The Headhunters – ABC Radio National

The arrival of Europeans in NZ kicked off a trade in Mokomokai — tattooed heads but these colonial souvenirs have their own complex history.

In Episode Four of Stuff the British Stole

They used a chisel to carve into the men’s skin and then fill up the grooves with ink. That’s how Maori produced their famous Ta moko facial tattoos, which once represented high social status in Māori culture.

When European landed in new Zealand in 1770, decapitated, dried, and tattooed Māori heads became objects of curiosity, then mementos and then items of trade in return for muskets.

The trade would eventually be banned — but it took decades for the heads to be returned to New Zealand soil.

In that time the practise of Moko has undergone its own revolution.


Roki Maika, Ta moko artist

Haami Piripi, Maori elder, member Repatriation of Human Remains Committee

Te Herekiekie Haerehuka Herewini, Te Papa Reptraiation Unit

Nania Mahuta, Labour MP

Source: The Headhunters – ABC Radio National

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