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Easter Island delegation in London to demand return of sculpture taken in 1868

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It has been in the British Museum for 150 years, but now a delegation from Easter Island are in London to ask for the return of a seven-foot tall basalt sculpture, which they say is a key part of their ancestral history.

The statue is known as Hoa Hakananai’a, which means “the stolen or hidden friend” in the Rapa Nui language.

It is believed to date from around 1200 AD and is currently the focal point of the entrance to the museum’s free-to-view Wellcome Gallery.

Hoa Hakananai’a was removed from the island by Commodore Richard Powell, the captain of HMS Topaze, in 1868 and given as a gift to Queen Victoria, who then donated it to the museum in 1869.

It is one of more than 900 giant Moai sculptures on Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, most carved from volcanic ash between the sixth and seventeenth centuries and believed to carry the spirits of important ancestors.

The island itself, 2000 miles off the coast of Chile, is a special Chilean territory and officially known as Rapa Nui.

Last December, the indigenous Rapa Nui people took over the task of conserving, preserving and managing their archaeological heritage, and Chilean law holds that the statues are not objects but an integral part of the land itself.

The delegation, which is in London for two days to meet British Museum officials, is led by Chile’s Minister for National Property, Felipe Ward.

Chile’s indigenous development agency, Conadi, which oversees the government’s relations with nine indigenous peoples including the Rapa Nui, is helping to fund the trip.

There are other Moai statues currently held in museums in France, the US and New Zealand.

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