The governor of Easter Island begged the British Museum's officials to return one of its famous statues, saying: "Give us a chance so he can come back."
The four-ton statue, or "moai", is one of hundreds originally found on the island. Each of the figures was considered to represent tribal leaders or deified ancestors. Hoa Hakananai'a is one of the most spiritually important of the Chilean island's stone monoliths that was taken without permission in 1868 by the British frigate HMS Topaze, captained by Richard Powell, and given to Queen Victoria.
The Museum has held the Hoa Hakananai'a for 150 years. Governor Tarita Alarcón Rapu after the meeting for its repatriation, accompanied by Felipe Ward, Chile's national assets minister, in a very emotional moment said "We are just a body. You, the British people, have our soul". "I believe that my children and their children also deserve the opportunity to touch, see and learn from him," Rapu tearfully added.
The Rapa Nui people, who last year gained self-administration over their ancestral lands on Easter Island, have launched a campaign to recover what they consider as one of the most important statues of the nearly 900 scattered across the South Pacific island.
After the meeting, Felipe Ward said he was optimistic but cautioned that the campaign for the return of the statue would be a long one. "This is the first of many conversations we will have," he told reporters at the Museum. "We are looking forward to the next, and probably the second one will be in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where we invited the authorities of the museum."
It is the first time that the British Museum has agreed to hold talks about the statue. But on Tuesday the Museum was talking only of a loan, not the return, on the artefact.