Rapa Nui Moai at the British Museum – London


There were so many tiki bars in London, and alas not enough time for us to visit them all. We did have to fit in some legitimate sightseeing here and there! Coincidentally, the British Museum happens to have some South Pacific artifacts along with the very impressive Egyptian collection, Parthenon frieze and Rosetta Stone.


Their Rapa Nui Moai (Easter Island statue) is quite a sight. This handsome fellow is named Hoa Hakananai’a (roughly translated as “Stolen or hidden friend”) and is dated around 1400. About a thousand moai were made on Rapa Nui, but apparently this is only one of 16 that was carved from basalt.


What’s really compelling about this one though are the unexpected carvings on the back, which are Birdman symbols that were added after the moai was moved to ‘Orongo. It was brought to England in 1869 by the HMS Topaze, and Queen Victoria gifted it to the museum (presumably because it clashed with the Buckingham Palace curtains).


It’s part of the “Living and Dying” permanent exhibition that’s been in the Wellcome Trust Gallery since 2003. There are also objects from Africa, North and South America, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, like this carved wooden post from the 1830s-1850s. If you look closely you can see the rauponga pattern—the notched “V”s are supposed to resemble the namesake fern frond.


I was also intrigued by this housepost (circa 1900-1950 from the Sepik River region in Papua New Guinea) with its long face and mysterious animal. (Crocodile? Platypus?)


The British Museum also has a Hawaiian Ku (see info on Critiki) in their Oceania collection but from what I can tell it doesn’t seem to be on display at the moment. (Last summer it was sent to the Bishop Museum in Hawaii for a special reunion exhibition.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s