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‘Temples to colonial theft’: Western museums should return looted artifacts to where they belong

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Last week, responding to an emotional plea from the governor of Easter Island, the museum generously announced that it would consider “loaning” an 800-year-old statue back to the territory, which is now part of Chile.

The Hoa Hakananai’a was stolen — or “taken without permission” as The Guardian more delicately put it — in 1868 by the British HMS ‘Topaze’ and delivered to Queen Victoria. The museum itself uses even more sanitized language. Its online information page about the statue explains that it was “collected” during the frigate’s expedition to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and was “gifted” by the Queen to the museum a year later.

“This statue would have originally stood on a specially built platform on the sacred site of Orongo,” the museum explains. “It would have stood with giant stone companions, their backs to the sea, keeping watch over the island.”

The reason it doesn’t still serve this purpose, is because the museum refuses to give it back. The 2.4-meter statue has no cultural or emotional significance to British people. To the Rapa Nui people, on the other hand, the Hoa Hakananai’a is extremely culturally and spiritually significant.

“We are just a body. You, the British people, have our soul,” Governor Tarita Alarcon Rapu said through tears during a visit to the museum last week. “You have kept him for 150 years. Just give us some months and we can have it there.”

The Hoa Hakananai’a is just one example of many when it comes to spoils of the British Empire which sit permanently in UK exhibitions. The museum has also refused to return the Rosetta Stone, something the head of Egypt’s new national museum recently called for, and the Parthenon Marbles. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently raised the issue with........

© RT.com