What is it with the British Museum?

While most museums hold stolen artworks, many return them when asked by rightful owners. But not the Brits. They act as if what’s yours is theirs if it ends up on their property.

A well-known example is the longstanding case of this museum’s refusal to return the Elgin Marble 253 sculptures ripped from Athen's Parthenon in the 1800's.

Now, the British Museum is standing fast against Chile’s request for the return of the Easter Island statues, despite what the BBC calls a “social media campaign” to get them back that it’s gone viral.

The museum has two of these East Island statues (a.k.a. moai) taken in 1868 by British sea captain Richard Powell, who gifted Queen Victoria with his loot. She, in turn, donated them to the British Museum.

Noblesse oblige

Mind you, this is not simply a re-gifting of an unwanted item. These statues were intended as the embodiments of Chile’s ancestral spirits, lovingly carved from solidified volcanic ash between 1400 and 1650 AD.

But as the BBC reports, the rallying cry of the social media campaign – “return the moai” – falls on deaf ears.

In defending the museum, a spokesperson talked of needing to balance "against the need for safeguarding considerations."

Doesn’t that excuse sound like the one used by the thief who ripping off Greece’s temple art to sell to the British Museum – Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin.

As he explained, England would be better caretakers than Greece.

But Elgin had that very wrong. In 1999, the London Observer reported the museum’s cover-up of a botched cleaning of the Elgin Marbles. This information was discovered in the diaries of museum official Roger Hinks.

The antiquities were damaged in 1938 when metal scrapers were used to scrub the marble to an alabaster white.

The damages were then masked with a wax coating.

Go figure

Despite the inept handling of the Elgin Marbles, not everyone in Chile wants the Brits to return the statues.

The Telegraph reports that Easter Island’s mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, told that the British Museum staffers are “ambassadors” for his culture because they allow thousands to see the statues.

But the social media campaign still goes on demanding that the statues go back to Chile. Mike Milfort, a Haitian rapper living in Santiago, who has a reported one million followers, posted the demand in a video on Instagram.

The push to get the Easter Island statues back is supported by Chilean president Gabriel Boric. But mayor Paoa pooh-poohs the campaign on video, saying: “We don’t want our culture to be politicized or turned into show business.”

But wait, isn’t there a question that’s going unasked, unanswered? Who owns the Easter Island statues, England or Chile?

The island mayor only is quoted saying: “We thank the British Museum and the British crown for taking such good care of our ancestors, at such a long distance from us.”

I’m not sure that Queen Victoria re-gifting the stolen statues to the British Museum best exemplifies taking "good care of our ancestors." Don’t Chile’s ancestors belong in Chile?