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News > Chile

Easter Island Mayor Says Doesn't Want 'Bird Man' Back

  • "Moai" statues on Easter Island, Oct. 31, 2003. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 December 2018

Contradicting months of work by the Easter Island Elder Council the island's mayor says he doesn't want the British Museum to return the ancient statue. 

The mayor of Rapa Nui, Easter Island, is rethinking the island’s effort to bring back a sacred Polynesian statue taken by British sailors 150 years ago.

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Pedro Edmunds Paoa said Easter Island had a “thousand” of its iconic statues, or Moai, that are “buried, ignored and discarded” which the Chilean island “lacked the means to maintain.”

The mayor added: “We need global technology for their conservation.” He said to reporters on Monda that Moai returned to the island from Argentina “four or five years ago” are now housed in a public square is now "a pillar for stray dogs."

Contradicting the Council Elders of the island, Paoa who has been mayor for 20 years, says it’s better to receive heritage money from the British Museum of London where the statue now sits rather than repatriating it to its home island.

Since at least July the elders have been working with Chile’s Ministry of Heritage and the British Museum in order to recover the priceless artifact measures over two meters in height back to the island.

Last month a delegation of Chilean officials and Easter Island dignitaries including Paoa’s brother, Council Elders President Carlos Edmunds Paoa, traveled to London to appeal for the return of the nearly 1,000 year old volcanic rock figure with an image of what is known as Bird Man, a pivotal part of the island's religious lore. There are about 900 statues, or “Moai.”

The Bird Man was taken from the island, located 3,990 km off Chile’s coast in 1868 by Captain Richard Powell and presented it to Queen Victoria who later gifted it to the British Museum.

The mayor admits there has been heated debate on the island about whether the statue should be returned or not.

“Are we going to bring the ancestors back? Fantastic,” he told reports Monday. “We are going to bring them back and we are going to place them where?

“That Moai is in a museum where six million people come each year to visit it,” referring to the number of visitors at the London museum.

He suggested that he would prefer a financial commitment from the British Museum to help in the preservation of all Rapa Nui monuments.

“It would not be an economic agreement, it would be an agreement to help Rapa Nui in what needs to be done in Rapa Nui for conservation,” said the mayor.

The British Museum was not immediately available to provide a comment to Reuters and Chile’s Ministry of Heritage declined to comment.

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