Miles from nowhere – the nearest inhabited land is 1289 miles away – Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island) is one of the most enchanting and remarkable places I have visited. In the tradition of great things coming in small packages, this 63 square mile triangular-shaped island has enough wonderful sites and activities to warrant spending at least a week. We barely scratched the surface with six full days of hiking, biking and exploring and hope to return one day. The first stop was Rano Raraku, the volcanic crater where every one of the 887 extant monumental statues known as Moai was carved.There are approximately 400 Moai in various locations around Rano Raraku and it is possible to get quite close and look (but not touch)!The island’s first inhabitants arrived sometime between 700 and 1100 CE. Oral tradition holds that the island was colonized by villagers from another Polynesian island, perhaps one of the Marquesas. Carbon dating shows that the Moai were carved between 1100-1680 CE. Families or tribes would commission a Moai to honor an ancestor who would then protect them. The Moai were carved with stone hand chisels by a team of five or six men and took a year or more to complete. During this time, the commissioning family was responsible for feeding the carvers. Once the Moai was complete, the family was responsible for moving the statue to its Ahu. Given their size – the largest one raised on a platform weighs 82 tons and is almost 10 meters long – there is a lot of speculation about how they were moved. One theory is they were moved with a Y-shaped sledge (which would have required as many as 250 men to pull). Another possible method was attached ropes and “walking” the Moai. Recently, a group of scientists constructed a modern Moai and demonstrated the feasibility of this latter method.Approximately half of the statues remain in the quarry. Another quarter were installed on Ahu – shrines or platforms in different locations, and the remainder can be found elsewhere, not having reached their destination. A fallen Moai lost its “mana” or spirit, would no longer be able to protect its family and was abandoned. The family would have to commission a new Moai and begin the lengthy and expensive process again.
So much more Moai info still to come, including the starring role of Thor Heyerdahl (of Kon Tiki fame) in the next post. Stay tuned!