When we looked at them, they just stared at us with those big eyes. And the stare was constant and unrelenting like they were looking right through us. It was like they wanted to talk to us but they couldn’t because their lips were sealed. Some were tall and some were short and some had their hair piled on top of their head and some did not.
These famous UNESCO World Heritage humanlike moais statues were everywhere on Easter Island as we went on a private tour from the Crystal Symphony cruise of the South Pacific. Moais number more than 900 on the island and some stood alone and some were in groups of five or seven. Ahu Tongariki is the famous one with 15 standing in a row. The moais range from 33 inches tall to 40 feet tall and weigh up to hundreds of tons.
(This photo and the one below was taken by June Landrum)
And they were all hand carved from volcanic tuff and became the iconic Moai statues of Easter Island. Using hand chisels of basalt, the Rapa Nui people chipped the monolithic statues out of blackened cliffs of the Rano Raraku volcanic crater between 1250 and 1600. The moais were placed on rectangular stone platforms called ahu, which are tombs for the people that the statues represented. The moais were intentionally made with different characteristics since they were supposed to look like the person in the tomb.
As were toured the crater, we saw many Moais still standing on the crater slope and they stared at us as we stared at them. Once the moais were carved, they were rolled down the crater and lifted into a standing position so the back could be completed. When they were finished, they would be moved to an ahu platform of someone’s property.
Before our tour began, we were told not to touch the statues, climb them or chip a stone or take any stones from them for a souvenir. But if was ok for the roaming horses and cattle to rub against them or use them to scratch on or lick.
After many of the moais were carved, they were placed on rectangular stone platforms called ahu, which are tombs for the people that the statues represented. The moais were intentionally made with different characteristics since they were supposed to look like the person in the tomb.
How the extremely heavy moais were moved from the volcano several miles to their ahu platform is a mystery with several theories. The most popular explanation seems to be that the statues “walked” to the ahu platform. Three ropes were used to move the moai: one on each side and one around the neck and pulled from the back. So, it was twisted from side to side and the rope from the back helped keep it standing.
The base of the moai was slightly rounded and so were the roads so it could be moved from side to side. Other theories are rolling the statue on tree trunks and moving it with a sled on round tree trunks as “wheels.”
All Moais we visited were placed looking inland so they could look over the ceremonial area, except Ahu Akivi. which are 7 moai facing the sea to help sailors find the island. It is also thought that they were waiting for their King. When the moai statue was placed on the ahu platform, the eyes were the last to be carved. White coral and black or red scoria stone made the pupils and the moai then begin that cold, hard stare. Many moais were left without the white coral eyes as it is believed the white eyes were reserved for -the prominent people.
And years later, the top knot made of red scoria stone would be added. Called pukao, the top knot added further status to the moai.
It is believed the Moai were traditions of religion and status and were built to honor the chieftain and ancestors. And it is believed the moais are symbols of authority and power, both political and religious and they have mana, which is charged by a magical spirit essence. And it is believed the moais were representative of ancient Polynesian ancestors. And another belief is the moais was considered one “up-man-ship” among the Rapa Nui people. With a moai, they were saying, “mine is bigger than yours.”
Then around 1550-1600, the Rapa Nui people stopped making the moais and Easter Island began declining. The Rapa Nui people began turning against each other. They fought among themselves for the fertile land that was left as their ancestors had destroyed most of it as crops failed one after the other. Some began to turn to their god Make Make or the Birdman cult. Competition began among them to become a member of the cult for if succeeded, food was the reward. To become a member of the birdman cult, a person had to find the first Sooty Turn egg. If a person did not succeed, the person killed himself.
The Birdman Cult then began rebuilding the population and sweet potatoes and other crops were now doing good. But, newcomers started coming and brought diseases, rats and cockroaches and by the turn of the century only 110 people were left.
Then missionaries arrived and brought Christianity with them and the Rapa Nui people began ridding themselves of tattoos and many moais were toppled. And it wasn’t until recently that most were restored to their position atop ahu platforms all over Easter island.
The moais now stare with that unrelenting stare like they were looking right through us. It was like they wanted to talk to us but they couldn’t because their lips were sealed. Some were tall and some were short and some had their hair piled on top of their head and some did not. And hopefully they will stand and stare at many people for many years to come and be enjoyed by all at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photo Copy © 2018 carolyntravels.com