Chilean islanders want basalt-man home after prolonged London sojourn

‘Moai’ stand to attention on ‘Rapa Nui,’ or Easter Island, Chile. One of Moai has been a longtime resident of the British Museum, but now, the islanders want him back. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 August 2018
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Chilean islanders want basalt-man home after prolonged London sojourn

  • Sculpture was allegedly pilfered illegally by Richard Powell aboard the Topaze and given to Queen Victoria as a gift
  • The Hoa Hakananai’a, which means the stolen or hidden friend in the island’s indigenous Rapa Nui language, is unique as it was made from basalt

SANTIAGO: Easter Island’s indigenous authorities have asked Chile’s government to help them recover a unique monumental Moai statue removed 150 years ago and now kept in the British Museum in London.
The 2.4-meter (seven feet) tall Hoa Hakananai’a sculpture was allegedly pilfered illegally by Richard Powell aboard the “Topaze” and given to Queen Victoria as a gift.
“It’s a unique piece, the only tangible link that accounts for two important stages in our ancestral history,” the island’s Rapa Nui authorities said on Tuesday.
Of the more than 900 giant humanoid sculptures on the island, most were carved from volcanic ash between the sixth and 17th centuries, but the Hoa Hakananai’a, which means “the stolen or hidden friend” in the island’s indigenous Rapa Nui language, is unique as it was made from basalt.
Figures associated with the Tangata Manu (bird man) cult were carved on its back.

This request “seems appropriate given the new coordination and conservation functions being carried out on the island with regards the Moai,” Chile’s National Treasures Minister Felipe Ward told AFP.
Since December, the indigenous Rapa Nui have taken over the conservation, preservation and management of their archaeological heritage.
And part of that involves the attempted recovery of priceless artefacts they say were illegally taken, including another Moai residing in the Quai Branly museum in Paris.
The Rapa Nui believe that the “mana” spiritual force that protects the tribe and is attributed to chiefs and community leaders, resides in Moai and other sacred objects.
Recovering stolen statues would also be “an important symbol in closing the sad chapter of violation of our rights by European navigators” that visited the island in the 19th century, local leaders said.
Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site lying around 3,700-kilometers (2,000 miles) from the coast of mainland Chile, and whose original inhabitants are a Polynesian people closely related to those in Tahiti.
The Pacific Ocean island was first recorded by European navigators in 1722 and visited several times, including by Briton James Cook, before it was annexed by Chile in 1888.
By then, much of its population had been decimated by European diseases such as smallpox, or carted off into slavery.
Chile recently announced measures to limit the time tourists can stay on the island and the number of non-Rapa Nui mainlanders allowed to settle there.


Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

Updated 21 January 2019
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Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

  • Al-Gailani was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage
  • After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday mourned the loss of Lamia Al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage.
Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials on Monday gathered at Baghdad’s National Museum, the country’s leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.
A devotee of her country’s heritage, Al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.
“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, Noorah Al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.
“It is a big loss, the passing of Dr. Lamia Al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003,” said the deputy minister of culture, Qais Hussein Rashid.
The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of Al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.
Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum’s collection, and Al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country’s rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam’s ouster.
“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Daesh militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the UN sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim Al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan Al-Abeed, the museum director.
“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said Al-Abeed.