The Mokomokai, are mummified heads of high lineage Māori people decorated by traditional facial tattoos developed in Māori culture until about the mid-19th century, when their use began to disappear. The Moko celebrated rites of passage for people of chiefly rank, as well as important events in their lives. The Mokomokai are of special cultural significance for the Māori people. For this reason, in recent years many of the Māori heads disseminated in European and American museums, as well as in private collections, have been repatriated to New Zealand, some of which to be returned to their relatives for burial. The case of the Mokomokai is characterized by the existence of two diametrically opposed and irreconcilable interests, both safeguarded by international law: first, on the one hand, the right of the community specifically concerned to secure their return in order to use them according to its own tradition and cultural identity, the realization of which may eventually result in the disappearance of the relevant objects forever; second, and on the other hand, the right of the international community as a whole to retain the cultural heritage concerned for the benefit of the public in the general interest, so as to avoid that items representing an heritage of extraordinary value, which witness a stage of human history and represent a unique manifestation of cultural diversity, disappear forever. It is therefore necessary to draw a balance between the two interests at stake in order to try to ascertain which of the two can be considered as prevailing over the other in legal terms. This operation can result very difficult in practice and its results tend to be variable depending on the peculiar circumstances characterizing any specific situation. In the specific case of the Mokomokai, the decisive element is represented by the fact that they are an expression of death-related practices, which are usually essential elements of the cultural identity of a community. According to the relevant practice of human rights monitoring bodies, the rupture of these practices amounts to an intolerable breach of the fundamental rights of the members of the community concerned. The equation existing between death-related practices and human rights is even stronger in cases where it involves the dead person in a physical sense, as happens in the situation of the Mokomokai. In such cases, therefore, no consideration for the general interest of humanity to have access and to preserve cultural heritage may in principle be considered as interfering with the right of the persons and/or communities specifically concerned to have the relevant human remains returned.

Lenzerini, F. (2012). The Tension between Communities’ Cultural Rights and Global Interests: The Case of the Māori Mokomokai. In Cultural Heritage, Cultural Rights, Cultural Diversity. New Developments in International Law (pp. 157-177). Leiden-Boston : Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

The Tension between Communities’ Cultural Rights and Global Interests: The Case of the Māori Mokomokai

LENZERINI, FEDERICO
2012

Abstract

The Mokomokai, are mummified heads of high lineage Māori people decorated by traditional facial tattoos developed in Māori culture until about the mid-19th century, when their use began to disappear. The Moko celebrated rites of passage for people of chiefly rank, as well as important events in their lives. The Mokomokai are of special cultural significance for the Māori people. For this reason, in recent years many of the Māori heads disseminated in European and American museums, as well as in private collections, have been repatriated to New Zealand, some of which to be returned to their relatives for burial. The case of the Mokomokai is characterized by the existence of two diametrically opposed and irreconcilable interests, both safeguarded by international law: first, on the one hand, the right of the community specifically concerned to secure their return in order to use them according to its own tradition and cultural identity, the realization of which may eventually result in the disappearance of the relevant objects forever; second, and on the other hand, the right of the international community as a whole to retain the cultural heritage concerned for the benefit of the public in the general interest, so as to avoid that items representing an heritage of extraordinary value, which witness a stage of human history and represent a unique manifestation of cultural diversity, disappear forever. It is therefore necessary to draw a balance between the two interests at stake in order to try to ascertain which of the two can be considered as prevailing over the other in legal terms. This operation can result very difficult in practice and its results tend to be variable depending on the peculiar circumstances characterizing any specific situation. In the specific case of the Mokomokai, the decisive element is represented by the fact that they are an expression of death-related practices, which are usually essential elements of the cultural identity of a community. According to the relevant practice of human rights monitoring bodies, the rupture of these practices amounts to an intolerable breach of the fundamental rights of the members of the community concerned. The equation existing between death-related practices and human rights is even stronger in cases where it involves the dead person in a physical sense, as happens in the situation of the Mokomokai. In such cases, therefore, no consideration for the general interest of humanity to have access and to preserve cultural heritage may in principle be considered as interfering with the right of the persons and/or communities specifically concerned to have the relevant human remains returned.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11365/41826
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