Summary in English of the speech by Frederic Mitterrand

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Summary in English of the speech by French Minister of Culture
Frederic Mitterrand on the occasion of the Repatriation Ceremony at
Quai Branly Museum, January 23rd 2012.
M. Mitterand began his speech with a quotation from a book by Victor
Selagen, a doctor with the French Marines at the beginning of the twentieth
century. Selagen wrote the book after a journey to Tahiti. In it, “he talks
about another world, both near and distant by thousands of kilometres, the
world of the Maori from Tahiti, your cousins”. Selagen noticed during his
journey in the South Pacific the cultural links maintained with memory,
ancestors, and genealogy. These links exist in all cultures, but have an
exceptional dimension for the Māori people, which M. Mitterand said was
evidenced by the handover ceremony.
M. Mitterand talked about the specific context of acquisition by France, and
the long and complex history of the ‘unknown faces’ (Toi moko). He
mentioned briefly the historical background, including reference to Dumont
D’Urville, the process of preservation, and the 1831 law prohibiting trade of
Māori ancestral remains.
He mentioned the reflection in New Zealand on the phenomenon experienced
by Māori people as a consequence of urbanisation, which includes loss of
cultural references. He suggested there was an echo of this in Europe with
Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff, adapted for film by Lee Tamahori, which
emphasised the Māori experience in an urban environment.
M. Mitterand proposed opening the cultural collaboration between France and
New Zealand beyond the sectors of literature, cinema and theatre, referring
particularly to a show presented in November 2011 – “Tempest Without a
Body” by Lemi Ponifasio.
He acknowledged the French Parliament, and particularly the Senator
Catherine Morin Desailly, who began the original legislative procedure, and
also Philippe Richert and Colette le Moal, who presented their report to the
Senate and the French Assembly.
M. Mitterand mentioned that a law is seldom voted unanimously, but that it
was the case for the law enabling repatriation of Toi moko to New Zealand,
which passed on May 18th 2010. This law permitted the repatriation of 20 Toi
moko which were held in French collections. They were returned to Te Papa
Museum, the institution mandated by the New Zealand government to
facilitate the repatriation of Māori and Moriori human remains. The Toi moko
will no longer be considered as collection objects, and will be preserved in a
sacred place.
The repatriation of these Toi moko demonstrates that France and New
Zealand are participating in a shared intercultural dialogue.
M. Mitterand acknowledged all the institutions throughout France which
guaranteed the success of this repatriation process:
The National and Territorial Museums – Quai Branly; National Natural History
Museum (Paris); National Maritime Museum; Museum of Nantes; Museum of
Lille; Fine Arts Museum of Dunkerque; Musee des Confluences of Lyon;
Museum of Sens; African, Oceanians and Amerinidians Museum of Marseille;
and the University of Montpellier.
Amongst these institutions, M. Mitterrand wanted to acknowledge particularly
the National Natural History Museum, which holds one of the most important
scientific collections of Anthropologic Biology in the world.
All the people who worked on the legislative, diplomatic and scientific
procedure behind the repatriation contributed to the history of the Māori
people, and the understanding of maritime migrations in the South Pacific.
This was especially helped by DNA research, led by the Scientific Research
Services of the National Natural History Museum, in collaboration with New
Zealanders and the Medical Examiner Philippe Charlier.
The newly created National Scientific Commission, which was established at
the same time as the law passed on May 18th 2010, will be responsible for the
procedures of decommissioning the Toi moko.
In a few years, M. Mitterand said, Quai Branly has become one of the most
important ethnographic institutions.
Colonial History might explain the modest quantity of New Zealand items held
at Quai Branly, which includes some Māori cloacks and Jade tiki within the
Africans and Oceanians Museum. However, Quai Branly has developed a
remarkable cooperation with Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand,
especially with the exhibition ‘E Tu Ake: Māori Standing Strong’ which has just
closed. This exhibition let the French public discover the Māori culture, which
is marked by a desire to retain control of their future. For three months, the
stories, dances and Māori art of tattooing were told at Quai Branly.
The accomplishment of this shared venture gave occasion to reinforce the
professional links between New Zealand and French institutions, and to
develop our cultural and scientific cooperation. Indeed, we are not just “linked
by the game”, the title of the monumental All Blacks photography given to
Quai Branly in 2006.
Today, France is proud to join 14 other countries that have similarly
repatriated Māori ancestral remains together with the New Zealand
government and the Māori people. In giving back these Toi moko, we wish to
honour a memory, and a process that has universal scope.
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