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    A view of "Moai" statues in Rano Raraku volcano, on Easter Island, Chile on October 31, 2003. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 August 2018
Opinion

Members of the Rapa Nui people are calling on the British government to return a sacred moai monument it stole from the Chilean island 150 years ago.

The British government has agreed to start talks with Chileans on Easter Island to potentially return a moai, an ancient and sacred rock carving, that the British Navy stole from the island 150 years ago to give to Queen Victoria.

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Five representatives from the island's Rapa Nui tribe penned a letter addressed to the British government asking to begin a dialogue with their officials for the return of the important monument that has been on display at the British Museum in London since 1869, donated by the Queen a year after she first received it in 1868.

Locals on the island want the massive ritual rock, considered by many to be one of the most important pieces in Rapa Nui culture being that its back showcases the history of the island, as well as images related to Bird Man, needs to return to their home island located 3,800 km off of Chile's mainland.

This particular moai, known as Hoa Hakananai’a, or 'lost friend', was taken from Orongo, a ceremonial place on Easter Island where rituals in honor of Bird Man, a pivotal part of the island's religious lore, were performed.

The return of the carved rock is “an important symbol to close the sad chapter of the violation of our rights by European navigators who devastated the island in the XIX century,” say the Rapa Nui.

Previously, the UK rejected giving back the monument saying it was unsure the country could properly look after the religious figure in that many on the island had previously fallen over.

“The circumstances have changed and we hope that there's a possibility to discuss (the stone's return to Chile) with the museum and the British government”, Chile's ministry of national assets, Felipe Ward said on Monday.

According to the Rapa Nui official, Mata-U’iroa Atan, there are 12 moai figures outside of Easter Island, mostly in Europe. There is another in the UK, but its location is uncertain.

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