It's been called one of the British Museum's must-see marvels. But Hoa Hakananai'a won't remain there, if Easter Island's indigenous people get their way. The 7-foot-tall moai statue housed in London since it was taken 150 years ago from what's now a Chilean territory is "the only tangible link that accounts for two important stages in our ancestral history," Rapa Nui leaders said Tuesday, calling on Chile's government to help in recovering it, reports AFP. According to Felipe Ward, Chile's national treasures minister, the request "seems appropriate" given that the Rapa Nui in December took over conservation of their archaeological past, including the more than 900 human figures carved mostly from volcanic ash from the sixth century to the 17th century. Hoa Hakananai'a, meaning "stolen or hidden friend," was uniquely carved from basalt.
"It is widely considered one of the finest examples still intact today," with an "extraordinarily expressive" face, as well as symbols of the "bird man" religion once practiced there on its back, per the Evening Standard. Taken from the Pacific island 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast in 1868 by British Navy Commodore Richard Powell, Hoa Hakananai'a was presented to Queen Victoria, who donated it to the British Museum in 1869. Believing a protective spiritual force inhabits the moai, the Rapa Nui describe the statue as stolen, though the UK rejected a previous request to return it based on concerns about its care, reports Telesur. Ward says "the circumstances have changed" since then, while Rapa Nui leaders say the statue's recovery, and that of another moai kept in Paris, would help close "the sad chapter of violation of our rights by European navigators." (Read more Easter Island stories.)