of elders from tribes in the region. As a result of this contact, a large collection of regionally provenanced human bones was returned for reinterment, from AWMM to Maori communities in various parts of Te Tai Tokerau (Auckland Institute and Museum 1988-1989: 15-16).
The two preserved heads, though locally there were assumptions as to their identity, did not have a specific museum record of local tribal or regional provenance. AWMM had in fact received them in exchange from a London collection in the late 19th century. The fate of these remains was therefore subject to the claimants, members of two hapu from Te Tai Tokerau, researching and putting together what the museum would accept as a properly documented case for return. Thus, a lengthy process of research and negotiations was commenced, to ensure AWMM that the claimants were in fact the proper descendants. Negotiation for the return was carried out on behalf of the two hapu, by a local Maori Trust that was the legal custodian of the tribal burial grounds and caves, where the ancestors believed to be identical with the two preserved heads had originally been interred, according to local oral history. In the end, ironically it proved possible to use a devoted collector's accounts as part of the evidence to prompt repatriation (the New Zealand Herald 3 April 1999). As it turned out, A. G. Robley had related in his book, 'Moko', that "[t]he two heads in the Auckland (New Zealand) Museum were recognised by some natives from the Bay of Islands, as Moetarau and Koukou. These persons were killed in a fight which took place about sixty years earlier" (Robley 1998 : 194-195). In this case, then, the specific identity and origin of the deceased was rediscovered, and this provides a chance for elucidating the localised importance of the repatriation of such ancestral remains to their descendants.
The lengthy negotiation for repatriation entailed considerable grief and frustration for the descendants, as the continued contact with the holding institution meant relating to the way the remains had been treated and conceptualised in the museum world. As a descendant centrally involved in the negotiations explained to me:
[F]or too long the attitude was that these [remains] are artefacts and thinking about them like that, you have sort of separated them from ever having been human beings We certainly didn't want our ancestors to be treated like that, because we're their living descendants so we had a responsibility to them, to see that what was right, according to our tribal customs, [was] done.
Like the Maori woman who visited the preserved head at NMDK, the claimants insisted on coming to the museum regularly throughout the negotiation period, to visit the ancestral heads in order to conduct prayer ceremonies and maintain a connection with them until their return. Following Weiner, it might be said that the reconnection between the ancestral remains and their descendants emphasized an understanding of the importance of the remains, where as "symbolic repositories of genealogies and historical events, their unique, subjective identity gives them absolute value" (1992: 33). No longer contextualised exclusively as anonymous museum specimens, the two ancestral heads were by their return from the institutional setting reinstated to the status of persons with a localised importance. They were significant as identifiable individuals with known histories, places of origin and genealogical connections; illustrious warriors killed in battle with a rivalling hapu in the Bay of Islands in 1837 (the New Zealand Herald 3 April 1999), and remembered originally to have been interred at a specific site, where from the descendants' point of view, they should never have left. Thus their lengthy absence at foreign institutions was lamented by their descendants, and as one sadly remarked to me: "[I]t's a long time away from home".
Finally, the claim was accepted at AWMM, and the time had come for a delegation of descendants to carry the remains home from the museum, where they were ceremonially handed over by gathered representatives of the iwi resident in the Auckland area. Meanwhile, back in Te Tai Tokerau the delegation was awaited by hundreds of descendants preparing to receive the ancestral remains on a local marae for a tangihanga, a mourning ceremony, where they were to be treated in much the same manner that a recently deceased relative would have been. Some adjustments were however made to accommodate the special importance of the returning ancestors. The ancestral remains were thus not taken into the meeting house to lie in state, as it is now done with the recently deceased in this region. Instead, due to the intense tapu of the two preserved heads, and in recognition of the fact that in their own time it would not have been considered appropriate for the deceased to have been brought inside, the remains were placed in a tent erected on the marae, so as not to infringe ancestral tikanga. Here they were laid in state, surrounded by photographs and reproduced paintings of their contemporary kin, and by their living descendants; bringing together past and present, dead and living(38). In this setting, people gathered to pay their respects, weeping over the remains after the lengthy separation, and recounting amongst themselves the history of the two ancestors. As one of the descendants that were present recalled in a conversation with me: "There was a lot of pain; that is what I remember; being expressed". More so than being remains of a discontinued past, the two ancestors were here felt to be contemporaneous with their descendants. As the same participant from the tangihanga told me in our conversation, "it's like they died yesterday".
Significantly, the tangihanga - the ceremony which became a focal element in the event of return - is commonly perceived as 'the major Maori ceremonial occasion', an institution incorporating key cultural values (Dansey 1977, Oppenheim 1973: 13, 22-26, Sinclair 1996). Not only is the practice of tangihanga visibly different from Pakeha death and burial custom; but also the very attitude to death is commonly held to be an important area where Maori people differ from the surrounding society. The ideal is that, as one Maori author has expressed it: "the dead are to be cared for, cherished, mourned, spoken to, honoured in a way which others might consider to be over-emotional and over-demonstrative" (Dansey 1977: 132). This is an attitude, which is often explicitly contrasted with the supposedly more emotionally detached Pakeha ways of relating to the deceased; thereby emphasizing a Maori self-identification with positive values such as love, empathy and spirituality, in the face of a society where Maori have otherwise often been subjected to negative stereotypes and cultural dominance (Oppenheim 1973: 26, Sinclair 1996: 232)(39).
The tangihanga in this way becomes a symbol of Maori solidarity, and of the responsibilities and importance of close relationships of kin and ancestry. More than this, the ceremony also provides a space for the performance of a number of specifically Maori practices, which have for many people become discontinued in everyday life, such as using the Maori language in oratory and song. This combination of values and practices is rendering the death-mourning ceremony an emblematic institution, an important constituent in Maori identity and cultural integrity. Indeed, Maori people are often quite self-conscious of this significance, and thus for instance an informant stated to me that: "Had we lost the tangihanga, we would have lost much more", alluding to a wide array of traditional matters such as oratory, genealogical knowledge, songs and other forms of cultural practice and knowledge that take the front stage at a tangihanga.
As an integrated set of practices widely understood to preserve and allow the best of Maori culture to come through, the tangihanga is in general valued as an occasion for celebrating tribes and connections with tradition and kin. Thus, in the event of repatriation after 160 years of separation, the mourning ceremony, in which the returned ancestral remains were accorded the treatment of contemporary deceased, became an especially powerful marker of continuity. The remains and the setting thereby combined in what Annette Weiner has characterized as the main role of inalienable possessions, namely "symbolizing permanence and historical accountings", and thus mediating "the more realistic paradox of how permanence in social, political and ancestral relationships is sought after, despite the precariousness of these relationships always subject to loss" (1992: 59). This understanding of the contextual significance of the event itself is also consistent with the claim from one of my informants, that in the face of colonisation and the historical background of increasing monocultural dominance on the part of Pakeha, "the marae is the only place of ours that hasn't been desecrated". The preserved heads of the two ancestors were thus socially and culturally reclaimed as ultimate inalienable possessions of particular descendant groups, by going through a renewed performance of the quintessentially Maori ceremonial occasion, the tangihanga, in the one setting that remains a "major arena left in New Zealand where European culture stands at a disadvantage", namely the marae (Salmond 1975: 34). From this perspective, the process of return and reburial must be viewed not only as reclaiming the deceased as significant ancestors located in a cultural grid consisting of genealogical connections, historical events and tribal land; but also as a more encompassing reassertion of cultural values, rights and affiliations.
The unfolding of the event did however also reveal some remaining tensions. Though taking place in private, the return was also an affair that received public attention (for instance as news in the Northern Advocate 3 April 1999: 1, and the New Zealand Herald 3 April 1999). But in fact, I found that the publicity surrounding the return occasioned some uneasiness amongst the descendants: "[W]e knew that the more we spoke about these things [in public] the fear was, the higher value such artefacts, if you call them that, could collect on the black market The fear [was] that someone would steal them again". Thus, the homecoming of the ancestral remains also included deciding on a final place of interment; an issue that was debated amongst the descendants. Should the remains be returned to the site they had once been taken from, or would that pose a risk? Eventually the two preserved heads were reinterred in secrecy, but as I was told, not even this measure completely eradicated the fears for further disturbance of the deceased. Thus the two venerated ancestors had been successfully returned and laid to rest after protracted efforts by the descendants, and yet the relief at having them back was not complete. But why did fears of repeated desecration linger, and what might this tell about the wider experiential contexts in which repatriation is understood from this tribal perspective?
The concerns for grave robbery that were expressed by the descendants of the two repatriated warriors made a deep impression on me: What might be the deeper motivation for such fears? As I went to see a museum anthropologist who had been involved in a number of repatriations of Maori human remains, I put the question to him, whether there might be an actual danger of grave robbery after such a reinterment. His answer alerted me to what seemed to be two incongruous sets of expectations: Even as the worries for the safety of the reinterred ancestors seemed to have been pervasive amongst the descendants of the two men, the sympathetic Pakeha expert was genuinely surprised at the notion. He was absolutely confident that there was no trade in such remains in New Zealand today, but added that clearly trade still takes place in Europe from time to time. However, he went on, he would not have imagined risks of grave robbery to have been an issue in such a reinterment. As he asserted in further explanation, "it would be an incredibly brave person to start digging up a cemetery you would get shot, literally, I think, if somebody found you". This comment certainly testifies to an informed outsider's assessment of the intensity of the emotions by which such ancestral remains may be encompassed. However, I am more inclined to give credit to the final argument which I was offered against the likelihood of such grave robbery: That theft would ultimately be rendered unlikely by the fact that once buried in the ground, such a preserved head would soon begin to deteriorate, and in that process lose interest to prospective collectors. From the baseline of these considerations, the very genuine fears of grave robbery that were held by the descendants appear to be motivated by something more than an actual risk present in the given case. As I will argue, the concerns voiced by the descendants of the deceased can best be understood if seen in the context of a wider set of experiences.
The fears of grave robbery do in fact have a contemporary experiential foundation in the tribal context. As one man involved in the care taking of ancient burial sites in his tribal area angrily explained to me: "I haven't been in one burial cave where the skulls weren't gone, and the large bones the few caves that are not disturbed are on Maori land"(40). The removal of Maori ancestral remains for collections is thus not solely an experience of the past. Ancient burial sites are still illegally disturbed in the present by treasure hunters, who are searching for items of value, such as greenstone artefacts, that may often be interred along with the human remains. Other current experiences of collecting include those exemplified by a man in his late fifties, who uncomfortably recounted to me his childhood memories of seeing archaeologists remove human bones during excavations, without seeking the consent of the local Maori people(41). Mistrust, and even resentment, is therefore still felt towards the academic institutions that are associated with collection of human remains; and more recent disturbances to burial sites are in some measure still associated with the work of academics such as archaeologists (O'Regan 1990: 100, Butts 1990: 114-115, Smith 1999).
Thus historical memories of past collectors' activities merge with contemporary experiences. In fact, as disturbance of old burial caves continue, the problem is being met by the descendants of the deceased with quite drastic measures, such as closing the openings of the caves with cement, blasting them shut, or relocating the contents either to more remote and inaccessible sites, or to modern tribal burial grounds in current use. Illustrating the profound worries and concerns that can be felt for the safety of such remains, I have been told of one grave on a modern burial ground, to which ancestral remains were relocated in the 1930s. Although situated within public view, the grave was filled up considerably with broken glass, to prevent any clandestine removal of the contents.
In a lengthy discussion with me, a middle-aged man, admitting to what he felt to be a general Maori mistrust of non-Maori on these issues, explained of the fear for removal of his ancestral remains: "[I]f it could happen not once, not twice, but several times before it can happen again". Thus, contemporary grave robbery is understood as a continuation of the practice of collection in colonial and pre-colonial time. A legacy of historical experience, in combination with the current problem of looting in old burial caves, elicits fears that few things have changed with respect to collection. Such fears should however not be read as an indictment on the current efforts of museums to repatriate human remains. There was in fact an awareness of the changing museum attitudes to human remains amongst the Maori people I talked with during my fieldwork, at least with regard to museums within New Zealand, though not always with regard to foreign institutions. Several of my Maori informants assumed the development in repatriation to be specific to New Zealand, and grounded in their rights according to the Treaty of Waitangi. The man quoted in the above explained his fears by stating that regardless of the changing attitudes within some museums, there were still private collectors to worry about.
Few people are personally involved in the care taking of the ancestral remains and ancient burial sites of their tribal groups, and thus not everyone is exposed to direct experiences of illegitimate removal of such remains. However, the awareness of collection and grave robbery as part of local history is not limited exclusively to those people who are entrusted with specialist tasks pertaining to the care taking of ancestral grave sites and taonga, but is also present amongst members of the iwi and hapu more generally. Often, when I introduced myself and the topic of my study to people in Te Tai Tokerau, as I met them at hui or on other occasions, it would elicit their remembrances and comments. I was told how generations ago a particular collector went up along their river to carry out his activities; how the elders of somebody present had a claim under discussion with a museum; or how ancestral remains from one hapu or other, or even the remains of a particular named individual, were reported to have been stolen. Thus, a multitude of stories concerning collection and its consequences are remembered, and continue to circulate. Some of the accounts in circulation are known more exclusively by a smaller, related group of concerned elders, while other are widely repeated with varying degrees of detail, the stories ranging from quite accurate historical accounts to more vague rumours. I shall return at a later point to the issue of keeping knowledge on matters of ancestral significance, such as the fate of interred remains. Here I will first look into the significance of the circulating stories by examining an example.
One rumour in wide circulation in Te Tai Tokerau, and one often mentioned to me during my fieldwork, is that the head of an illustrious 19th century Ngati Hine chief named Kawiti was stolen after his interment, to be carried off to a collection in a European museum. The story itself is the only substantiation of the event, at least so far as a wider public is concerned, and thus, whether in fact the alleged theft has ever occurred is not for me to assess. However, that need not detain my analysis, since what is both socially and theoretically important about rumours is not first and foremost the reliability of the information they contain, but their very circulation, or to be more specific, the reasons why they are told and listened to (White 2000: 56-57, see also Jackson 2002: 16-17). In this respect, a rumour may be seen as poised between an explanation and an assertion; it is not events misinterpreted or deformed, but events analysed and commented upon. In other words, rumours have the character both of narratives, explanations and theories (White 2000: 58, 82). Such a multiplicity of meaning is certainly visible in the present example, the rumour that was mentioned to me several times in response to my topic of research. To the telling of the story of Kawiti was sometimes added a concluding comment of either conviction or legendary saying (depending on the narrator's personal opinion), that eventually the stolen head shall return. I could not elicit any explanations as to how, or why, this was meant to happen; the assertion was, as I was explained, 'a prophecy'. Other elements of the rumour have the character of theory, as some people specifically believe that the rumoured theft was carried out by a certain Austrian collector, Andreas Reischek(42); the man who was mentioned briefly in chapter one for his collecting activities and his notions of the 'dying' Maori world.
Certainly, Andreas Reischek was active in Te Tai Tokerau from 1879 and onwards, and did collect a large number of skulls, as well as other human remains and taonga, as is evident in his posthumously published memoirs (Reischek 1933 ). Reischek is also widely remembered in the region today for his activities. A number of my informants from Te Tai Tokerau have referred in general terms to 'an Austrian' having carried out collection and plundering in their area. Others have quite specific memories of both Reischek's name, and particular acts carried out by him; acts describable only as looting, and leaving people who now have the dubitable pleasure of both missing what was taken, and seeing the acts of taking proudly displayed in print, in the boastful style of 'a jolly good travel story', as one unhappy descendant from an afflicted kin group ironically termed it. The theory of the collector Andreas Reishek's involvement in the rumoured disappearance of the chief Kawiti's head shows that this story does not stand on its own, as an isolated legend or remembrance, but belongs in a wider cluster of other stories that form a local stock of knowledge and experience, by means of which it is possible to understand and relate to the past. What we find demonstrated here is that "[s]tories and rumours are produced in the cultural conflicts of local life; they mark ways to talk about the conflicts and contradictions that gave them meaning and power" (White 2000: 312). These observations on local memory, with particular regard to collection, are also consistent with the more general observation that amongst Maori
[h]istorical occurrences are not either forgotten or forgiven. They recur frequently in private discussion and underlie public statements. Defeat in war, the confiscation of land, the deliberate suppression of Maori language in schools in the past, and insensitivity towards Maori attitudes, history, sacred places and customs ... [are issues that continue to be recalled] (Oppenheim 1973: 28, my insertion in brackets).
The acts of collecting and the disparity of power and cultural values that they represent are thus preserved and given expression in the accounts that continue to circulate.
Importantly, the complex of stories with which we concern ourselves here does not simply relate to the 19th century colonial past. Relatives of soldiers from the 28th Maori Battalion, which fought as part of the allied forces in World War II, have on a number of occasions told me what must be held as a continuation of the story: Namely that when the Battalion was stationed in Italy towards the end of the war, its members were in fact harbouring plans to cross the border and enter into Austria, in order to carry out a raid in Vienna. Their intention was to regain the Maori collections that included their ancestral remains and significant taonga, which they well knew to be held here, at the Imperial Museum(43). However, this plan never came to be carried out. I was told that rumours of the plan spread outside of the battalion to the New Zealand Division, and that the Maori soldiers were consequently prevented from realising the hoped-for raid.
Nevertheless, the intention of carrying out such a raid in itself displays a striking cultural continuity: Warfare was also the context and the means through which lost ancestral remains were regained and revenged in pre-colonial time, in accordance with the principle of utu, by which accounts of defeats and offences to any group were meticulously remembered and passed on by its members, until it became possible for the afflicted to reassert themselves (Oppenheim 1973: 102, 104). According to anthropologist Michael Jackson (2002), storytelling is a vital human strategy for sustaining a sense of agency in the face of disempowering circumstances, a way of actively reconstituting events and thereby changing our experience of them. This perspective may go some way towards explaining the circulation of stories in the present context. The continued storytelling, and the expressed intention of regaining collected ancestral remains, thus manifests the will to retain agency and integrity by means of utu, the Maori concept of reciprocity; in the present case in the form of "the acts of seizure, revenge, and repossession that are provoked when one party denies or diminishes the integrity (mana) of another" (Jackson 2002: 41, emphasis in the original). Certainly, the principle of utu was in operation during WWII: One veteran from the Battalion has thus written of how both officers and kin at home were pointing out the Maori soldiers' obligation to exert utu, revenge, for fellow members of the Battalion killed during the war (Dansey 1977: 132).
What is important about the aborted plan to regain the collected remains, and the retelling of the story amongst the soldiers and their kin, is thus the way in which it shows a continuing engagement and concern for the fate of ancestral remains and taonga, as issues of importance to the associated descendant groups. The concern for repatriation of collected ancestral remains at the time is also demonstrated by numerous newspaper articles, printed on the issue in New Zealand after the conclusion of World War II(44). The burgeoning quest for repatriation which has taken shape during recent decades is thus not, as critics might otherwise suspect (cf. Hubert 1989: 147, 160, Fforde 2002: 36-37), to be interpreted primarily as expressing a new or solely politically motivated phenomenon. Maori protest, concern and fears for the removal and desecration of ancestral remains are of a longstanding tradition(45). Thus, the memory of the dead, and of collection, is still alive. As such strong concerns for the fate and recovery of collected remains are demonstrated it is now necessary to explore in further detail the current attitudes concerning the cultural significance of ancestral remains and the practices of caring for the dead.
As discussed in the first part of chapter four, caring for the dead is commonly held to be a defining trait of Maoriness; but the key importance of ancestors in Maori culture also reveals itself in the traditional organisation of social structure, which is kinship based. Tribal groups are conceptualised in kinship terms, being traced to founding ancestors, after whom they are also commonly named, as e.g. 'Ngapuhi', 'the descendants of Puhi' (Metdge 1976: 121-138). Furthermore, the term for the smallest social unit, the whanau, means 'to give birth', and on a larger social scale, hapu means 'pregnancy', and iwi, 'bones' - all terms explicitly acknowledging descent from common ancestors (Te Rangi Hiroa 1962 : 333). Thus, Metdge also notes that the term 'bones', or iwi, is used to designate relatives of common descent (Metdge 1976: 121, 337). Considering the claims that social theorists have made for the significant role of ancestral bones in symbolizing the permanence of social groups (Weiner 1985 and 1992, Bloch & Parry 1982: 40), as well as the concerns that are expressed in Maori claims for the repatriation of ancestral remains, it is here interesting to note in 'iwi' the conceptual connection between 'tribes' and 'bones'. Strangely, Weiner, for all her use of Maori ethnography, seems to have missed this point, which might further have substantiated her theoretical claims.
The connection between bones and social identities is not only of historical interest, as kinship and ancestry remain highly significant structuring elements in contemporary Maori tribal groups. For instance, knowledge of whakapapa, genealogy, is almost inseparable from that of traditional tribal history, which recounts the stories of the ancestors that are named in the genealogies; and as many analysts have remarked, and I myself experienced in the field, history and the past figure prominently in the consciousness of Maori people in the tribal context (Metdge 1976: 70, Johansen 1954: Chapter 7, Sahlins 1985: Chapter 2). These relations are captured in the way one of my Maori acquaintances tried to explain to me his hapu's ancestral connections in Te Tai Tokerau: "they loved their past with this land and were jealous over their territory we all are! - And [we are] jealous over our ancestors and their histories it's to do with the land, the people and what happened on it and that's our whakapapa". Thus I found my informants continually referring to past skirmishes between their bordering tribal groups, with varying degrees of competitiveness and joking claims that in fact, they still owed Ngati-so-and-so for the outcome of one disagreement or other, sometimes dating several generations back. Likewise, features in the landscape were often explained to me according to associated historical events and ancestors; and I saw several of my middle-aged informants carefully slipping genealogical questions to their elders to check and enhance their own knowledge.
The more detailed study of whakapapa and tribal history is the special province of experts, usually elders, and is regarded as tapu (Metdge 1976: 127-128). This provides motivation for holding back knowledge on these issues from outsiders, with reference to the tikanga (protocol) that surrounds the transmission of tribal knowledge to non-related peoples (Tapsell 1997: 339)(46). When I talked with people holding such expertise on behalf of their groups, often they would indicate that there were certain issues of local tribal history and knowledge, which it was not their prerogative to divulge to outsiders, reflecting the fact that such knowledge is considered to belong to the kin group (Salmond 1985: 242, Johansen 1954: 152). This was indicated either by direct comments that though I was welcome, "it is not everything you should know about our culture", or by polite, but evasive answers to some questions; and by remarks that with some questions the informant was - as one man said - "in the comfort zone" and could answer freely, while other questions had to be carefully deliberated before the answer. I would discern two distinct but intertwining aspects of this possessive attitude to certain knowledge; the one founded in an economy of knowledge involving concerns such as tapu and tribal tikanga, and the other involving the current politics of culture in New Zealand. The second aspect pertains to the already mentioned general lack of trust in academic research and its effects, which amongst Maori people has instilled a marked scepticism, and a protective attitude towards their culture and groups of affiliation (Smith 1999). Since the topic of scepticism towards research has already been discussed in this and the preceding chapter, I here focus on the former aspect.
Regarding the practices of secrecy it might be said that not only the ancestral remains, but also a body of associated knowledge are, to return to Annette Weiner's terms, perceived as inalienable; a status that may apply not only to material possessions, but also to oral traditions (Weiner 1992: 37, 104-106). Genealogies and tribal histories are passed down amongst the descendant groups, as are the responsibilities of care taking, the kaitiakitanga, which entails not only rights but also responsibilities for the possessors (Kawharu 2002). As I learned from those of my informants who carried such tapu knowledge, certain persons (generally males of senior descent-lines) are chosen by their elders, on the basis of their whakapapa and their personal abilities, to hold the valued knowledge of their groups, as well as guarding taonga and taking care of ancient burial sites; all of which are tapu tasks which it is not considered incumbent on everyone to deal with. In this way the circulation of certain forms of knowledge is sought to be controlled by tribal authorities, just as it is the case with the possession and security of tangible ancestral remains.
With respect to this tradition of secrecy, the inalienability of tangible remains and the inalienability of knowledge intertwine, in the present as well as the past. For instance, the exact location of burial caves was (and is) traditionally not held as general knowledge. Such sites were intensely tapu, and the care taking and specific knowledge of their whereabouts was restricted to a select few. I found amongst my informants that some Maori people today regard museums, with their contents of unidentified ancestral remains, as scary and sepulchral places, and prefer to avoid visiting museums for those reasons (see also Smith 1999: 11)(47). The tradition of secrecy surrounding sites of interment originally reflected the ever-present risk of desecration, as it was previously a common practice for rivalling tribes to defile the burial sites and deceased of their enemies, and thus insult the descendants, by stealing the remains to make artefacts like fishhooks, spear points or musical instruments from the bones (Best 1924: 236, Te Rangi Hiroa 1962 : 425-426, Oppenheim 1973: 17, 73-74, 102). This practice was both a frequent cause of war, and a common method of taking revenge (Oppenheim 1973: 73, Polack 1976 ): 8, Elder 1932: 220).
Perhaps the historical tradition of desecrating ancestral remains and burial sites may also in some measure account for the strength of the continued fears that are expressed for the safety of ancestral remains. The European practice of collecting Maori human remains might from this perspective be understood to mirror pre-existing cultural horizons of experience, rendering the removal of the remains a risk that is recognisable according to cultural categories, thus perpetuating historical structures in the present (Sahlins 1985: 145-146). In this respect it might even be suggested that, in spite of the shift from circulation within a coherent social system of exchange to circulation in a global system, there is an almost fractal correspondence between the role of ancestral remains in pre-colonial patterns of warfare and exchange, and the call for repatriation in the current postcolonial context. The remains, valued by Maori people as inalienable markers of ancestral continuity both historically and currently, were originally social objects carrying a role in the constitution of both inimical and peaceful relationships between groups (cf. Mauss 1990 ), and might be said to fulfil a like role in terms of cultural reconciliation in the postcolonial era, when they are repatriated by museum institutions.
As shown in the preceding chapters, the call for repatriation is motivated by genuine Maori concerns for the ancestral remains that are currently held in museum collections. Claims for repatriation may well at times be politically emotive, and be broadly aired in public debate, for instance by academics, activists and politicians, as demonstrated in chapter three; but equally, a number of claims and negotiations with museums have been carried out discreetly by tribal elders (Tapsell 2002). The claims that are made for repatriation must be said simultaneously to imply an assertion of cultural continuity and authority, and may thus be understood as part of a process of producing social identities (Weiner 1992: 39). In this way care taking of an ancestral legacy and the keeping of cultural knowledge acquire new meanings in terms of identity politics, as their continuation is self-consciously pursued in the context of bicultural aspirations within a postcolonial nation. Thus a tohunga, a Maori ritual specialist, explained to me his view on the condition of Maori people today, stating that: "We have to deal with all the rigours of modern life and traditional culture for the survival of our people. One key thing is carrying the old knowledge and the kaitiakitanga, guardianship". In this context, the insistence on rights and concerns for the inalienability of ancestral remains attains further significance by representing cultural continuity in the face of social change, thus acting both as a symbol of identity and a political achievement (Weiner 1992: 103).
The experienced difference between the cultural values of Maori and their colonizers was often pointed out to me during my fieldwork. In what was obviously also a self-conscious reversal of past historical representations by Europeans, designating Maori people and culture as savage (cf. Smith 1999: 8), one of my informants thus commented on the only recently changing museum view of collected ancestral remains:
[I]t does sound primitive to me that it has taken the West this long to realize that the human body is sacred Are they that dislocated from the body, from the spirit, that they cannot make the connection, you know, about tapu; about things that are sacred?
To some extent, the present general concern for Maori human remains also appears to reflect a change in Maori attitudes towards the dead; a view in which all human remains have taken on a character of preciousness and inalienability. Certainly, ancestral remains have continually been held in high regard within their own descendant groups, but as related in the above, historically this attitude has coexisted with the practices of desecration and making of bone artefacts from the remains of enemies or slaves (Oppenheim 1973: 17).
In a contested article on 'the making of the Maori', the anthropologist Allan Hanson also notes the historical change in Maori attitudes to the dead, which he interprets in the context of cultural invention (Hanson 1989). Stating that culture invention is much too strong a phrase to use for everyday social reproduction, Hanson defines invention as departing some considerable distance from phenomena upon which it is selectively modelled, and characterises invention as "systematically manifest[ing] the intention to further some political agenda" (1989: 899). Based on these criteria, Hanson argues that he is authorized to classify as an invention the general claims of "Maori respect for the elders and the dead without mentioning that such respect was matched by a tendency to revile and cannibalize the elders and dead of other tribes" (ibid). This claim does not do much to situate either past or current attitudes in a meaningful social and historical context. While Maori culture is inarguably politicised and objectified in the current postcolonial context, and Maori attitudes to human remains have clearly changed, as I will show, I would contest the proposition that this change is motivated predominantly by ethnopolitical instrumentality, as Hanson seemingly implies. The change might also be conceived as an enlargement in the scale of encompassment of already existing values, thus allowing for a greater degree of continuity than Hanson posits. The theoretical language of 'invention' is perhaps here infelicitous in its potential to confound the politicisation or ideological use of culture with a lack of cultural and historical continuity in practice (Levine 1991: 444). Friedman (1994: 126, 131) has made the same point with respect to values and concepts emphasized in the cultural revival on Hawaii: Namely that one need not a priori posit a cultural opposition between pre- and postcolonial indigenous populations, but can in many instances perceive an accentuation and elaboration of existing cultural phenomena in the process of social transformation and reaction to colonisation (see also Thomas 1992: 220-222, Sahlins 1999: v-vi).
In the case of Maori attitudes to the dead, most likely a combination of the cessation of intertribal warfare and the ways in which this implied human remains, the changes in death- and burial practices introduced during contact with Europeans, and the pan-tribal notion of a common Maori cultural identity that developed after contact with Europeans, have brought about the changing attitude to human remains. The current, more universal reverence and concern for the remains of the dead thus appear to be a modern phenomenon. For instance, in an account from 1856 the scholar and administrator Edward Shortland describes an incident in which he had come across a cave containing skulls:
Fearing the desecration of this spot would give offence to the natives of the neighbourhood, I recommended the entrance of the cave be re-closed; but I soon found that the natives were already aware of the discovery and appeared quite indifferent to the fate of the bones. They did not belong to any of their tribe (quoted in Johansen 1954: 201)(48).
When held up against examples such as this, a more recent change of attitudes is manifest: The traditionally tribal, kinship-based obligations of care taking are now extended to a more general veneration for the remains of the dead, regardless of the presence of kinship connections. Such an attitude was for instance clearly expressed by the Maori staff at Te Papa, as shown in chapter three. This is however not to imply that there is a simple, unitary 'Maori attitude' to the treatment of the dead; for as with other ethics and practices that have become emblematic of a social totality, the attitude to the dead amongst Maori is generally not represented in all of its empirical complexity (Thomas 1992: 214). Thus, local variations in customary practices remain, just as current attitudes are shaped by both traditional Maori beliefs and concepts, and by a variety of religious affiliations introduced during contact with Europeans; all of which is creating a situation of considerable complexity (Dansey 1977: 130). The change in attitudes that I refer to is therefore to be understood as a marked tendency rather than an absolute, and in this respect, wider cultural connections have taken on a new importance for the ways of relating to the remains, and perhaps, consequently, to repatriation.
Being associated with emblematic practices such as caring for the dead, the issue of repatriation is prompting debate amongst Maori people, concerning the application of not only culturally but also historically based ethics; for according to which practices, beliefs and concerns should the fate of repatriated remains be decided? From the Mokomokai Education Trust, an organisation working for the repatriation of the preserved heads(49), it has in fact been argued that the preserved heads should not be buried upon their repatriation, but retained for study, though not for traditional museum display. According to this point of view, the remains are to be considered as having an important place in contemporary Maori culture, as a link to the past and to the discontinued art of tattooing(50). Within this perspective, the preserved heads are seen not only as human remains to be accorded the proper respect due to the dead, but also as a part of Maori heritage, implying that they ought to be kept as an educational source, which can be of value both in preserving and reviving cultural knowledge. Thus it has been argued that "[w]hen these [preserved heads] are buried, there goes a part of our culture - forever! And for me that is a total admittance of colonisation" (Prime, in Marae 6 June 1999).
As one descendant of the two reinterred ancestors that were repatriated from AWMM declared to me, he found the way of reasoning exemplified by Prime to be very much like that of 'European people'. In this respect, the discussion concerning the proper fate of the repatriated remains resembles debate that takes place in indigenous contexts elsewhere. For instance, Ayau & Tengan (2002) discuss disagreements amongst Hawaiians over the choice of reburial versus retaining repatriated grave goods. Here, too, the authors associate the wish for retaining the repatriated items with a Westernised, colonised attitude (ibid) - ironically the exact opposite of Prime's argument in the above. The question of handling the preserved remains thus also becomes a question of relating to the issue of cultural tradition and the perceived impacts of Westernisation. Ironically, as a somewhat puzzled New Zealand museum anthropologist commented to me, the calls from some Maori people for keeping and studying these remains even seem to be akin to an argument that has often been used internationally by institutions against repatriation to communities of origin; namely that it may entail the loss of data (see Legget 2000: 12-13, Anderson 1995a: 97, 105). As we shall see, the present case is however not just one of a simple divergence of opinions along the classic line of universalistic claims for a common heritage versus particularist claims of belonging to a certain group (e.g. Warren 1999: 3).
Both of the two main stances on the appropriate fate of the preserved heads have been framed in arguments of what is proper in terms of tradition as well as 'in this day and age'. Thus, a descendant involved in negotiating the return case from AWMM explained to me that the decapitation and preservation of the ancestral heads, and even their ill-treatment in the hands of another hapu, were in his eyes justifiable given the form of warfare that was in operation at the time. More important to present concerns was that peace had been concluded between the warring tribal groups, and that the heads of his ancestors had originally been returned to their descendants. As he said, the remains had then ultimately been put away in burial caves, and the old practices of preserving and handling heads had been abandoned; so the ancestors who were now returned should therefore be permanently reinterred and laid to their rest, as they were originally meant to. The opposing line of argument which others had presented him with, was that such heads were traditionally preserved precisely to be kept and brought out for view on special occasions; a practice which could be seen as parallel with their current preservation. In arguments for keeping and studying the preserved heads, they have even been referred to as 'works of art', but this indication of the suitability of keeping the heads does not preclude that the same persons also declare feelings of love towards the remains, and awe at sensing the spiritual presence of these ancestors.
As the examples above indicate, both claims for retaining and for reburying the remains may in their own way be seen as attempts at reclaiming cultural identity in a context of decolonisation (Ayau & Tengan 2002: 185). As even those in favour of retaining the preserved heads for study have admitted, the majority view amongst Maori people is by all appearances in favour of reburial (Marae 6 June 1999). Notably, however, the stances on the issue of reburial or preservation are not always clear-cut, and even the same person may find him- or herself in doubt on the relative merits of each option. Thus, a handfull of people whom I met during a pause at a hui took up amongst themselves a lively discussion on the preserved heads, as I had introduced myself and my topic of research. One man explained to the group that his hapu was in fact in the process of negotiating the return of some of their ancestral remains from a museum. 'But then you are going to -' one of the others commented, not needing to say 'reinter them', before the first man answered that this was what he had argued. 'On the other hand', he continued, 'there are also the tattoos on those preserved heads'. 'So perhaps there is some good in keeping them.' As he mused over the topic, he concluded that maybe, if the heads were badly damaged, they ought to be buried, and if they were well preserved, it might be better to keep them for study.
What most people engaging in this debate do seem to agree on, in spite of other diversities of opinions, is that the fate of the remains is for Maori people themselves to decide, again centrally positioning the issue within the logic of inalienability. More specifically this decision is held to be the right of the descendants, those who are able to claim whakapapa, a genealogical connection, to the ancestral remains - provided that they can be identified. Maori cultural rights with regard to repatriation are thus, so far as possible, sought to be realised as the rights of specific tribal descendant groups, as it is also illustrated by the aims of current research efforts at both AWMM and Te Papa, discussed in chapter three. But how do these perceptions of inalienable rights and cultural values relate to the original alienation, the sale of the preserved heads in the nineteenth century- rush for collection?
As demonstrated in chapter three, the issue of repatriation is making versions of history a field of contest as well as a vehicle for amending past wrongs (Munro 1994: 233). In this respect it is important to note that constructing and understanding the past is centrally implied in any act of self-identification. By producing a relation between the current state of affairs and what has supposedly happened in the past, events are thus organized in a relation of continuity with the contemporary subject of the account, thereby also establishing a key relationship between identity and the politics of history (Friedman 1994). I here refer to constructing history, not to imply that the resulting accounts and understandings lack veracity, but to reflect the premise that "no account can ever recover the past as it was, because the past was not an account; it was a set of events and situations" (Lowenthal 1985: 215). This perspective draws attention to the inherently positional character of all experience and thus renders any account of history partial and open to contestation. Significantly, the question of determining the authority of culturally based claims (that is, the politics of culture) is thus also tied up with the question of understanding what happened in the past. This again begs the question: How do the Maori people who express their wishes for repatriation relate to the historical background of the current situation which the preserved heads are in; that is, to the circumstances surrounding their original alienation?
Concerning the traditional use of human remains in exchange amongst Maori themselves, Weiner (1992: 57, 170) refers to sources such as the ethnographers Elsdon Best and Raymond Firth, for historical examples. These describe how the head of a chief could be returned to his descendants only by payment of taonga such as a nephrite weapon, a cloak, or land, and how when a person refused to part with his land, he could be induced to give it over if the interested party had obtained the skull of his ancestor, taken in warfare, and offered it in return. The wider context of this practice is alluded to by Robley (1998 : 138):
So long as the heads remained in the possession of a victorious chief, no amicable relations were possible between the rival tribes where both sides were inclined for peace the heads of defunct friends were exchanged, or purchased, and returned to the surviving relatives.
Thus, human remains might in this respect traditionally function as a form of 'wealth' in exchange, as Weiner (1992: 57) terms it, though from the descendants' perspective they were strictly inalienable, as demonstrated in these examples by the willingness to part with any other valued possession in order to regain lost ancestral remains. The intertribal circulation of preserved heads was thus limited to a local social system of warfare and exertion of utu. This form of exchange is therefore not directly comparable to a trade transaction such as those that came to take place with Europeans; a trade in which the heads took on the more dissocialised role of commodities. Terms such as ransom or compensation thus seem closer to the meaning and function of the traditional mode of exchange than is the concept of purchase (Firth 1972 : 413).
But what do concerned Maori people in a current-day context then make of the original alienation of preserved heads to Europeans? As discussed in chapter one, many of the preserved heads that are now located in collections were in fact actively procured and sold - alienated? - by Maori. This historical background is also reflected in the Maori terms used to designate such human remains, and these terms and their current use might thus be a rewarding place to ground my inquiry on the ways of understanding and relating to the past and its implications for the present situation concerning repatriation.
Probably the most common denomination now applied to preserved tattooed Maori heads in New Zealand is mokomokai; a word which is used for instance by the news media when they report on the repatriation issue. Significantly, though the word is common in usage, it was not very popular amongst a number of my Maori informants. Moko, as explained in chapter one, refers to the tattoos that the preserved heads carry, while mokai is a term that designates a slave (Williams 1971: 207). Thus, the word 'mokomokai' in itself carries poignant memories of the historical events associated with the dispersal of these human remains to museums across the world. As one of my Maori acquaintances elaborated when I asked for his opinion on the word, "slaves were tattooed [i.e., to be deliberately dispatched for trade], this is true", but even so he found the use of the term "brutally honest". Paradoxically, even the leader of the Mokomokai Education Trust, which was working for the repatriation of such heads, commented in a television programme: "I hate the word mokomokai anyway" (Prime, in Marae 6 June 1999). Such comments seem to indicate tensions or ambiguities in relating to the preserved heads and their history, but why?
The primary reason that 'mokomokai' is after all a commonly used term today is probably that it is widely known from its application as a generic term for the heads in the collector A. G. Robley's book, 'Moko', which has long been a standard work on Maori tattooing, and is the major source on the history of the preserved tattooed heads. Still, words matter: One of the descendants who had seen two ancestral heads from his hapu returned, cautioned me: "our people wouldn't use that word, because that's quite derogatory; that would mean that your ancestor was a slave. My ancestors weren't slaves! We're quite a proud people." Considering such a remark, one might wonder in more general terms what sort of difference it can make to Maori people, whether the deceased persons whose preserved remains are now to be encountered in a museum, were originally men of rank, or slaves. In the final analysis, this is a question of the position of the remains as local social objects. The recognition that an ancestor might have been subjected to the derogatory status of a slave would in itself be painful to many people, adding insult to the injurious fact of collection and museification of the remains.
As a consequence of the traffic that developed in the course of cultural contact with Europeans, many of the Maori heads that are now held in museum collections are slaves' heads, deliberately endowed with tattoos and preserved for the purpose of sale. However, this is not now considered to detract from the importance of their return. As my informants asserted when I asked, at the end of the day, the heads are still the remains of some human being, and are to be treated accordingly, with respect. The repatriation of the remains of slaves is therefore regarded as equally important in the contemporary aspirations for repatriation of Maori ancestral remains. This is a stance, which we might also see signalled in the chosen name of the Mokomokai Education Trust. As the descendant's comment quoted above indicates, what does, on another level, make a difference in relating to such human remains is the ability to make an identifying connection; (re)locating the particular deceased persons in the locally meaningful context of their genealogies and present kinship connections, their places of origin, and the specific historical events with which they are associated as persons. This is the one sense in which the status of the deceased as either rangatira or slave does carry weight, as the rank and prestige of a chief and his illustrious genealogy is then distinguished from the offending status of a slave.
Significantly, the term 'mokomokai' is also avoided in New Zealand museum policies, and thus in the institutional context where the attempts to come to terms with the history and current situation of these remains are centred. AWMM's designation for a preserved Maori head is uru moko, 'preserved head of chieftain' (AWMM Annual Plan 2003/2004: 39). At Te Papa preserved heads are referred to as toi moko (Koiwi Tangata Policy - Summary Information n.d.: 1), the term 'toi' also alluding to ta moko as an art characteristically present on the heads(51). My Maori informants also often referred to such preserved heads in a more neutral language, as upoko (heads) or porihirihi (skulls), when they did not simply, as many prefer, speak respectfully of them as tupuna, ancestors. What seems to be revealed by the abundance of different designations used, and the tendency of avoidance and mixed feelings towards the poignant word, mokomokai, is ultimately that the history in which these remains and their dispersal is grounded, is experienced by the implied people as a legacy that is difficult to come to terms with. The various designations for these remains might be perceived as expressing different ways of relating to - or constructing - history against a background of what is, as we shall see, experienced as a troubling past.
The topic of the preserved heads has for years been marked not only by grief at the presence of these remains in foreign institutions, but also by some measure of embarrassment and even silencing. For instance the activist Dalvanius Prime from the Mokomokai Education Trust has told how "Ive [sic] had phone calls and hate mail telling me I shouldn't be doing what I am doing 'talking about our ancestors'"(52). In fact, when in 1907 the British collector A. G. Robley offered his large collection of preserved heads for sale to the government of New Zealand, the offer was rejected, allegedly on the ground that the asking price was too high (Te Rangi Hiroa 1962 : 301). Others have argued that the rejection of the suggested purchase was due to embarrassment over the 'savage roots' of history that the preserved Maori heads represented (e.g. Prime, in Breakfast 9 March 1998)(53). Illustrating the conflicting sentiments towards the history of these remains, the acclaimed Maori academic and political leader Te Rangi Hiroa later commented on the refusal to buy the collection back to New Zealand, that "[p]erhaps it is better that they did not come home, for some of the specimens bear eloquent witness to one of the effects of the white man's encouragement of native art for commercial purposes" (Te Rangi Hiroa 1962 : ibid.).
The background history of the preserved heads that are currently held in museum collections is thus fraught with ambiguities and conflicting emotions. And certainly, in more recent times, when the topic of repatriation periodically resurfaces in the news media in New Zealand, comments such as the following quotation are inevitably floated by some onlookers, ridiculing the quest for repatriation as a "sleight of mind that has turned the possession of these heads from a commercial transaction into an act of colonial oppression" (the Weekend Herald 4-5 July 1998: A24). Such remarks, pointing to differential understandings of history, clearly position the topic within the debate on both construction and politicisation of the past (Friedman 1994, Munro 1994). Though abundant, this derisive type of comment is not wholly dominating the public debate on repatriation as it can be seen expressed in the media, since one might likewise find pieces taking a sympathetic stance towards the issue (eg. the editorial in the New Zealand Herald 3 July 1998: A10). But either way, in being thus confronted with the history of Maori involvement with the trade in heads, for people concerned with the issue there remains the question of how to relate to those original circumstances of alienation. This was a topic, which I discussed with many of my Maori informants. As we shall see in the following examples, what appeared from these conversations was not least that relating to this issue does inevitably imply relating to the wider history of colonisation.
While the main frame in which the issue of repatriation is understood is often that of a generalized relationship between Maori and Pakeha, the events and relations associated with collecting in the past also manifest the irrevocable entanglement of these relationships (Thomas 1991). As a strong-willed man of rangatira standing, who otherwise rarely spared pakeha of criticism when I talked with him, rendered the mutual implication of Maori as well as Pakeha in the acts of collection and alienation of the preserved heads, "selling those heads was a crime committed against Maori, by Maori!" While some of my informants were reconciled with the thought of past events associated with the traffic in heads, others were rendered bitter by the effects of the European desire for human curios.
Many of the conflicting emotions that the issue arouse may be gleaned in a conversation I had with one man, as I asked him what he thought of the heads having been sold. How did I know that they had been sold, he retaliated. He had, he said, never heard any Maori speak of it; his elders had never spoken about it, 'but we're sure told by the Pakeha!' The point was, he stated, that if Maori people were subjected to this propaganda often enough, they would ultimately believe in it - but 'those heads were not sold, they were stolen'! How could he be sure of this, I ventured. 'Because he was a Maori! He would never have done something like that, even if he had lived in those days!' These assertions initially struck me with some surprise, because in a previous conversation with me the same man had acknowledged that he was aware that slave heads had been sold by Maori people. I asked him about this, to which he replied with annoyance, that 'of course slaves were tattooed; not because we liked it, but to get guns'. But didn't I see, he continued, that in order to do that, 'we must have been out of our right mind. We weren't in our right mind, with all of these invasions; the missionaries, traders and land developers coming in, colonising us, wave after wave. Not that this made it right', he added, 'but if anyone had an excuse, it was us'.
Such comments indicate both a strong, even essentialising, identification with the past (in 'we', the Maori), and an association of the traffic in heads with a wider series of overwhelming negative impacts of colonisation that continue to be felt in the present. Not least they also imply an assertion that the alienation of the remains was illegitimate, in effect amounting to theft on the part of the buyers, by being induced in a context of colonial appropriation and uneven power relations (Smith 1999: 88-89). Amongst Maori, the fate of the collected heads is quite generally understood as a violation, regardless of the original identity or mode of alienation of the remains. Thus, a former Minister of Maori Affairs criticized the offering for sale of a preserved Maori head in Paris, with the comment that: "I wonder what would happen if that was a lampshade made out of the skin of a Jewish person from Auschwitz" (Backchat 12 April 1998). The analogy indicates a depth of emotion that also accords with Smith's comment on the collection and academic use of Maori human remains: "It is a history that still offends the deepest sense of our humanity" (1999: 1).
Thus, being confronted with knowledge of the presence and historical background of the Maori ancestral remains in foreign institutions may result in radicalism, anger, and denial of a past that is felt to have been appropriated and defined by outsiders (Smith 1999, Friedman 1994: 131 ff.). Powerful emotions are involved in the relationships connecting past and present, institutions and Maori descendants. One man of rangatira standing thus expressed to me his feelings of anger, resentment and frustration about a museum keeping taonga and ancestral remains from his area, in asserting that "sometimes I feel like going to the museum, [to] smash it up and take them out, without asking for it, subservient like a dog. It would be like freeing your family from prison!" What such attitudes reflect is the fact that the history and predicament of the preserved heads are understood as part of a general process of dispossession that has taken place during cultural contact and colonisation. As one commentator has remarked on the current debates concerning the colonial impact on culture and history in the Pacific, in which the above example can be contextualised, to realise the depth of feeling generated by protracted indigenous marginalisation explains the intensity of the response. The current push for the appropriation of 'their own history', which can be seen amongst indigenous groups like the Maori, is an expression of over-long endurance against the odds (Munro 1994: 237).
However, the concept, claims and practice of repatriation are not reducible to a simple question of opposition, cultural appropriation and reappropriation, but must be seen in the context of the constitution of self-identities and relations between the implied actors. The source of the present dilemmas of repatriation is precisely the irrevocable entanglement of the histories of the contested remains, the collecting institutions, Maori people, and the postcolonial nation of New Zealand, histories inescapably implying the paradoxical exchange of ultimate inalienable possessions. The current quest for repatriation is but the most recent expression of these historically, socially and culturally entangled relations and the ways in which they impact on the identities and actions of all the implied actors, museums as well as claimants. The collected remains have entered a process of making and unmaking inalienable possessions, and thus, as a focus of action and engagement for Maori people and museum institutions alike, "become the exacting paradoxes of social life - persistent dilemmas that can be ameliorated but never resolved" (Weiner 1992:155). Repatriation can thus ultimately be understood as a form of circulation in which remains such as the preserved Maori heads enter exchange both because, and in spite of, their inalienability.
[W]e will be in the heart of our own land, in the midst of our
own people, which is the only place for the dead to lie.
Maori author Harry Dansey, 1977: 141
The concept and practices of repatriation are in many respects paradoxical phenomena, encompassing and even transgressing multiple contexts of meaning, from indigenous as well as museological perspectives. Indeed, some theorists remind us that
'[r]epatriation' is, strictly speaking, an impossibility. An object of cultural significance, left long out of its original context, cannot be put back. The context changes, the significance of the object changes, original meanings are forgotten or transformed (Anderson 1995b: 9).
Indigenous claims and institutional responses concerning the repatriation of human remains nonetheless continue to be made, as phenomena of growing symbolic significance and social relevance to all of the implied actors. The present thesis has shown that we may in this situation discern an internationally situated instance of the power and paradox of inalienable possessions (Weiner 1985, 1992). If in her writings Weiner does repeatedly, but briefly, acknowledge the paradox that inalienable possessions can, and do, from time to time become alienated, she does not devote concerted analysis to what it means when the 'inalienable' is alienated. However, as I have here demonstrated, the phenomenon of repatriation is a significant field where such enquiries may be launched, as it implies dispositions and exchange of doubly inalienable possessions, as perceived from the perspectives of both museums and Maori people. We have here seen preserved human heads, which originally constituted ultimate inalienable possessions in their Maori context, transformed into alienated commodities in a period of Maori social and cultural transition, only to be rendered inalienable anew in the museum context, before being yet again exchanged, repatriated, once more in seeming contradiction of their meaning to their possessors.
Indeed, changing contexts and transformations of meaning characterize the field of problems, which I have here unravelled. The phenomenon of repatriation has been revealed as a prism that both refracts and participates in the constitution of multiple historically and culturally mediated relationships, both with, and surrounding, the human remains which in this context ambiguously double as ancestors and material possessions. The fate of the collected Maori human remains at once touches on the issues of museum politics, indigenous politics of culture, and historically situated entanglements of local and global exchange systems, all of which are subject to intense emotions, drawing forth not just political actions but also feelings of grief, love, anger, guilt, and compassion in the implied actors.
The present study has demonstrated how the trajectory of a preserved tattooed Maori head, from museification to repatriation, has implied different forms of exchange that have variously positioned the remains of the same dead man in the guise of commodity, curiosity, museum piece, and ancestor. This process alerts us to the significance of exchange (Mauss 1990 ) as a practice that is both culturally and historically situated and motivated. Perceived from this perspective, the phenomenon of repatriation reveals itself as a field that may serve to enrich anthropological inquiries into the dynamics of exchange in a global field (Skrydstrup n.d. , Sjørslev 2001b), rather than limiting theory development to the traditional focus on exchange practices as coherent social systems. Indeed, theoretically we need to ask ourselves how we might conceptualise the operation of exchange and reciprocity in a global social field. Considering the entanglement of multiple locally as well as internationally situated relations that we have here seen in operation both historically and in the present, such a global perspective is called for.
From the perspective envisioned here, what can we then make of our classic perceptions of exchange, reciprocity, and the impact of these phenomena on social and historical relations and identities? Though the concept of inalienable possessions is highly useful, perhaps Weiner was too quick in theoretically transposing the constitution of social identities from a question of exchange-induced reciprocity to being essentially one of identity building through keeping. The circumstances analysed in the present thesis indicate that the practices and values associated with keeping and exchanging are not absolute and automatically distinct, but are also relationally constituted. That is to say, like the gift in Maussian terms, possessions that have otherwise been deemed inalienable may in fact be exchanged or lost to their original possessors, while retaining an association with them.
Perhaps, to get a fresh understanding of repatriation as a global phenomenon of exchange, we could look to the insights on reciprocity developed by Marshall Sahlins (1972). From this perspective, reciprocity must be viewed as a continuum of forms, ranging from the solidary, putatively altruistic extreme of generalised reciprocity, over balanced reciprocity, in which the involved parties interact on the principle of redressing the imbalance of conducted exchange, to the unsociable or all-taking extreme of negative reciprocity. The distance between these poles of reciprocity, signifying degrees of solidarity and common interests, also expresses and constitutes social distance (Sahlins 1972: 191 ff.). Perceived from a historical point of view that takes account of trajectories encompassing multiple forms of exchange, and seen from the various perspectives of the involved actors, the collected human remains that are now subject to the repatriation debate may indeed be said to have moved along a wide continuum of reciprocity forms. And as Sahlins himself has noted, it is precisely through the scrutiny of departures from balanced exchange that one glimpses the interplay between reciprocity, social relations and material circumstances (ibid: 190). From an existential point of view, the history of collecting and repatriation may thus be seen as a process of exchange, addressing the balance of the possessions that the concerned parties, museums as well as Maori people, deem necessary for their very being (cf. Jackson 2002: 42-43). What we find is that the collected human remains, even in having entered global circulation outside of the local social system in which they originally carried meaning, are social objects, which have retained a role in the constitution of social relations and identities.
The quest for repatriation amongst indigenous peoples is often, and rightly so, interpreted in terms of the politics of postcolonial responses to the wider social effects of colonisation (O'Hanlon 2000: 31, Hubert & Fforde 2002). However, this should not lead us to perceive the phenomenon solely in terms of ethnopolitical instrumentality (Hanson 1989), and thus overlook the cultural continuities that may also motivate concerns for human remains. The current developments towards the repatriation of Maori human remains are in fact a product of both traditional and modern concerns. Thus, the topic is caught up in, and displays, social dynamics of both continuity and change, rendering repatriation a significant field in which different understandings of the past and its implications for actors in the present are played out. The issue of repatriation is in this respect also part of a process of Maori cultural revival that has been developing with increasing force especially in the past three decades. An important point here is that with respect to both the historical background and the present situation, we should not lapse into reactionary positions that make either local continuity, culture and agency, or global intrusions, politics and dominance a sufficient frame of analysis (Thomas 1997: 43).
The historical context of repatriation, including the development of cultural contact, collection, and exchange between Maori people and Europeans, was inherently part of a wider set of political processes, implying colonial expansion as well as an expansion of museological ethnographic knowledge. Likewise the current developments towards repatriation not surprisingly enter a political context, in terms of current postcolonial aspirations; but these developments are not merely of a political character. The phenomenon of repatriation may in some respects be said to be motivated by a form of cultural essentialism, but at the same time it is an expression of global networks of exchange, manifested in the colonial period as well as in the present.
Thus, the dilemmas and paradoxes of repatriation continue. The deceased with whom this study began its course, the unidentified man whose preserved tattooed head was repatriated to New Zealand from the National Museum of Denmark, remains in the wahi tapu of Te Papa, awaiting his identification and a final agreement on his fate.
I acknowledge inspiration for the explanations I have here phrased, from definitions given by Williams 1971, Tapsell 1997, and Metdge 1976.
Aotearoa: 'The land of the long white cloud'; the Maori denomination for
Hapu: Subtribe, literally 'pregnancy'
Hui: Traditional gathering on a marae for discussions and ceremonial purposes
Iwi: Tribe, literally 'bones'
Kaitiaki: Guardian, see kaitiakitanga
Kaitiakitanga: Trustee-like guardianship obligations maintained by members of the tangata whenua over the group's valued ressources and possessions, including both tangibles (e.g. land) and intangibles (e.g. knowledge)
Karakia: Ritual chants, prayers
Kaumatua: (Male) elder
Koiwi: Bones, sometimes further specified as koiwi tangata, human bones
Mana: Authority, prestige, integrity
Marae: Traditional complex of facilities for gatherings, including a courtyard, a meeting house, and dining hall. Properly the term refers more specifically to the courtyard for assembly, in front of the meeting house
Mokomokai: Preserved tattooed Maori head, from moko (tattoo), and mokai (slave), see also toi moko and uru moko
Noa: State of profane, common, everyday, unrestricted, as opposed to tapu
Pakeha: New Zealander(s) of European descent, as differentiated from New Zealand's indigenous population, Maori
Rangatira: Chief, of noble descent
Ta moko: Tattooing
Tangata whenua: 'People of the land'. A Maori tribal group that has traditional authority over a certain territory. Another, more recent, use of the term is as a general designation of Maori as the indigenous people of New Zealand.
Tangihanga: Ceremony for the mourning of death
Taonga: A valued possession, tangible or intangible, passed down from the ancestors
Tapu: Sacred, restricted, the opposite state of noa
Tikanga: Custom, protocol, rule or method, what is correct
Tohunga: Ritual specialist and keeper of tapu knowledge. Used with qualifying terms also a general designation for any sort of expert, e.g. tohunga ta moko, tattooing specialist
Toi moko: Preserved tattooed Maori head. See also mokomokai and uru moko
Uru moko: Preserved head of chieftain.
Utu: Reciprocity, compensation, return for anything; e.g. revenge or repayment of debt or gifts
Wahi tapu: Site of special significance, endowed with tapu, e.g. burial sites or other places associated with death
Whakapapa: Genealogy, descent-lines and tables
Whanau: Extended family, literally 'to give birth'
AWMM Auckland War Memorial Museum - Te Papa Whakahiku
ICOM International Council of Museums
NMDK National Museum of Denmark
Te Papa Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
UN-WGIP United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Source for small map: www.greenwichmeantime.com/time-zone/pacific/new-zealand/map.htm (Accessed 29 January 2005)
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1. The concept of indigenous peoples has been criticised for posing definitional problems in some contexts (Béteille 1998, Bowen 2000). I do not intend to enter into that debate here, and chose to refer to the concept in my thesis, as it is a term that is meaningfully applied within the ethnographic contexts that I study. The Maori are amongst those groups that are commonly regarded as fitting well into the concept of indigenous peoples as it is traditionally understood, that is, descendants of pre-colonial communities in a given territory, which continue to identify themselves as distinct from the now dominant sectors of the society prevailing in that territory (Simpson 2000: Annex c).
2. UN-WGIP 1993b: On the right to repatriation of human remains, see article 13. The draft declaration drawn up by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, a subgroup of the Human Rights Commission, is still under negotiation, with many obstacles to its adoption.
3. All Maori terms will be briefly explained the first time I refer to them, where the word is marked in the text by the use of italics. The reader is subsequently referred to appendix 1, the Maori glossary.
4. For further details and reflections on the methods and progression of the study in the field, I refer to my field report: Jørgensen 2004.
5. Statistics New Zealand - Te Tari Tatau (hereafter 'Statistics'): 2001 Census: Ethnic Groups, and 2001 Census: Maori. 604,110 persons are stated to be of 'Maori descent', and of these, 526,281 persons are registered as belonging to the 'Maori ethnic group'. The former designation is a statement of identification by biological ancestry, while the latter is a statement of cultural affiliation by self-identification. It is the Maori ethnic group that makes up 14,7 % of the total population.
6. The implications of the Treaty, and the character of the rights that are to be protected or ceded according to it, are matters of continuing debate. Much controversy centres on the problem that the Treaty exists in both an English version, and a translation into Maori, which coined a number of confusing neologisms to designate various political concepts. Hence, to a critical reading the meanings of the different versions of the Treaty diverge, notably on whether complete sovereignty was to be ceded to the British Crown (Orange 1987, Durie 1998).
7. Statistics: 2001 Census on Populations and Dwellings, Regional Summaries.
8. Statistics: 2001 census: Maori.
9. Statistics: 1996 Census of Population and Dwellings: Iwi affiliation.
10. Statistics: 2001 Survey on the Health of the Maori Language.
11. Statistics: 2001 census: Maori.
12. I here use the denomination 'Maori' for convenience. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there was no concept of Maori identity in the sense of an overarching cultural or national similarity. Group identity centred on tribal identities of iwi, hapu and whanau, and on the tribal lands, and only in the course of colonisation did a broader pan-tribal concept of shared Maori identity develop, in contrast to that of the Europeans (Durie 1998: 53).
13. Captain Cook's travel was however not the first time Europeans ventured to New Zealand. The first known contact between Europeans and Maori was made as a Dutch expedition, led by Abel Tasman, arrived in 1642. The one encounter between Dutch ships and Maori canoes was brief, but resulted in the killing of four of Tasman's crew, and further exploration was quickly abandoned, after which no other European expeditions arrived in New Zealand for another 127 years (Salmond 1991: chapter 3).
14. New Zealand was by then not yet under the formal authority of the British Crown, and consequently legislation could not be passed concerning the very export of heads from New Zealand (ibid.). The British colony in New South Wales was an important centre for trade in the area, and a source of settlers to New Zealand, many of them an unruly lot of former convicts and sailors jumping ship (ibid: 497-501, Robley 1998 : 170-172). The lawless conduct of Europeans in the country was one factor that led missionaries such as Marsden to argue for formal British engagement in New Zealand.
15. Reischek, originally a taxidermist, collected a number of Maori human remains and artefacts for ethnographic collections during the years 1877-1889. His travel memoirs have been published; significantly the original title was 'Sterbende Welt', 'Dying World', testifying to the view that Maori culture was dying out at the time (also, of course, an opinion authenticating the collector's 'last minute' loot and increasing its value in the eyes of museums). Reischek's collections went to Vienna, where the Museum für Volkerkunde is now in possession of prestigious Maori collections originating in his activities.
16. It is difficult to say precisely how many such preserved heads can now be found in collections outside of New Zealand. Those in public collections may by and large be accounted for, whereas that is not as easily the case with those in private possession. Numbers around two hundred heads have been estimated currently to be in museums abroad (the New Zealand Herald, editorial 3 July 1998: A10), while 55 repatriated heads are now kept by Te Papa.
17. In the original: "Tatoveret Mandshoved, der har været opbevaret som Sejrstrofæ eller som Erindring om en afdød". The Polynesia room was part of NMDK's permanent exhibitions from 1938; prior to that there is no specific information available on the display history of the head. In this chapter, all translations into English are mine, and the original statements are included in footnotes.
18. The code, which sets standards for conduct and performance on all aspects of museum work, has since been revised several times. In the following I shall refer to the most recent version. The passages of the code that I will quote have been subject to some reformulation between successive revised editions, but not to substantial change of content.
19. For inspiration in applying this line of theory, I am indebted to Martin Skrydstrup, who in an unpublished paper develops a similar argument, drawing on Weiner and Mauss (Skrydstrup, n.d. ).
20. Conveniently, in 1986 NMDK had received a grant and was therefore at the time rebuilding, and reorganising the collections (Sjørslev 1988: 209, 218). Thus a natural occasion arose for some reconsideration of the ethics and politics of the display arrangements.
21. Translated from Swedish, "så långt hemmafrån", and "förvaringsfängelse". The metaphor of imprisonment is, interestingly, not uncommon in repatriation debate generally (O'Hanlon 2000: 4, Smith 1999: 11), and was also used by other of my Maori informants (see pp. 106). This particular idiom must be seen as testifying to the experienced power differential between the groups of origin and the holding institutions. For further analysis of Maori perceptions of museums, see chapter three.
22. Source: NMDK journal no. 5012-03. To preserve confidentiality, the iwi, as well as single individuals involved in the case, are kept anonymous; a practice which will be retained throughout the thesis. The claimants were unrelated to the Maori lady who had already been visiting NMDK, and who did not put forward any formal claims for repatriation.
23. The existing conventions on cultural property, of which the most important is UNESCO's (1970) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, do not apply retrospectively, and thus older cases remain uncovered by any such means. Current holders generally regard the original transactions in such older cases as legal, also where colonial powers may have removed material against the will of local subjects (Greenfield 1996).
24. Furthermore, NMDK does not on its own accord hold the power to relinquish ownership of anything from its collections. Repatriation proceeds upon permission from the Danish Ministry of Culture, to which NMDK has only recommendatory powers.
25. I shall not include the concept of hau in my subsequent discussion, though it is well known from Mauss' analysis of Maori conceptions of exchange (ibid: 14-16). This elusive concept has a lengthy genealogy of academic debate (see Weiner 1985 for an overview), and Mauss' interpretation of the role of hau in Maori understandings of gift giving has been criticised as erroneous by later theorists (Firth 1972 : 418-421, Johansen 1954: 116-118). With regard to the present analytical context, the fact remains that none of my Maori informants ever alluded to hau in their understandings of repatriation or giving, though some did refer to concepts such as utu (reciprocity, balanced return). The Maori anthropologist Dr. Paul Tapsell argues from his own tribal experience that hau has no current context in Maori prestation epistemology, nor in relation to anything representing ancestors, and furthermore draws doubt as to whether the concept has ever had any such application, outside of Western academic debate (Tapsell 1997: 367-368).
26. "det kan være et enkeltindivid som af en eller anden grund kører en sag det kan være politisk, eller af andre årsager. Så vi vil vide, hvem det er som henvender sig til os".
27. "der er megen politisk uro omkring hovederne". From a letter to the Head of the Ethnographic Collection, dated February the 6th 1997 (journal no. 5012-03). These inquiries were conducted as a favour by a former employee of NMDK who had worked in New Zealand previously and could draw on contacts here. This informal economy of knowledge operates similarly in other such cases and appears to carry much influence on the museum's assessment of the situation surrounding requests for repatriation (see Skrydstrup 2000: 19-20 for an example).
28. "Repræsentanter for Maori-befolkningen i New Zealand, som udtrykker en stærk følelsesmæssig binding til disse forfaderhoveder, har i de senere år været meget aktive for at kræve dem tilbage På vort museum har det været praksis at vi indstiller 'human remains' til tilbagelevering når repræsentanter for oprindelseskulturen fremsætter ønske herom" (note from the International Department of NMDK to the Danish Ministry of Culture, 10th of June 1999, in journal no. 5012-3-07). The precedence in practice alluded to is the transfer in ownership of Inuit/Eskimo human remains previously in the possession of NMDK, see Gabriel 2002 for details.
29. "drives i et samarbejde mellem den oprindelige befolkning, Maorierne, og repræsentanter for indvandre-samfundetre [sic]" (note from the International Department of NMDK to the Danish Ministry of Culture, 10th of June 1999, in journal no. 5012-3-07).
30. The following chapter will return in more detail to the issue of incorporating Maori protocol in dealing with human remains in museums.
31. "Man kan jo ikke stoppe op; når sådan en mand står der og stortuder og taler maori til hovedet, kan man jo ikke gå hen og prikke ham på skulderen og sige 'undskyld, kan du ikke lige vente lidt, nu skal vi hente et fotografiapparat.'"
32. Source: NMDK journal no. 5015-010: Uddeponering.
33. As the reader may recall, the preserved head was displayed in 'the Polynesia room', which was one in a sequence of regionally organised exhibition rooms, together representing the world in the Ethnographic Collections at NMDK.
34. 'Ingen kommerciel værdi' (proforma invoice, 01.12.1998, in journal no. 5015-010).
35. On television a Minister of Maori Affairs has referred to such a head having been offered for sale in Paris within recent years, for the equivalent of 60,000 NZ $ (Backchat 12.04 1998). I have been unable to find other sources to confirm the price, but even allowing for possible inaccuracies in the sum recalled, the fact remains that the notion of such collected human remains having a commercial value - and a high one at that - is not by itself an impossibility today.
36. Te Papa's new programme for research and repatriation of Maori human remains, Karanga Aotearoa ('the Call of New Zealand') commenced in 2004, after my departure from New Zealand (Te Papa Statement of Intent 2003-2006: 9, 25). AWMM has in the last 3 years had plans for proactive repatriation activities, directed at those remains with which the institution is, and has been, associated (AWMM Annual Plan 2003/2004: 5, 7, 24-25, and Dr. Paul Tapsell, personal communication).
37. As opposed to the repatriation case from NMDK, I have been unable to draw on archival material in analysing this case. Due to their general sensitivity, all human remains files in AWMM (as in Te Papa) remain closed to the public, available only to direct descendant-mandated elders. This chapter contains a condensed account of the return, in which central aspects are drawn out for analysis. For further detail on repatriation events, accounts of the repatriation of Maori taonga can be found in Tapsell 1997 and 2000.
38. The use of photographs of predeceased relatives of the deceased at Maori funeral ceremonial is a common practice (Sinclair 1996: 228, Salmond 1975: 41, Medge 1976: 261, King 1983: 2). Prior to the impact of colonisation on Maori practices surrounding death, preserved ancestral heads and bones were used in a similar way, being honourably placed near the deceased at tangihanga for important chiefs (Oppenheim 1973: 44). At tangihanga, photographs, as formerly also the preserved heads (cf. chapter one), are often addressed in lament and oratory as living presences (King: ibid).
39. Though this difference is not obvious from the above description of the return of the two preserved heads, one way in which the tangihanga in general differs from Pakeha burial custom is that, as opposed to leaving the deceased in a chapel until burial, the body will as soon as possible after death be brought to the marae, and the relatives will then not leave the deceased alone until the burial takes place (Sinclair 1996: 227-230). Many Maori people cite this practice as evidence of their particular concern for their deceased; and according to Metdge (1976: 124), the obligation to attend a kinsman's tangihanga is one of the most binding of all kinship obligations.
40. Though commonly used, terms such as 'grave' or 'burial' site are, strictly speaking, misleading in many cases, since in pre-European time the bones of the deceased were often deposited in caves, and not buried (Oppenheim 1973: 60-63). However, for ease of reference I adopt the common practice and use terms such as burial or gravesite, also in referring to caves.
41. In the present, archaeological excavations by law take place only after consultation and agreement from local Maori authorities, and permission from the Historic Places Trust. Excavations are often subject to conditions that if Maori human remains are encountered, the excavation will be interrupted until the tangata whenua have been notified and have decided on their response (Dr. Stuart Park, personal communication).
42. See also www.digitalus.co.nz/mokomokai/areischek.html (accessed 15 January 2005).
43. The head of Kawiti is not mentioned in Reischek's memoirs, and the association in this particular case is thus speculative; but Reischek's book, which had at the time been available for over a decade, certainly contains detailed descriptions of many other acts of looting remains and taonga from Maori burial sites, similar to the rumoured incident. Hence the Battalion's awareness of the collection in Vienna.
44. E.g. the Morning Post 29 November 1944, New Zealand Herald 14 August 1946, Freedom 17 October 1945, Taranaki Daily News 17 August 1946. A collection of such newspaper clippings, running from the mid-forties into the sixties, can be found at the archive of AWMM's library, MS 846.
45. For further examples of the continuity of struggles to regain control over ancestral remains, see the Te Roroa Report from the Waitangi Tribunal (1992), which concerns claims over land containing a number of significant burial caves; a claim dating back to 1902. General concern to protect ancestral remains from desecration is a phenomenon dating back to pre-European time; see the discussion a few pages hence.
46. Maori efforts to protect tribal genealogical accounts and other cultural knowledge may also extend to attempts at getting offensive or erroneous academic interpretations 'unpublished' (i.e. corrected or taken out of circulation); see O'Regan 1984: 120, and 1990: 97-98. In wider terms, the prior existence in the public domain of what might be deemed sensitive Maori knowledge or images has been used as a benchmark for authors to judge whether such information may again be included in more recent publications (e.g. Brown 2003: 14-15). This again recalls the notion of cultural inalienability that was discussed in chapter three.
47. One of my Maori informants even argued that the presence of ancestral remains in museums, where the deceased are not at peace, leads to ill consequences for contemporary Maori people, preventing their well-being in society, because the infringement on tapu reflects back on them. The notion of such consequences to the descendants was not otherwise an issue referred to by my informants, and therefore I do not develop the point analytically beyond mentioning it here. However, the attitude does have parallels amongst other indigenous groups, such as Hawaiians (Ayau & Tengan 2002: 184).
48. Critical Maori readers might respond with scepticism to this description of a Pakeha 'discovering' a burial cave (Smith 1999: 82-83), since collection has at times been carried out by persons who have reported to find such sites by coincidence (e.g. Cheeseman 1906: 452). One might therefore question Shortland's motives for his evaluation of the disengaged attitudes to the event amongst 'the natives'. However, analogously to Shortland's account, I was told at the Historic Places Trust, that some elders today will be very concerned at the prospect of disturbance to areas where they know bones of their own ancestors to be present, but will be less concerned with the disturbance of areas where they know that the remains present are not from their own tribal group. Johansen (ibid) also refers to other historical sources for instances similar to the one reported by Shortland.
49. The Mokomokai Education Trust was a private organisation, started two decades ago by Maui Pomare, a former chairman of the Museum Board of Te Papa. From 1995 the Trust was led by the popular Maori singer Dalvanius Prime, working under great publicity for both international repatriation of the preserved heads, and for creating awareness of these heads as an element of Maori history and culture. The Trust has been a factor contributing to general public debate on the preserved heads in New Zealand, but ceased operating after Prime's death in 2002. For further information, the reader is referred to www.digitalus.co.nz/mokomokai/main.html (accessed 15 January 2005).
50. See e.g. www.digitalus.co.nz/mokomokai/goldie.html (accessed 15 January 2005). The current revival of ta moko merits its own study and that topic shall therefore not be further pursued here, but in illustration of the symbolic significance of the tattooing practice, the contemporary tohunga ta moko (tattooing specialist) Rangi Skipper has been referred to as arguing that "the ink he buries in the skin symbolizes the resurrection of both a unique art form and aspirations for Maori sovereignty excavated from the past and redesigned for today [as an] important step in coming to terms with what it means to be Maori" (quoted from Watkin 1997: 36, in Pritchard 2001: 34, my insertion in brackets).
51. 'Toi' can (amongst other things) refer figuratively to a warrior, or - more commonly - to the concept of art or knowledge (Williams 1971: 431). Thus 'toi moko' is also a term used for the heads by tohunga ta moko, Maori tattooing specialists. It is here interesting to note how the term for the preserved heads in Te Papa implies an emphasis on the dimension of knowledge, reflecting the intangible component of cultural values and practices that is associated with the remains, as we also saw it expressed in chapter three.
52. Quoted from a media release on www.digitalus.co.nz/mokomokai/trustheads.html (accessed 15 January 2005). Such critique should not be viewed solely as expressing Maori embarrassment over historical events associated with the dispersal of the preserved heads, but can also be motivated by the view that ancestral remains are tapu and should therefore not be discussed in the wider public, as Prime did.
53. Likewise, in one recent article the government's refusal of the offer is explained as motivated by the view that these heads "were part of New Zealand's savage past best forgotten" (www.newtimesbpb.com/extra/maori.html accessed 8 August 2004).