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Weather delays return of toi moko

Published: 8:18PM Thursday January 26, 2012 Source: ONE News

Bad weather has delayed the return of 20 toi moko from France to Te Papa today.

Waiata were already being performed when several hundred people gathered for the ceremony were told the plane carrying the preserved Maori warrior heads had been forced to return to Auckland, because of winds gusting up to 130km/h.

The ceremony has now been rescheduled for 7am tomorrow.

Flights leaving Wellington have been hampered today by the city's notorious wind.

A flight to Blenheim has been cancelled altogether, while the majority of other scheduled flights are delayed.

Flights into the city have also been impacted, with some having to turn back to their original city of take-off.

End to struggle

The toi moko had been held by French museums which have now handed them back to the national museum, Te Papa.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand presided over a handover ceremony this week at the Quai Branly museum in Paris where a team from Te Papa accepted the artefacts.

The New Zealand Embassy said it was the single largest group of Maori heads to be repatriated, and brings an end to a long struggle by Maori to bring home their dead and lay them to rest.

The toi moko have elaborate tattoos and were collected and traded by European explorers.

Around 320 toi moko have been returned to New Zealand from various countries since the 1980s. France long resisted handing over such cultural artefacts but a law passed in 2010 eventually paved the way for the return of the heads.

Tikanga expert Joe Harawira said they will be given special prominence at Te Papa.

"The toi moko, we hope to breathe life into them," he told ONE News. "They won't be sitting in boxes in the dark as they have been here."

The plane carrying the heads could not initially land in Wellington and after circling for some time it was diverted back to Auckland to refuel before returning to the capital.

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