Tue, Oct 23, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Easter Islanders seek statue swap with museum in UK

AFP, SANTIAGO

For 150 years, the British Museum has housed one of the iconic, heavy-browed stone figures that Chile’s Easter Island is famous for. Now the island is hoping to get it back.

They plan to build a copy of the 4 tonne monolith and, potentially, swap it for the real thing.

The statue, known as a moai and named the Hoa Hakananai’a, is one of hundreds originally found on the island. Carved by Polynesian colonizers somewhere between the 13th and 16th centuries, each of the big-headed figures was considered to represent tribal leaders or deified ancestors.

About a dozen have been removed from the island over the years. Now Camilo Rapu, president of the island’s Ma’u Henua community, said it is time Hoa Hakananai’a was returned.

The Ma’u Henua community, with support from the Chilean government, in August launched a campaign to persuade the British Museum and Queen Elizabeth II to return the moai in exchange for an exact replica to be carved on Easter Island.

“Our expert carvers will make a copy in basalt, the original stone used in the Hakananai’a moai, as an offering to Queen Elizabeth in exchange for the original,” Rapu told reporters in Santiago.

The Ma’u Henua has signed an agreement with the Bishop Museum — Hawaii’s largest museum, which has a huge collection of Polynesian artifacts — to produce a polycarbonate copy of the Hakananai’a, to be ready by Nov. 3.

The actual carving of the statue is to take place on Easter Island, using the 1,000-year-old techniques of the Rapa Nui people combined with some modern technology to allow the job to be completed in seven months.

On Nov. 23, a committee of Easter Islanders and Chilean officials plans to travel to London in hopes of negotiating its return.

“This is a historic demand of the Rapa Nui people,” Rapu said, referring to Easter Island’s Aboriginal settlers.

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