The campaigners allege that the London moai as it is known locally was removed by explorers from the remote Chilean island in the 19th century and are urging the Chilean government to formally demand its return. Paula Rosetti, the producer of a new documentary film about the Easter Island statues, told Agence France-Presse that with the help of the film’s director, Leo Pakarati, she has collected over 500 signatures for a petition calling for the restitution of the statue.
The giant, 2.5 metre high, approximately 4 tonne statue statue known in the island’s native language as Hoa Haka Nana’ia (‘hidden or stolen friend’) is one of the best-loved objects on display at the British Museum, which is the world’s second most popular museum after the Louvre in Paris. Thought to have been sculpted in the 13th century, locals believe the London moai is inhabited by a spirit or ‘mana’, which protects the local tribes. In Rosetti’s documentary, it is said “one way to recover the mana to restore wellbeing to the island is to bring the spirit of the Moai Hoa Kaka Nana’ia back to its native land”.
One of 4000 objects thought to have been stolen from Easter Island and now held in museum collections internationally, the London moai joins a long list of artefacts at the centre of restitution campaigns targeting the British Museum. In July this year, MPs introduced a parliamentary bill providing for the transfer of ownership and return to Greece of the long-contested Elgin Marbles. The second reading of the bill in the House of Commons is scheduled for January 2017.