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The Mysteries of Easter Island

Maoi at Rao Raraku

Maoi at Rao Raraku

The Moai made of tuff, solidified and compressed volcanic ash from the volcano at Rano Rarku are truly astonishing. These statues were a form of ancestor worship, according to anthropologists.  They claim when a chief or important member of a tribe died, a statue was made and transported back to their village to protect the people there.  It should be noted that all these statues were toppled at one point, most likely so their mana or power would no longer be effective.  Rao Rarku is the quarry where the stone for the Moai was obtained.  There are 397 stone statues there, many restored to standing today, as well as some unfinished ones still in the block.  No one knows for certain why they were carved and It is mind boggling to consider how these statues were moved, since they weigh an average of 20 tons, with the smallest ones weighing about 10 tons and the largest almost 270 tons.  Estimates as to the size of the colony of Rapanuians here in its heyday range from 6,000 to 30,000 people.  Theirs was clearly a very advanced society to have figured out how to make and then move these statues.

Rao Raraku Panorama

Rao Raraku Panorama

The photograph aboove  was taken approaching the quarry and shows where the volcanic material the statues were carved from was obtained.  Easter Island was formed by three volcanic eruptions between 1 million and 100,000 years ago.  These volcanoes were caused by a hotspot beneath the Nasca Plates, which caused the formation of an underwater chain of mountains of which Easter Island is the highest point.   

Eyes Looking Up

Eyes Looking Up

Most of the Moai were originally positioned looking over the people they were built to protect, and most were looking slightly upwards, perhaps to space or the stars.  The patterns on the soft volcanic material they are made out of, which were caused by wind, rain and other abrasive elements, are detailed, colorful and add to the interest of these ancient sculptures.

Maoio on the Ground, with Kim in the Distance

Maoio on the Ground, with Kim in the Distance

The figure in the distance is my friend Kim.  Her addition in the scene shows how truly massive these sculptures are, and this is not the largest one.

What the Maoi Sees, Rao Rarku

What the Maoi Sees, Rao Rarku

When I found myself standing behind this Moai in Rao Rarku, I immediately felt like I was seeing through its eyes.  The clouds and shadow were perfectly situated and all led to the volcanic cone in the background, one of many on the island which are due to the island's volcanic formation. The island was once, however, covered with trees.  How they disappeared is a mystery.  Previously people speculated it had to do with moving the statues, but the thinking today is that it happened earlier, in an effort to prepare the land for crops.  Easter Island was completely separated from the rest of the world.  So many theories have abounded as to the roots for this culture–Incas, aliens, and the more popular theory today that it was Polynesians who first arrived here in about AD 900, though some scholars have claimed they came as early as 300-400 A.D.

Unfinished Moai, the Quarry

Unfinished Moai, the Quarry

Many believe the Moai carry mana, or spiritual power, which enables them to oversee all and protect the people. With regard to how these Moai's were transported from the quarry to their site, many people believe they had so much mana they were able to walk.  Another theory is that they were rolled down from here.  From the Moai above, left abandoned before their completion, it appears that the carvers left in a rush.

The Colossus below, the biggest Moai ever discovered, shows the statue in the hillside pointing down. Perhaps the carvers used gravity to help push them down to their sites.  Although this one is the largest ever found and gravity though helpful would not have been enough.

Colossus, the Quarry

Colossus, the Quarry

Coming upon this site was truly remarkable.  This is Easter Island's largest ceremonial platform (over 720 feet long) with 15 restored Moai.  The restoration project cost over $2 million dollars.  What is so fascinating is all the differences between these Moai.  

Ahu Tongariki 15 Figures

Ahu Tongariki 15 Figures

Back of the 15 Figures, Ahu Tongariki

Back of the 15 Figures, Ahu Tongariki

The image above is a back view of these incredible statues with the quarry they came from in the distance.  It is almost like they are looking to their source.

Ahu Huri A Urenga

Ahu Huri A Urenga

This Moai is important for its celestial orientation and because it has four hands, one set upon the other.  The platform for this statue faces the exact orientation of the sun during the winter solstice.  When I saw it, I definitely got the feeling that it was important for its astronomical significance.  It seemed even more otherworldly than the other Moai I saw on the island.

Ahu Nau Nau at Anakena Beach

Ahu Nau Nau at Anakena Beach

According to legends of Easter Island, Anakena Beach is where Hotu Matua ,the legendary first settler and ariki mau of Easter Island. Hotu Matu'a and his two canoe colonising party were Polynesians from the now unknown land of Hiva.  Several of these figures are wearing topknots known as  Pukao, and the material they used for the Pukao came from the Puna Pao quarry in a totally different section of the island.  Jared Diamond, in this book "Collapse," believes the people on the island, who remained totally isolated from the rest of the world from the time its first inhabitants arrived until the Dutch explorer Roggeveen landed, managed to evolve into a very complex society since they used materials from all different places on the island to make these statues and farmed and fished in the most suitable locations as well.  He believes they were isolated at the end of the world since no stones from Easter Island were found anywhere else and no stones from other islands were found here.  Easter Island still remains one of the great mysteries of the world.

Carving on the Back of a Moai, Anakena Beach

Carving on the Back of a Moai, Anakena Beach

The statues at Anakena Beach have detailed carvings on the back as can be seen in the image above.  This is the only place on the island where this still can be seen.

Moai with Pukao, Anakena Beach

Moai with Pukao, Anakena Beach

Here is a close up of a Moai with a puakao, carved from red scoria.  Because these Moai were covered with sand after they were toppled, they were protected from erosion from the elements and the detail of their features is more clearly visible.  Non one really knows what the topknots represented either, though they could have been to show special importance for certain chiefs and/or to boast of technical superiority as they weigh up to 12 tons and putting one of those on top of a statue was another impossible feat!

Lone Moai, Anekana Beach

Lone Moai, Anekana Beach

This Moai is much shorter and squatter than the others found here and was probably carved earlier.  It is impossible to know exactly when the first statues were erected and how styles and dimensions changed since stone cannot be carbon dated, but generally it is thought that the early ones were shorter and the taller ones came later.  The increase in size may suggest competition between neighboring tribes to outdo one another.

Toppled Statues at Vaihu

Toppled Statues at Vaihu

This is an example of the state all the statues were found in after they were toppled.

Moai with Coral Eyes, Tahai

Moai with Coral Eyes, Tahai

There are three platforms on this site that were restored by American archeologist William Mulloy between 1968 and 1970.  This Moai is the only one on the island today with eyes, which are made from coral.

Tahai with House Foundation

Tahai with House Foundation

The photograph above shows the whole restored site of Tahai, included the foundations of a house.  These elliptical structures are known as hare parenga.  Many people slept lengthwise inside, which must have been clastraphobic.  

Ahu Tahira Wall

Ahu Tahira Wall

The wall above is led Heyerdahl and others to contend that Easter Islanders originated from South American societies.  However, today anthropologists believe archeological, linguistic and DNA studies point to the Polynesian rather than South American origin of these people.  However, I personal see a strong influence of the Incan and even pre-Incan people in the construction of this wall and I personally believe there was an influence at work from much earlier times than many academics are wiling to concede.

Bird Man Relief at Vinapu Rano Kau Volcano

Bird Man Relief at Vinapu Rano Kau Volcano

No story of Easter Island would be complete without the story of the bird man.  Every year there was a contest at the sacred are of Orongo, which lay between the Rap Kau Volcano and its crater and the sheer cliffs to the ocean below. Contestants, chosen by each of the chiefs on the island, scaled the cliffs and swam to Motu Nui, the small island offshore, to collet the first egg of the season from the sooty terns.  The contestants would have to swim back to shore with the egg and rescale the cliffs.  The winner would be "Birdman" for a year and kept isolated from the rest of the population for the first five months.  Being "Birdman was an important status position and continued even after the contestant's tenure was over.

Navel of the World, Te Pito o Te Henua

Navel of the World, Te Pito o Te Henua

The Te Pito o Te Henua site is considered by some to be the navel of the world and is a World Heritage Site today.  Easter Island legends say that Hotu Matu'a brought this stone with him from HIva and that it possesses high levels of mana.  The rock has a high iron content and confuses compasses, which more scientifically minded people say is the source of its power. I definitely experienced lots of energy emitting from this stone when I hovered my hands in the air in its direction.  The stone is considered to be of local origin by many today, since several other large stones like it have been found in the bay.  It remains another of Easter Island's mysteries to me.  I also couldn't help thinking again about ties with ancient South American people, as the Quechua name for Cusco is also Navel of the World.