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Wellcome Trust Gallery + Living & Dying (Room 24)

Hoa Hakananai'a on display in the British Museum's Wellcome Trust Gallery

Hoa Hakananai'a is a moai (Easter Island statue) housed in the British Museum in London. The name Hoa hakanani'a is from the Rapa Nui language; it means (roughly) "stolen or hidden friend."[1] It was removed[2] from Orongo, Easter Island on 7 November 1868 [3] by the crew of the English ship HMS Topaze, and arrived in Portsmouth on 25 August 1869.[4] In 2000 the statue was moved from its previous display in the Wellcome Trust Gallery to the new Great Court.



Hoa Hakananai'a at the British Museum's Great Court.

Whilst most moai were carved from easily worked tuff, Hoa Hakananai'a is one of just sixteen Moai that were carved from much harder basalt.[5] It is 55 centimetres from front to back,[6] 2.42 metres high and weighs "around four tons".[7]

Hoa Hakananai'a is a human torso and head, with shrunken arms. The ratio of the head to torso is about 3:5, giving the overlarge head which is typical for moai. Originally the empty eye sockets would have had coral & obsidian eyeballs, and the body was painted red and white. However the paint was washed off during its removal from the island.


The statue has a maro carving around its waist. This is a symbolic loincloth of three raised bands, topped (at the back) by a ring of stone just touching the top band.

Its back is richly decorated with carvings relating to the island's Birdman cult. These include two birdmen with human hands and feet, but with frigatebird heads, said by the Rapanui people to suggest a family or sexual relationship.

Above these is a fledgling with its beak open. It is similar to the Birdman petroglyphs on Easter Island and relates to the Manutara, a Sooty tern which heralded the annual return of the god Make-make. This bird is flanked by a pair of 'ao, ceremonial wooden paddles representing the male body. 'Ao were symbols of prestige bestowed on the year's reigning birdman. A third 'ao is carved into the rear of the left ear. The right ear has four vulvas.

There are Y-shaped symbols at the top of the head (between the 'ao), the chin and under the Maro.

See also[]


  1. Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.38
  2. Van Tilburg, Jo Anne. (2006). Remote Possibilities: Hoa Hakananai'a and HMS Topaze on Rapa Nui. British Museum Research Papers. ISBN 0861591585.
  3. Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.
  4. Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.7
  5. Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.45
  6. Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.45
  7. British Museum.org. Hoa Hakananai'a: Stolen or Hidden Friend. Retrieved: 09.02.2008.

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