Should the British Museum Keep the Moai?

Last week I shared a story about how the indigenous people of Easter Island have asked the British government to return one of the British Museum’s most viewed and treasured objects – the iconic stone moai statue called Hoa Hakananai’a.

This week I came across another article from Radio New Zealand about how the mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, of Rapa Nui has conceded that the British Museum might be a better home for the massive native Polynesian statue taken by British seamen 150 years ago.

Paoa said the island, also known as Easter Island, had a “thousand” of the Moai and lacked the means to maintain them. “Those thousand are falling apart because they are made of a volcanic stone. Because of the wind and the rain … we need global technology for their conservation,” he said. One statue returned from Argentina “four or five years ago” was now housed in a square where stray dogs urinated on it, the mayor said.

His comments will add weight to the argument of the British Museum to keep artifacts that originate from other nations in London, where they are carefully curated and popular exhibits with visitors from around the world.

Last month, a delegation of Chilean officials and Rapa Nui dignitaries including Paoa’s brother, the Rapa Nui Council of Elders president Carlos Edmunds Paoa, traveled to London to appeal for the return of the two metre-plus tall basalt figure, known as Hoa Hakananai’a, meaning lost or stolen friend.



The statue was among 900 statues or Moai, meaning ancestors, carved by islanders between 1100 and 1600 A.D. It was taken from the island, located 3990 km west of the Chilean capital Santiago, in 1868 by Richard Powell, the captain of HMS Topaze, and presented to Queen Victoria who later gave it to the British Museum.

Pedro Edmunds Paoa said there had been intense debate on the island about whether Hoa Hakananai’a should be returned or not. “Are we going to bring the ancestors back? Fantastic,” he said. “We are going to bring them back and we are going to place them where? That Moai is in a museum where six million people come each year to visit it.”

The mayor suggested that he would prefer a financial commitment from the British Museum to help in the preservation of all Rapa Nui monuments. “It would not be an economic agreement, it would be an agreement to help Rapa Nui in what needs to be done in Rapa Nui for conservation”, he said.




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