Easter Island Wants Statues Back From British Museum.

Photo credit: British Museum. Hoa Hakananai'a in Room 24, as part of the 'Living and Dying' exhibition.
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Social media users in Chile have been campaigning online to get an Easter Island statue back from the British museum, which was taken in the nineteenth century.

The museum has two moai statues which were taken from the Chilean territory of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, in 1868.

Moai are megalithic statues often placed upon ahu (ceremonial platforms). They are said to be the aringa ora, the living faces of the ancestors.

The online campaign began after an influencer encouraged his followers to “spam” the museum’s Instagram posts with “return the moai” comments.

The British Museum said it deactivated comments on one social media post.

The island of Rapa Nui, located some 2,300 miles (3,700 km) from Chile’s Pacific coast, is well renowned for its moai statues, which are said to embody the spirit of a prominent ancestor.

Dating back to between 1400 and 1650 AD, many remain on the island to this day, but several have been transferred to museums around the world – including the Hoa Hakananai’a in the British Museum’s collection.

n 1868, the crew of a British survey ship, HMS Topaze, visited Rapa Nui.

The crew was led to the location of Moai Hava at Mataveri, and collected this first moai on 2 November 1868. Soon after, Hoa Hakananai’a was discovered in the house at Orongo by two crew members searching the village. Commodore Richard Powell decided to unearth this second moai, with the intent of bringing them both to Britain.

The stone house was dismantled, and Hoa Hakananai’a transported on a sledge to shore. A Rapanui man, known as Tepano, subsequently recalled that the crew, followed by a Rapanui chief, dragged Hoa Hakananai’a down to the beach, before floating it out to the ship on a raft. Later, he had the scene tattooed on his arm.

Upon the return of HMS Topaze to England in 1869, Hoa Hakananai’a was offered to Queen Victoria by the Admiralty, which had been made aware of his existence by Commodore Powell. Queen Victoria subsequently donated Hoa Hakananai’a to the British Museum.

On 6 October 1869, the arrival of the statue at the Museum was officially reported to the Trustees, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the complex history of Hoa Hakananai’a. With him was also Moai Hava, who was donated directly to the Museum by the Admiralty.

The statue, along with a second, smaller moai known as Hava, were given as gifts to Queen Victoria in 1869 by the captain of HMS Topaze, Commodore Richard Powell. The Queen donated the two statues to the British Museum.

 

There have long been calls to return the Hoa Hakananai’a, or “Stolen Friend”, to Rapa Nui.

The renewed campaign by Chilean social media influencer Mike Milfort saw many of his followers demand its repatriation in the comments section of several of the museum’s Instagram posts.

Mr Milfort regularly speaks about the moai in his viral videos.

“My followers began spamming ‘return the moai’ on Wikipedia, and then the comments section of the British Museum Instagram was full of people posting ‘return the moai’,” he said in one recent clip.

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric has also backed the sentiment behind the social media campaign in a recent radio interview.

The British Museum says it deactivated comments on one post, which had been shared in collaboration with a youth charity.

A spokesperson said the museum welcomed debate but it had to be “balanced against the need for safeguarding considerations, especially where young people are concerned”.

The museum says it has good and open relations with colleagues in Rapa Nui and there have been several visits from the community to London since 2018.

Last year, Greece’s prime minister called for the Parthenon Sculptures – or Elgin Marbles – to be returned from the museum.

The sculptures are one of the most high-profile artefacts in the debate about whether museums across the world should return items to their countries of origin.

Another case in point are the Elgin Marbles, carved reliefs that were bought in the nineteenth century and transported to London from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Sources: BBC, British Museum.
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