6 May 2010

Tattoo artists may shed light on origins of toi moko

5:15 pm on 6 May 2010

A Maori tattoo artist says the origins of preserved Maori heads, or toi moko, being returned to New Zealand could be determined by the tattoos engraved on them.

The French parliament has approved the return of about 15 toi moko from its museums to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington.

The restitution became a national issue in France when the Rouen town council voted in 2007 to give back a head kept in its Natural History Museum since 1875.

Te Papa says it has invited Maori tattoo experts to discuss how to help identify the iwi, or tribe, the tattooed heads belong to.

Maori tattoo artist Mark Kopua, of the East Coast, says those involved in discussions with Te Papa have asked for 3-D high-resolution photographs of the heads.

Mr Kopua says grouping the heads with similar designs will help artists discover who the tattooists were.

Te Papa acting chief executive Michelle Hippolite says the museum is considering DNA testing but plans to discuss with Maori other ethical ways to determine the origins of the toi moko.