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Easter Island's Faux Offer To Get Its Moai Monuments Back

The people of Rapa Nui (better known as Easter Island) have a proposal: return their pilfered sculptures, and get a hand-crafted replica replacement.

Ancient moai sculptures such as these will hopefully be returned to Easter Island in a swap
Ancient moai sculptures such as these will hopefully be returned to Easter Island in a swap
Benjamin Witte

Listen up London! And Buenos Aires, and Washington DC, and all of the other cities around the globe that somehow or another acquired one of Easter Island"s mysterious moai sculptures: it's time to give them back.

But don't worry. The people of Rapa Nui, as the remote Polynesian island is also known, are willing to offer something in exchange: a handmade replacement model, the independent Chilean news site El Mostrador reports.

"Wherever they return a moai, we'll leave another made by our artists," said Camilo Rapu, a Rapa Nui community leader. "We're interested in promoting our culture while at the same time recovering our patrimonial treasures."

Easter Islanders are in the process of making just such a swap in La Serena, a mid-sized city along the coast of Chile, which annexed Rapa Nui in 1888.

In recent days, a group of islander artisans put the finishing touches on a gleaming-white, 3.1-meter tall replica to be left in La Serena in exchange for a centuries-old moai that has stood in the city's Museum of Archeology since the 1950s.

In a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the "Cielo Blanco" (White Sky), as the new moai is called, the mayor of La Serena, Roberto Jacob, promised to return the much (much) older monument, albeit at a yet-to-be-specified date. Easter Island's original moai sculptures are thought to have been carved between 1250 and 1500.

One way or another, the moai will be returned.

"It could be tomorrow, or the day after, or a month from now, but I can assure you that one way or another, the moai will be returned," he was quoted as saying in the local newspaper La Región de Coquimbo.

The Chilean cities of Santiago and Viña del Mar also have original moais, as do New York, Brussels, Paris and New Zealand. In many cases, Chilean authorities offered the monuments as "gifts."

The recent "Cielo Blanco" ceremony in La Serena came less than three months after a delegation of Rapa Nui representatives traveled to London, England to lobby for the return of another ancient moai. Known as Hoa Hakananai'a, the more than two-meter tall basalt statue has been in the British Musuem for more than a century and a half.

"We all came here, but we are just the body — England people have our soul," Rapa Nui governor Tarita Alarcón Rapu told reporters. "It is the right time to maybe send us back (the statue) for a while, so our sons can see it as I can see it."

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Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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