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Maori Warrior’s Head To Be Returned To New Zealand For Burial

July 6, 1988 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ A preserved and tatooed head of a Maori warrior that was withdrawn from a London auction after protests will be returned to New Zealand for burial, the tribal rights group Survival International says.

The British woman who wanted to sell the full-size head of the native New Zealander at a Bonham’s auction in May will receive a hand-carved Maori club in exchange, the auctioneers said Tuesday.

The head, believed to have been preserved in the early 1800s and brought to Britain soon after, had been expected to sell for up to $7,000 at the auction of tribal art.

It was withdrawn following complaints and threatened court action from the New Zealand Maori Council and Survival International.

Sir Graham Latimer, chairman of the Maori council, said he will take the head back to New Zealand next week.

He said Nancy Weller-Poley of East Anglia would be given the club as a ″token″ in appreciation of her decision to return the head, which has been in her family for 150 years.

The head, complete with a full mane of hair, dark brown concentric circles of tatoos, its original teeth and glass eyes added by a Victorian taxidermist, is mounted on a platter.

″We are absolutely delighted with this dignified and happy solution for the Maoris,″ said a spokeswoman for Bonham’s, which negotiated the deal.

Robin Hanbury-Tension, president of Survival International, said he hoped the agreement would discourage ″this sordid and immoral trade in human remains - a trade which is deeply offensive to the affected tribal communities and which makes a mockery of our own claims to membership of a civilized society.″

But the Bonham’s spokeswoman, speaking anonymously in keeping with British custom, said there is a risk owners will now sell such items under the counter rather than risk public criticism.

″They will be pushed underground and nobody will ever find out that they are on the market,″ she said.

Survival International said preserving heads was common among the Maori until the practice was outlawed in the 1820s.

Mrs. Weller-Poley, asked whether she was satisfied with the offer of the hand-carved club, said: ″I wouldn’t have put the head up for sale if I hadn’t wanted the money. But you have to take these things as they come, don’t you?″