Easter Island, the moai statues and all the mysteries of the island

Easter Island

The mysterious statues of Easter Island are one of the most mysterious tourist attractions. Many travelers from around the world are eager to see the man-made stone statues of the piece of land lost in the Pacific Ocean.

The famous statues of Easter Island have brought it worldwide fame. For centuries, these giant statues – moai in the local dialect – have stared blankly at people. No one has yet been able to fully unravel their mystery.

Easter Island is located in the South Pacific. Its area is 164 km2 . It was formed as a result of underwater volcanic eruptions. Since the end of XIX century, the island is territorially part of Chile. The distance from it to the mainland is more than 3.5 thousand km. The name of this secluded island was given by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeven, who discovered it. It happened in 1722, on the day of Easter Sunday. The locals (about 6,000 people) adopted the name Rapa Nui.

The island was originally inhabited by Polynesian settlers in the V. According to some reports, in the XV century the Incas visited Rapa Nui. Before the arrival of Europeans the local population was divided into two castes – the privileged and the subaltern. The famous moai were built by people of the upper caste.

For what purpose the statues were built, who they represent, how they moved over long distances, remains a mystery of Easter Island.

Moai statues and their builders

Moai constructions peaked in the XIII-XV centuries. The first human-sized sculptures were made of basalt. Then local craftsmen switched to volcanic tuff, which was in abundance in the crater of the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. Gradually their size and weight increased up to 10 meters and 20 tons.

The making of the statues began directly in the rock of the quarry. Masters marked the contours of the torso without legs and carved angular facial features. According to hypotheses, the stylized form depicted island clan leaders or deceased relatives. Unsuccessful blanks were discarded and the craftsmen took on new ones. At the end of the work, the statue was separated from the rock and rolled down. At the foot of the quarry, it was placed upright and the back of the head, back and torso were refined.

Two types of moai are distinguished. The older sculptures, large and narrow-faced, are on the slopes of the Rano Raraku crater up to their chests in the rock. The smaller statues are located along the coast. They have stone hats and a wider facial oval.

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The next step was transportation to the installation site. In some cases it was more than 20 km from the crater. Local legend has it that the moai walked themselves to the right places. According to scientists’ research, the statues did move in an upright position.

It is believed that they used a wooden sled on which the moai were hoisted by levers shoved under them. Another hypothesis has it that cables were used which, when viewed from a distance, could have created the illusion of independent movement. Statues damaged in transportation can be seen on the ancient roads of the island.

At the place of destination, the moai with the hats were placed on large platforms, ahu, constructed of perfectly fitted stones. The preparation of the bases is not much less complicated and labor-intensive than the sculptures themselves. The final stage is the fixing of the volcanic glass eyes.

Over time, the local clans got involved in a kind of competition to install the statues. Their number reached a thousand, and they lined up in a continuous line along the coast. Their size also increased. In the Rano Raraku quarry you can see an unfinished giant statue 20 meters high and weighing 270 tons.

The first Europeans who landed on Rapa Nui saw before them a deserted island. Scientific research has proven conclusively that, at the time of settlement, it was buried in tropical greenery. What happened to the island? To the first settlers, natural resources seemed inexhaustible. In the ecological catastrophe that broke out a few centuries later, the future tourist phenomenon of Easter Island played a decisive role. Forests were mercilessly cut down not only to make wooden sledges and levers, but also to prepare more and more sites for statues.

Nature does not forgive disregard for its laws. The cutting of the forests caused erosion and exhaustion of the soil. Yields plummeted. Armed conflicts between clans for control of the island’s depleted resources began. The images of spears and daggers on the stones of the island confirm this conclusion. The opposing clans overturned and destroyed the moai of their rivals. Rapa Nui, which resembled a paradise, turned into a living hell as cannibalism was rampant.

Only the statues of Easter Island remained undisturbed as a sacrifice to its well-being. But the locals were no longer concerned with them. Such is the only mystery of Rapa Nui that has been solved.

There were almost no trees left on the island. They could barely be used to build small boats for fishing, but not ships. The few surviving islanders were left to gaze enviously at the birds soaring in the sky.

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History of Easter Island

Against this background, as part of the worship of the Polynesian god Makemake, the cult of the bird-man arose on the island. Each year the best-trained clan warriors held dangerous competitions. They had to swim to Motu Nui, find a black tern egg, and bring it to Rapa Nui. The coastal waters were inhabited by many sharks. The chief of the winning clan was declared the bird-man of the year, and the earthly incarnation of the god Makemake. The winner himself was rewarded. His clan held a privileged position during that year.

At the ceremonial village of Orongo, near where the contest was held, about half a thousand petroglyphs have been found. Their authors are believed to be man-birds.

Dramatic events unfolded on the island in 1862. Peruvian slave traders landed there and took with them all the able-bodied population. Most of them died of disease and harsh working conditions. Thanks to the intervention of France, the survivors were brought back. They brought with them new diseases, which further reduced the numbers of the islanders. By the time the Chilean annexation of Rapa Nui in 1888, fewer than two hundred people were living there.

Chilean missionaries took much of the land from the natives. As part of their zealous pursuit of Christianity, they destroyed unique artifacts, including those related to the natives’ own Rongo-Rongo writing system. Only a few tablets have survived, the key to the writings of which scholars are trying to unravel.

The construction of the mysterious sculptures brought many misfortunes to the island. But they have now become a promoted tourist brand. The island is included in the UNESCO list and attracts many wealthy travelers (the prices here are very high). Among them, the most popular craters are Rano Raraku and Rano Kau . Getting to them by cab, on foot, on horseback or by bicycle, tourists see fragments of unfinished statues. From these you can get a clear impression of the stages of making. Most of Easter Island’s moai are located in the vicinity of Rano Raraku.

But not only sculptures the tourist lives on Easter Island. There are two sandy beaches. The main beach is Anakena with white sand and palm trees. It is convenient not only for swimming, but also for surfing. Nearby are moai. Another beach – Playa Ovahe, with a pinkish hue of sand, fringed by beautiful rocks.

A little-known attraction of Rapa Nui is a number of interesting caves. Of the officially ranked tourist caves, the most visited are Ana Kakenga and Ana Te Pahu.

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Journey to Easter Island

Extreme geographical remoteness of Easter Island does not prevent regular flights of Chilean company LAN Airlines. A domestic flight of 5 hours is made from Santiago. Approximate cost of the ticket is 650 EUR. A stopover flight from Santiago to Tahiti takes place at Rapa Nui airport. There is also a direct flight from Lima, the capital of Peru. For Russians, the first option is preferable. Visiting Chile and, of course, Easter Island, they have no visa requirements.

The most suitable period for a visit – from October to April, when the ocean water warms up to 20-23 0 C. During the rest of the months it often rains. At the end of January, the island hosts a vibrant dance festival. In addition to local folklore ensembles, Tahitian ensembles also take part in it. At the same time there is an original beauty contest, in which together with the girls participate and their relatives. The beauty of the girl must be complemented by the skill of her relatives in fishing and weaving.

No less original on the island is the system of payment for visiting its attractions. Upon arrival at the local airport Mataveri you should buy a wrist bracelet. Its cost for foreigners – 50 USD, and its validity – 5 days. The bracelet gives the right to multiple visits to all sites, except ceremonial center Orongo and the former volcano Rano Raraku, which can be seen once. Before the introduction of the bracelets, a significant number of wealthy (there are no others here) tourists tried to avoid paying.

Statues of Easter Island (moai)

Statues of Easter Island (moai)

Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean attracts travelers with mysterious stone statues, about the origin of which there are various myths and legends. The Easter Island statues, called moai, are giant human figures carved from volcanic rock. Moai are found in the form of a huge head or with the torso up to waist level.

The idols are scattered all over the island and are often grouped together. Tours usually show the best preserved and most picturesque monuments. Despite the fact that a trip to Easter Island is quite expensive, every year hundreds of thousands of tourists travel to Chile to see these mysterious giants with their own eyes, take pictures with the moai and admire the sunsets and sunrises.

Statues of Easter Island (moai)

The origin of the moai statues on Easter Island, interesting facts

Where did the moai statues on Easter Island come from? The official version says that the stone statues are the work of the natives of the island. They built the moai between 1250 and 1500.

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The creation of sculptures of enormous size and weight involves incredible effort and expense, when the moai were discovered by Europeans, they could not understand their purpose and method of manufacture for a long time. What was particularly surprising was that the figures were moved around the island. Considering that the weight of one figure sometimes reaches several tens of tons, and that the natives did not have any technology, the movement seemed something fantastic. Of course, this was fertile ground for the emergence of myths and legends. The creation of moai was even attributed to ancient giants and aliens.

Statues of Easter Island (moai)

The mystery of the statues of Easter Island was solved in 1955. During the Norwegian expedition conducted an experiment on the creation and transfer of moai. The local tribe was involved. The natives have carved with stone hammers sculpture weighing 12 tons, and then dragged it on the ground to the place of installation, using only the force of numerous assistants. The sculpture was then lifted to its feet using a system of levers made of stones and logs. It turned out that the secret of creating the moai statues was passed down from generation to generation, and Europeans were not told the secret, simply because they did not ask.

The legend of the idols

So what do the moai statues on Easter Island mean? There is a theory that the giants promote good weather and prosperity because the spirits of the ancestors live in them. This is due to an ancient legend. According to it, Easter Island was found by the chief of the clan Hotu Matua and he settled here with his family and people. When clan members died, their souls entered and remained in the moai, endowing the statues with supernatural power (mana).

Ahu Tongariki

Where are the stone moai statues

Moai are found in different parts of the island on ceremonial ahu platforms. According to Aboriginal beliefs, the ahu are the place where the world of the living meets the world of the dead. As a result of excavations on Easter, 255 ahu of different sizes and designs have been discovered. Basically, the sites are located on the coast, their area varies from 10 to 100 meters. Let us list the most famous ones:

    . The largest and most popular with tourists is near the quarry of the volcano Rano Raraku, from its basalt rocks are cut most of the discovered statues. At Ahu Tongariki, there are 15 stone idols preserved, standing in a row. The gaze of the powerful statues is directed deep into the island.
  • Ahu Akivi . The platform was rebuilt in 1960, archaeologists managed to raise 7 moai. Each sculpture hangs almost 18 tons, and its height reaches 3.6 meters. The main difference between Ahu Akivi and the other sites is that the statues face the ocean, not the island. Perhaps they were used as an astronomical clock.
  • Ahu Nau Nau . The seven statues from this platform are recognized as the most beautiful moai of Easter. During restoration work in 1980, scientists discovered that the eyes of the statues were originally made of white and red coral. Ahu Nahu Nahu towers directly on Anakena Beach in the northern part of the island.
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Ahu Nau Nau.

  • Ahu Tahai, Ahu Wai Uri, Ahu Ko Te Riku . A complex of three ceremonial platforms look for in the southwest of the island. There are about 10 sculptures preserved here, which are considered to be the oldest. Archaeologists date them to the 7th century.

Ahu Tahay:

How many Moai statues are there on Easter Island? So far, 887 idols have been found. Some of them are quite well preserved, and there are ruins that are difficult to distinguish from ordinary stones. However, historians believe that half of the moai still lie underground.

Panorama of Ahu Tongariki:

How to get there

There are two ways to get to Easter Island: by plane or by watercraft. Choosing aviation, be prepared for connections, as the flights are only from two places. The destination is served by the Chilean operator LATAM Chile, which organizes flights from Santiago Air Harbor and Lima’s Jorge Chavez Airport in Peru.

Sailing to Easter Island on a yacht or ship is very expensive. Cruise ships sometimes include the island in their itinerary, but ticket prices are also high.

Photo of moai statues on Ahu Akivi plateau

Upon arrival, you can book an excursion to the moai statues through hotel guides or local tour operators. Tourism on Easter Island is the main source of income for the population, so there is no problem finding a guide. Independent travelers can reach the moai on foot, by cab, bicycle, moped, ATV or car. All transport is available for rent.

The distance to the most popular Ahu Tongariki from Mataveri Airport is about 20 km. By car they can be overcome in 30-40 minutes:

Ahu Akivi, Ahu Tahai and a number of other sites are much closer, within 10 km of Anga Roa.

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