France backs returning Maori heads to New Zealand
France's National Assembly on Thursday backed the return of up to 20 Maori heads to New Zealand and was next week due to vote to give back the tattooed warrior heads.
Between 15 and 20 mummified heads of Maori warriors are stored in several French museums, notably seven or eight at Paris' Quai Branly, home to a big collection of tribal art set up by ex-president Jacques Chirac.
A museum in Rouen in 2007 got the ball rolling when it offered to return its Maori heads to New Zealand, but the government stepped in and put the decision on hold to look at a broader national restitution of the artifacts.
The Senate upper house voted in June last year to return all of the heads under a bill that marks the first time that an entire category of artifacts will be taken from museums, as opposed to one disputed object.
On Thursday, all the political parties said they would back the bill after a debate in the National Assembly, which is due to vote on it next Tuesday.
Museums in seven other French cities including Marseille and Lyon along with the university of Montpellier all have Maori heads in storage.
About 500 Maori heads have become part of museum collections around the world, but after New Zealand requested their return, some 300 have been sent back.
The Maoris kept the tattooed heads of warriors, believing they were keeping their spirit alive, but in the 19th century, they became prized European collector items.
Since 1992, New Zealand's Te Papa Tongarewa museum has requested that the heads be returned to restore dignity to the human remains.
© 2010 AFP