Hoa Hakananai’a, Room 24, British Museum, London

by russellem

For a couple of reasons, Room 24 (Living and Dying) is one of my favourites.

First of all, it always seems to be less clagged by tourists – perhaps it’s because of the dour theme, but I think it’s mainly because the room is also a link between the Montague Place entrance and the Great Court, and so the guidebook driven visitors tend to breeze through intent on the “must sees” deeper in the building.

The main reason however, is the presence of the massive figure, oblivious to plans being played out below, which gazes out towards the Reading Room just as it once gazed on stranger horizons – both physical and metaphysical heft draws me to it, but at the same time there is something alien which repels.

hoa hakananai a 01Hoa Hakananai’a moai

Hoa Hakananai’a apparently means “stolen or hidden friend”, a revelation which, for me, just adds to the unease that I feel when I try to connect with its meaning and with the meaning of its makers. On 7 November 1868 (a Saturday), it was removed from Orongo – a ceremonial centre on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), by the crew of HMS Topaze – but that was just the latest event in a series of events that become ever more opaque to our modern minds as they track back to the first exposure of a boulder of basalt.