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Minggu, 13 Desember 2020

Maori, moko and the trade in human heads that haunts New Zealand today - ABC News

Tattooed, severed and mummified Maori heads were once a prized collector's item in Britain. New Zealand wants them back.

It's hard to imagine Te Herekiekie Herewini overcome with anger.

Even as he talks about something that is deeply macabre, he's softly spoken and incredibly calm.

But beneath the surface is a smouldering Maori fire, and in his line of work it can be difficult to suppress.

Herekiekie is the man the New Zealand government has tasked with bringing back things that were taken by the British.

Hundreds of things.

Not artefacts.

Ancestors.

In the early 19th century, tattooed, decapitated, and dried Maori heads became a coveted collector's item across Britain.

They are known as mokomokai, or Toi moko.

The disturbing trade began in 1770 with Joseph Banks, the botanist who travelled with James Cook.

It sparked a dangerous economy around head-hunting and head-selling, and helped fuel bloody tribal wars.

The impact is still felt in New Zealand today.

Ta moko is a form of traditional Maori tattooing.

In the times before metal and machines, it was chiselled into the skin with bird bones.

The work is intensely detailed, with stylised curves and patterns, moving almost like waves or woodgrain across the contours of the skin.

Moko tells a person's story and connects them to the past.

And there is no place more significant for moko than the face.

When someone with facial moko died, often their head would be preserved.

It would be steamed, smoked, dried and then sealed with shark oil.

Haami Piripi, the chair of the nation of Te Rarawa, says there were two main reasons for this.

The first was as a trophy of war.

"Initially these tattooed heads were our great leaders, esteemed leaders," Haami says.

Sometimes they were used to negotiate peace treaties between tribes.

The second reason was to mark the life of someone who was venerated, who was cherished or wept over.

"This is not just an artefact, this is a human being," Haami says.

"Some of these are 200 or 300 years old, and yet they look exactly the same as they did when they died. You can still see the very clear features and traits of the individual.

"Every one of them is a treasure."

On the second British voyage to what we now know as New Zealand, Banks traded old white linen drawers (yes, underwear) for the head of a teenage boy.

It was taken away as a curio, and a grim fascination started to take root.

"More people wanted them, and the demand for tattooed heads grew so large that the price you could get for one was a musket," Haami says.

In those days a gun was the most powerful tool you could own, and before long, tribes started to steal each other's heads to trade.

In the early 1800s, this fuelled what is known as the 'musket wars'.

"Muskets were really what was going to enable you to survive as a tribe or not, because if you didn't have any and your neighbours did, then you were history," Haami says.

Tribes started to get a lot less discriminating about what kinds of heads could be traded.

"Some people were tattooed after death," Haami says.

"Some tribes even tattooed their slaves and then cut their heads off and sold those."

Haami says the trade was "driven by the demand from the British, who found these things very fascinating".

"They'd put them on their mantelpieces, stick a candle in the top of it or something. It was really, really bizarre."

By 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, making New Zealand an official British colony.

The decades of mokomokai trade stopped.

But for the families whose ancestors' heads were taken, it's never really ended.

Since 2003, the New Zealand government has mandated that artefacts like the mokomokai be tracked down and returned.

Herekiekie has been doing repatriation work for 13 years now, with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

On his first international mission, the chair of a medical institute in the UK told him: "We are returning these ancestors because they are of no value to us."

No value.

The smouldering Maori fire burst into flame.

"One of my work colleagues saw my eyes …. saw that Maori-ness in me rising," he recalls.

"[They] took me away for a little while until I calmed down."

He pushed the fire back down. He got on with his work.

"There have been over 1,000 ancestors taken from our country. We've been able to achieve 600 of those coming home," Herekiekie says.

"To me, the job isn't completed until all our ancestors come home. They are me and I am them.

"They all deserve to be offered dignity and respect."

The mokomokai spread around the world today are in the US, the UK, medical institutions, private collections and museums.

Tracking down each and every one requires a lot of detective work.

"A lot of these things are still stuck in people's attics, particularly the estates around Britain and Europe where the wealthy have acquired them and now put them away," says Haami, who is also working on repatriating mokomokai.

"Every now and again some of them come out and get sold, and we're always there ready, poised to seize upon them."

Stuff the British Stole

04 | The headhunters


The arrival of Europeans in New Zealand kicked off a trade in mokomokai, but these colonial souvenirs have their own complex history.

Herekiekie's job also involves correcting misconceptions about the heads themselves — and how they were taken in the first place.

Initially, he says, it was more of a theft than a trade.

"Joseph Banks offered an item of trade for the head. The elder didn't want to actually give the head over, so Banks put a musket to his head," he says.

"Through that engagement, the head was traded. It was something that was forced upon the elder."

He says the head taken by Banks was likely destroyed in the bombings of London.

"It may have been at the Royal College of Surgeons in the United Kingdom for a long period of time, but during World War II that particular institution was bombed by the Germans, and so I think a lot of the artefacts, or a lot of the human remains, were lost at that time."

The more you talk to people, the clearer it becomes that the Maori actually had two things taken from them.

The heads themselves, and the cultural practice of facial tattooing.

After New Zealand was colonised, many Maori say facial tattoos became maligned in society, associated more with gangs and crime than culture and tradition.

But over the years, people like Roki Maika have been fighting to bring moko back.

"It's a bookmark in a people's lives. Moko is a way of telling someone's story," he says.

Roki is a Maori tattooist based in Sydney, and he specialises in moko.

"I sit down with people and usually just talk to them about their life. They will always give me a story that I base the piece off," he says.

"As I get to know them better, I put more detail into it, whether they have an affiliation with the ocean or the land or family. The stories are the most important thing."

The resurgence in facial moko tattoos in New Zealand has stretched all the way to the most important office in the land — or at least, the most important office block in the land.

This is the Beehive, the home of the country's government.

It's where Nanaia Mahuta made history.

Nanaia is the local MP for Hauraki-Waikato. She recently became New Zealand's first indigenous minister for foreign affairs.

But before that first was another one.

In 2016, she became the first woman to wear moko kauae, the women's facial tattoo, in Parliament.

Nanaia had been an MP for 20 years before she got the tattoo, but she didn't give it much thought as she stepped into the chamber.

In a strange way, she felt like the ink had always been there.

"It was actually feeling like somebody had washed your face really properly," she says.

"It was bringing the inside out, I think, in some shape or form."

Roki has an amazing selection of moko that run up his neck and down his body.

Each piece is linked to some part of Maori history.

His left forearm is dedicated to the god of the forest, Tāne Mahuta.

The story goes that when Tāne Mahuta created man, he punched his arms through clay to get to the cold stuff in the middle.

"Then when he had pulled his arms out, his arms were covered in the clay substance — that's why the forearm is significant," Roki explains.

"The skin parts are dedicated to the spirit world. They are surrounding us all the time.

"And then the parts that have the lines, that's dedicated to the living world because we see everything.

"Placement has a meaning, so wherever the moko is sitting, it has a meaning where it sits, and then inside of it each part has a meaning well."

For Roki, the question is not whether someone is worthy of wearing moko.

It's whether they're ready.

"People will judge, people will speak and people will stare," he says.

"Half the time you just want to ask them to come up and ask about it, talk.

"We're nice people, we're eloquent people, we like to speak."

He wants to get his facial moko, but thinks he'll wait until his kids turn 18.

"Going in with our kids to primary school, people stare at us because we are covered with tattoos," he says.

"I guess out of respect for the kids and them not getting teased or anything, I will wait."

Nanaia knows what he's talking about.

Since she got her moko kauae, people's eyes linger a little longer on her face.

Some do ask her questions. How much did it hurt? How long did it take? Did she cry?

While attitudes are changing, that change is slow.

"There are a whole lot of things that you didn't think about going into the journey," Nanaia says.

"So everything changed, but I'm still the same person. I'm probably more me than I've ever been."

As moko returns to the faces of living Maori, the challenge of returning the dead remains.

In 2014, Te Papa Tongarewa was the site of something historic.

After lengthy negotiations with an overseas museum, 300 people assembled to witness the largest repatriation of ancestral remains in New Zealand's history.

They gathered in this space, Te Marae, a place for important meetings.

The walls and ceilings are alive with what kind of look like fish; undulating carvings of pink and orange and purple.

Then, 35 mokomokai were gently laid on home soil for the first time in more than a century.

Very few people are allowed to see these sacred heads. Photos of them are not shown out of respect.

Haami knows what it means to look into their faces.

"I've looked in the face of every one, because that's what you do, they are people," he says.

"You can't do all that work and welcome people back and not look at them.

"And honestly, in looking at their faces, it occurs to me every single time that I've seen that person somewhere before.

"It is incredibly moving."

Last month, four mokomokai were repatriated from Germany, after a journey spanning more than 100 years.

With an estimated 600 mokomokai still scattered around the world today, Herekiekie won't stop until each one is returned.

"Our ancestors are connected to our land, this land, and their spirit is connected to this land as well," he says.

"While they are overseas, their spirit is not settled.

"To me, the job isn't completed until all our ancestors come home. You just have to keep at it."

His work continues. Deep inside, a Maori fire smoulders.

Credits:

Reporting and writing: Marc Fennell and Monique Ross for Stuff the British Stole

Editor: Nick Wiggins

Digital production: Monique Ross

Images: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa/Kate Whitley; the Office of the Hon Nanaia Mahuta; ABC RN/Nick Wiggins; Getty: Marty Melville, Hagen Hopkins, Michael Bradley; Public domain.

Series Producer: Zoe Ferguson

Executive Producer: Amruta Slee

With thanks to: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

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2020-12-13 19:00:00Z
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