France to send back Maori head to New Zealand

Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:04pm EDT
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PARIS (Reuters) - France is to return the head of a Maori that was taken from New Zealand by French explorers in the 19th century, after the French senate approved a law authorizing the return Monday.

The Natural History Museum in the town of Rouen has kept the head since 1875 in a case mirrored across Europe as museums are under increasing pressure to relinquish preserved body parts and artifacts taken in the past.

"You don't build a culture on trafficking. You build a culture on respect and exchange," France's new Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand said.

He said the government supported the law, which will have to be approved by parliament.

In 2002, France's parliament approved a similar law allowing France to hand the remains of Saartjie Baartman, a woman who was taken to Europe in the early 19th century and exhibited as the "Hottentot Venus," to South Africa.

Several parts of her body had been exhibited at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris up until 1974.

(Reporting by Emile Picy)