Moai Tau statue returns to Rapa Nui after 150 years

RAPA NUI – After having been part of the Santiago natural history museum’s permanent exhibition since 1870, a Moai Tau statue arrived back to Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The statue is now exhibited in the local Padre Sebastián Englert anthropological museum. The return is part of the Chilean government’s heritage restitution plan.

Chile has sent a 715kg, century-old Moai Tau statue back to its place of origin, Rapa Nui. The stone statue representing a gigantic head was transported from Santiago to Valparaíso and via boat to Hanga Piko port on Monday, where traditional Polynesian canoers greeted its return. The statue was then escorted to the local anthropological museum (Mapse). When the statue arrived at Hanga Piko port, locals performed a traditional Umu Hatu ceremony to bless its return.

For the indigenous population, the statue represents an ancestral incarnation. Moai are large head-shaped stone carvings, made ‌of tuff, basalt or scoria. They have become symbolic of Rapa Nui culture and history and are known for their imposing appearance.

Heritage restitution

The restitution of the Moai Tau is part of the cultural restitution plan, under which artifacts that were stolen by the conquistadors and colonizers are being returned to their rightful owners. Consuelo Valdés, Chile’s outgoing culture minister, tweeted “what is important is the message of respect and commitment the state is sending in regards to the heritage of indigenous peoples.” She also said the return resulted from collaboration between state and Rapa Nui community leaders.

In recent years, similar moves have become more common worldwide, as some governments appear to reckon with colonial sins. Studies show that Chile is still lacking meaningful legislation in this regard, however.


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