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Why the British museum must return Moai to Easter Island


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Time and time again, Britain and other Western countries have stolen the cultural heritage of indigenous people and former colonies, while failing to take responsibility for their actions. It is time for us to return what does not belong to us and to apologise for the appalling intrusions of our ancestors.

The British Museum has the responsibility to not only return the Moai statue to the people of Rapa Nui, but every single artefact to its homeland. As a public body, the museum claims to hold work representative of world cultures ‘for the benefit and education of humanity.’ But how is this institution educating 6 million people every year on world cultures, while failing to protect the rights of these cultures?

The only way the British Museum can redeem itself is to return Moai to its original home. A failure to do so goes beyond stripping this community from its cultural heritage; it symbolises an offence to the spirituality and identity of all indigenous people.

Image Credit: Flickr- Jay Galvin

As the governor of Easter Island stated last week in a press conference outside the museum, the Rapa Nui Islanders “are just a body.You, the British people, have our soul.”

The Moai statue was unlawfully take in 1868 by the British frigate HMS Topaze, captained by Richard Powell, and given to Queen Victoria. The 2.5-metre basalt statue has been held at the British Museum ever since and is now the subject of thousands of tourist selfies.


For the indigenous Rap Nui islanders, Moai’s importance is substantially larger than its importance to British culture. The indigenous community believes that Moai statues carry the living incarnation of relatives and the spirit of prominent ancestors and thus it should be returned. Anakena Manutomatoma, who serves on the island’s development commission, told the Guardian that the ‘moai are our family, not just rock. For us, [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction.’


Moai is a reflection of Britain’s colonial past - something that we must stop glamorising and embracing. This involves replacing colonial narrative present within museums, including the British Museum, as well as permanently returning all stolen artefacts to their homes. There is no other way to ask for forgiveness from the rest of the world.


The reality is that even if the Western would returned all stolen artefacts to their original home, the atrocious effects of colonisation could never be undone. However, it’s step in the right direction and our only fair option as members of society.


The British Museum has suggested the statue could potentially be loaned to the islands, a slap in the face to the family of Moai. It is highly unlikely that the statue will be permanently returned to its home, devastating an entire population and reflecting badly on the colonial ideals Britain still finds itself trapped within.

Please sign this petition to call on the British Museum to return the statue immediately to its rightful owners.

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