After visiting the quarry at Rano Raraku ( Rapa Nui | Seeing is Believing Pt I ), it’s time to explore the island to see how far and wide these monolithic statues traveled. No one knows for sure how the Moai were transported. NOVA’s Secrets of Easter Island provides an excellent overview of prominent theories.
The fifteen Moai at Tongariki are easily seen from the quarry, which is only one kilometer away. The largest Ahu on the island, it includes an 86 TON moai – the heaviest ever erected. These Moai all face sunset on the summer solstice.
The Moai at Ahu Akivi are the only ones that face the ocean which is another of the many mysteries surrounding the statues. Moreover, these seven identical statues exactly face sunset during the Spring Equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the Autumn Equinox.
Oral tradition holds that Anakena is the landing place of Hotu Matu’a, the founder of Rapa Nui’s first settlement. There are two Ahu: Ahu Ature (seen above center) and Ahu Nao-Nao.
The Pukao, or topknot, carved from red scoria found at Puna Pao, was placed after the Moai reached the Ahu, which is why you will not see any Pukao in the quarry. Additionally, eye sockets were carved in a ceremonious ritual and eyes made from white coral added, at which point the Moai’s mana (spirit) could project over the tribe.
Today, only one Moai has “eyes” and they are reproductions of the ones found by Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Museum expedition during explorations at Anakena in the mid-1980s.
Over time, conditions on the island deteriorated and the people felt abandoned – Moai no longer seen as powerful or effective. While the statues were still in situ when the Europeans first visited in 1722, over the next 150 years they were toppled until not a single statue was standing.
Islanders turned from worshiping their ancestors embodied in the Moai to the Tangata Manu or Bird Man cult. More on that in the next post. To end, here are a few photos of the wild horses that abound on the island.
While these horses live “free,” they have owners. That is how we learned that the foal in the topmost photo was only a few hours old!