Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - British visit Easter Island to discuss returning monolith

British visit Easter Island to discuss returning monolith

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An ancestor figure ‘moai’ known as Hoa Hakananai’a stands at the entrance to the Wellcome gallery in the British Museum in London last year. afp

British visit Easter Island to discuss returning monolith

A team from the British Museum arrived on Tuesday on Easter Island to meet with local Polynesian people seeking the return from London of one of the most spiritually important of the Chilean island’s stone monoliths.

Gaye Sculthorpe, curator of the museum’s Oceania section, and Lissant Bolton, an anthropologist specialising in the Pacific region, travelled to the South Pacific island 3,700km from the coast of Chile.

Its greatest tourist attraction are statues known as moai, which were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

The British Museum has held one of them, called the Hoa Hakananai’a, for 150 years.

The indigenous Rapa Nui people are now demanding its return, and have been in talks with the museum since last year.

For them, the statue contains the spirit of their people. The monolith stands 2.4m tall and weighs four tonnes.

Hoa Hakananai’a was taken without permission in 1868 by the British frigate HMS Topaze, captained by Richard Powell, and given to Queen Victoria.

The British Museum has faced numerous claims to return artifacts to the countries they originate from, including the Elgin Marbles to Greece and the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.

The Rapa Nui people, who in 2017 gained self-administration over their ancestral lands on Easter Island, have launched a campaign to recover what they consider one of the most important statues of the nearly 900 scattered across the island.

With its scowling eyes, straight-lined mouth and paunchy profile, the monolith stands at the entrance to a gallery in the British Museum.

The moai is distinguished by carvings on the back depicting the island’s birdman cult and other ceremonial aspects of Easter Island’s enigmatic past.

The Rapa Nui believe it brought peace to the island around the year 1000, ending inter-tribal wars.

Bolton said the team had travelled to the island at local leaders’ invitation, wanted to hear what they had to say and were eager to learn more about their culture, according to a statement from Chile’s Ministry of National Assets.

A team of elders from the island and Chilean officials travelled to London in November, and proposed to the British Museum the idea of giving it a copy of the monolith in exchange for the original.

A fibre-based replica of the British Museum monolith, made in the US, is now being used as a model to make a copy in local stone by craftsmen in Chile.

Another idea under consideration is for the museum to make a long-term or even permanent loan of the statue to the island. But no deal has been reached.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this