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France to return mummified Maori heads to New Zealand

France is set to return 16 tattooed and mummified Maori heads to New Zealand.

For years New Zealand has sought the return of Maori heads kept in collections abroad, many of which were obtained by Westerners in exchange for weapons and other goods.

Dozens of museums worldwide, though not all, have agreed to return them. Maori, the island nation’s indigenous people, believe their ancestors’ remains should be respected in their home area without being disturbed.

France’s National Assembly voted 437-8 on Tuesday to give back the 16 heads counted in France, including seven kept in storage at Paris’ Quai Branly museum for the primitive arts. The Senate has already OKed the move.

It was unclear when the heads might be sent home, but authorities can now begin negotiating the move.

The heads’ repatriation is a “matter of great significance for Maori,” New Zealand’s culture and Maori affairs minister Pita Sharples said.

“Maori believe that, through their ancestors’ return to their original homeland, their dignity is restored, and they can be put to rest in peace among their families.”

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