An Indigenous Delegation From Easter Island Pleaded With The British Museum To Return An Ancestral Statue In A Moving Speech

Many of the world’s most famous museums hold art that was taken without permission. Now, the governor of Easter Island, off the coast of Chile, is asking the British Museum to return the statue of Hoa Hakananai’a.

The moai, or statue, was one of hundreds that used to dot the island. They represented tribal leaders and other ancestors who had been deified. Hoa Hakananai’a was stolen in 1868 by British Captain Richard Powell and given to Queen Victoria as a gift.

It is one of the island’s most sacred monoliths, and the British Museum has held it for 150 years.

The governor of Easter Island, Tarita Alarcón Rapu, stated:

“My grandma, who passed away at almost 90 years, she never got the chance to see her ancestor. I am almost half a century alive and this is my first time.”

Governor Rapu made her statement from the museum itself.

The British Museum has said that they would consider loaning the piece back to Easter Island.

Many felt that this didn’t go far enough.

Some debated the point.

Others argued that, while a moral argument for the item’s return has been made, Britain legally owns it.

But that was met with fierce pushback regarding artifacts western countries looted from their colonial outposts.

There have been landmark cases over the return of stolen art. One of the most famous was over the Gustav Klimt painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen during the Holocaust and housed in the Belvedere Museum in Austria until its repatriation to the family it belonged to in the United States. However, precedent for stolen artifacts from the colonial era is a bit murkier. Whether the British Museum decides to return the item remains to be seen, but would set a powerful precedent worldwide.

H/T: The Guardian, Twitter