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The Coming of the Maori

Preserved Tattooed Heads

Preserved Tattooed Heads

The custom of embalming the complete body of a chiefly corpse was observed in the Society Islands, Marquesas, and Mangareva. In Hawaii, some corpses were disembowelled and salt put into the abdominal cavity. No reliable evidence is available from the Cook Islands. The Maori practice of preserving the head (pakipaki) does not appear to be a partial survival but rather an independent development due to reasonable causes.

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One was that important chiefs who died or were killed on a campaign in enemy country had only the head preserved because it was impossible to take home the whole body over a long distance. The preserved head in lieu of the body was wept over by the widow and the tribe. The second cause was to bring back the head of a detested enemy chief mat he might be insulted and reviled in death by the widows and orphans he had created in life. As the heads of bom friend and foe worth preserving were those of chiefs, it followed mat the preserved heads were well tattooed.

The Maori technique of preserving consisted of removing the eyes and tongue, extracting the brain by enlarging the foramen magnum at the base of the cranium, stretching and stitching the skin of the neck to a small supplejack hoop, steaming the leaf-wrapped head in an earth oven, and smoke drying it. That the method of preserving was effective is shown by the number in museums being still in a good state of preservation.