Hoki Mai Hoki Mai


Hoki Mai Hoki Mai

French lawmaker, Catherine Moran-Desailly, recently authored a bill allowing the return of an extensive collection of Moko Mokai (preserved Maori heads) from French museums.
In a rare move for museums and foreign governments, moral integrity formed a decision that was passed 437-8 in the National Assembly.
As a Kiwi I applaud that decision.
As a Pakeha I painted this image welcoming the heads back in recognition of an ongoing need to rebalance, where we can, the mistakes of the past. It is a celebration of the homecoming of lost Kiwis.
It is my Haka to all Kiwis, insisting on the absolute connection I, as a Pakeha have to my own land and all of it's history and spiritual energy as well as an invitation to unite in purpose.
Any civilized society must measure it's integrity against how it redresses it's wrongs.
In the same way Maori have a moral obligation to work toward the return of these heads, I think Pakeha might equally recognize their part in the distribution of such body part as immoral and worthy of redress.


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Spiritual Relics and Fetishes

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Head Trading and the Moko Mokai have always been fascinating subjects for me ever since the first time I stared face to face, so to speak, at the Wellington Museums collection of my childhood. I also had an extraordinary run in with some of the Moko Mokai at the Auckland Institute and Museum when I was working there. I was in the storage section out back looking for something when on opening a rather ordinary looking cupboard I was confronted by four rather disturbing looking Maori men from a century earlier! It is easy for Pakeha to lose sight of what the Moko Mokai really were and are to Maori. Maori had Moko Mokai ( preserved heads ) before Pakeha arrived in New Zealand and they were not trading items. So they fulfilled some other purpose. They were not just enemies. They were also loved and revered members of the family and tribe and had a specific role to play in Maori esoteric understandings after that person's life had finished and the mortal shell was all that remained. When placing the Moko Mokai in a cultural position it is important, I think, for Pakeha to have an overview of the ubiquitous fetishism shared by all of humanity where the dead or "passed" are concerned. You might click on the images here of Catholic fetishes and ceremonies around what amounts to exactly the same type of memorabilia in what many Pakeha might think is a robust, civilized institution. While the Catholic church still preserves dead Popes etc to be included in the extremely morbid and splendiferous curiosity cabinet that is the Vatican, the same Pakeha, for the most part, hold a hypocritical disdain for the same practice played out by the Maori. It was Pakeha who created a warp in the understanding of how we all might see Moko Mokai. A market was created with the trade of some of these preserved Maori heads by Pakeha bent on a collection or trading on them for profit. Because Maori kept the despised heads of enemies they saw an opportunity to profit from the sale of the despised ones and of slaves, who in some instances were tattooed specifically to the requests of Pakeha buyers. Of course, the despised enemies sold were in another mind set and not the object of love and great sadness. One of the more fascinating parts of New Zealand's cultural growth is happening now around the return of many of Moko Mokai from overseas collections. Maori are now faced with how to view and treat these human remains that once were spiritually as "alive" to Maori as the strange collection of Catholic body parts and cadavers are in the Vatican's collection. There is no doubt these heads and other bits of past lives will have a deep impact on our identity as a nation but exactly what impact they have certainly needs to be guided by an understanding that they do not represent any darker behavior or psyche on the part of Maori than exists in "civilized" mind sets of European origin. In suggesting that it is important to see them for what they are, relics of another time and not a revivalist touchstone for the "spiritual theatre" and all of the trading in romance, prestige, ignorance, social bullying and general loss of reality that goes along with dogmatic faith in fantastic spiritual connection, I might seem lacking in emotion. I think however that in this way Maori and Pakeha might put that skeleton to bed so to speak which is ever so much more informed than an institution like the Catholic Church which is now indulging in yet another round of saintifying normal human beings, extending their reign of denial based rhetoric.

Don't get me wrong here.

I love a ritual and a ceremony and the bells and smells of "midnight mass" make for great theatre but in a civilized, aware, modern society society transcending "spiritual literalism" is essential to moving forward and maintaining an egalitarian society. So a truth for all Pakeha might be that Moko Mokai do not represent the evidence of savage headhunters but the closer connection by way of similarity that Maori and Pakeha actually have.

This artwork makes clear that I believe that this conversation is not a one way street directed from the Maori perspective. In selling these relics to Pakeha, the cultural mores of Pakeha became very much an integral part of the Moko Mokai conversation. While lawyers might deal around the idea of "regulating" thought and comment around our history by calling it "appropriation" I say it is for the people to participate in creating who we are becoming because the lawyers would just have our history and "our" culture become a meal ticket.

Hoki Mai Hoki Mai.