Heritage Treasures: The Moai

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Heritage is the culture we value rather than what we own

The Moai are monolithic human figures carved from tuff, solidified volcanic ash, by the Rapa Nui people between the years 1250 and 1500. They are found on Easter Island in the South Eastern Pacific, the world’s most remote inhabited island.

The statues were symbols of religious and political authority and power, representing former tribal chiefs. To the Rapa Nui people, the Moai are also believed to be the actual repositories of sacred spirits, and the embodiment of their ancient ancestors. They have recently launched a campaign to recover what they consider as one of the most important statues, ‘Hoa Hakananai’a’, taken without permission over 150 years ago.

The statue was removed and presented by the Royal Navy to Queen Victoria in 1868, who donated it to the British Museum, where it is currently displayed. The name ‘Hoa Hakananai’a’ means “lost or stolen friend”.

Image: The ‘Hoa Hakananai’a’ statue displayed in the British Museum’s Great Court.