PARIS -- The French Ministry of Culture has stepped in to block the mayor of Rouen from returning the mummified head of a Maori warrior to New Zealand.
The ministry said the head is a work of art that belongs to France and returning it would jeopardize the status of other works of art in museums across the country, The New York Times reported Friday.
The mayor of Rouen had arranged to send the head back to New Zealand as an act of "atonement" for colonial era trafficking in human remains.
"This object reflects the barbaric trafficking in body parts, the belief that another race was inferior to ours," Deputy Mayor Catherine Morin-Desailly said. "It belongs to the heritage of humanity, not in storage, somewhere in a museum.
Maoris traditionally preserved the tattooed heads of their warriors to keep alive their memory. As contact with the outside world increased, Europeans began collecting Maori heads and other remains in exchange for weapons and other goods.
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