For Easter Island Head, a 'Profoundly Significant' Move

Moai held at Chile's national museum since 1878 to rejoin the Rapa Nui on Easter Island
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2022 12:32 PM CST
150 Years Later, Easter Island Head Is Heading Home
An Indigenous woman from Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, looks at the moai inside Chile's National Museum of Natural History during a ceremony in Santiago on Monday.   (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

A century and a half after it was removed from Easter Island, a giant moai is about to head home. The 1,500-pound moai statue housed at Chile's National Museum of Natural History since 1878 will next week begin a five-day journey back to Easter Island, a Chilean territory, concluding a yearslong repatriation campaign. The Indigenous Rapa Nui have been fighting for years to retrieve moai—sometimes called Easter Island heads—taken from the Pacific island, including one housed at the British Museum since 1869. This monolith, one of hundreds carved centuries ago in honor of the Rapa Nui's ancestors, was taken by the Chilean navy in 1870, then deposited at the museum in 1878, per AFP.

"For the first time, a moai will return to the island from the mainland," Minister of Culture Consuelo Valdes said, per Reuters. The return "is profoundly significant as a gesture towards our Indigenous peoples," added museum curator Cristian Becker, per AFP. A museum statement noted that "for the Rapa Nui, their ancestors, funerary objects, and ceremonial materials may be as alive as members of their communities themselves." Rapa Nui community members on Monday held a traditional ceremony to honor the statue at the national museum in Santiago, which still holds two smaller moai, ahead of the departure in a week's time. It had been delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is essential that the moai return to my homeland," said Rapa Nui rep Veronica Tuqui. "For [the community] and for me, this day is very much awaited." The moai is to be taken by truck to the port city of Valparaiso, then loaded onto a boat for a five-day journey covering some 2,300 miles, per AFP and Reuters. It will then be kept at the Padre Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. Talks on the return of the British Museum's Hoa Hakananai'a continue. So far, the museum hasn't given any indication that it will hand over the moai, but it says it's working "to develop mutually beneficial projects with artists, scholars, and other community members in Rapa Nui." (More Easter Island stories.)

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