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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
April 2006  

Citizen's recovery

May is Chile's Month of the Sea, and on May the 1st, a ship from the Navy will return at last to Easter Island a moai that was taken to the continent in 1920. It later traveled to Buenos Aires, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires, but the Rapa Nui people now have it back, thanks to a woman who believes that it is them who are "the true owners".

The moai was then bought by a Dutch businessman, and flew all the way to Amsterdam. But the man did not pay the full amount, and, after a long trial, the moai went back to Argentina. For ten years it was kept there, on a customs storeroom. The moai was then auctioned and bought by Rosa Velasco, the daughter of the antiques-collector that had originally paid for it. The woman took the moai to her house, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and kept it in her backyard. But after some time she decided it had to be where it belonged, and she offered it back to the Rapa Nui people. Hers is an example of citizen and heritage conscience.

"It is an object that is undeniably linked to Easter Island’s History, landscape and race. From that perspective, it has no relevance the fact that it has been sold and bought because of specific circumstances", says Velasco. "I know I’m the legal owner because, after many incidents, I paid for it. But I don’t feel I can say that this moai belongs to me. All the efforts I've made have been to confirm the certainty that I have about this moai being the property of the people from whom it was one day abducted, and that it has to be returned".

That return process which as been conceptualized as an art action in itself, and which pretends high-media attention began at Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cultural Center on April 11, with and activity that included the presence of Chilean ambassador in Argentina, Luis Maira, and two representatives of the Rapa Nui people. From there it was taken inside a container to a commercial airplane, and then driven from Santiago's airport to downtown's Plaza de la Constitución, where it was exhibited on April 21st for an hour. The moai was then moved to Valparaiso and shipped in the Aquiles to Easter Island.

Rosa Velasco defines the now empty container which carried the moai as a "souvenir of the presence than is now absent", and she plans to keep it so as to hold the registries of this epic return effort, with photographic, audiovisual, poetic, musical and sociological documents. Her idea is to exhibit all these in three countries that she believes are "paradigmatic of the appropriation of what’s not theirs": the U.S., England and Belgium, where the local museums keep most of the valuable patrimony of the Island, including those engravings that register the Rapa Nuis' original writing.


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