When thinking about what there is to see and the highlights of Easter Island, you will most probably think of the famous and unique Moai statues that are scattered across the Island. Looking at these statues you may simply take them for what they are; large stone statues that all stand together on a plinth. However, these incredible Moai statues have a lot more to them than meets the eye and have been the subject of years of discussions and theories with their hidden secrets and mysteries still being discussed today.
A short history of the Moai Statues
The Moai statues were all carved from the volcanic rock of Easter Island between 1100AD and 1500AD by the Polynesian settlers although as discussed later on in the article, their significance is somewhat unknown. Some of the Moai have been carefully restored and re-erected as; in the 16th Century an economic and social crisis hit the Rapa Nui community due to over-population and deterioration of the natural environment. This resulted in the division of the island population into two groups who were constantly involved in fierce battles. The warrior class that evolved from this situation gave rise to the so-called Birdman cult, which superseded the statue-building religion and which continued to throw down, deface and decapitate most of the Moai and Ahus that were on the Island.
The Moai statues of Easter Island
It is estimated that there are 900 statues and more than 300 ‘Ahu’ ceremonial platforms on the Island. Although their appearance is fairly uniform, the Moai range in height from 6 foot tall to an impressive 65 feet tall! Some of the Moai have large red stones on their heads that are known as ‘Pukao’ and these headdresses are believed to denote special ritual status. When visiting the different Moai sites you will be able to see the development of these statues due to the ruins that are currently on the Island. You will encounter on Easter Island, Moais that were in the process of being carved, those being moved to their final destinations and those being torn down and erected. The quarries such as, Rano Raraku, provide invaluable evidence of the process of their creation and carving from start to finish. There is a clear stylistic evolution that can be seen in the Moai, from the round bodied and round eyed earlier figures to the best-known elongated carvings with their intricate fingers, nostrils and long ears. The Moai statues are still to this day throwing up surprises and following excavations in 2012, archaeologists discovered that there was more to the statue heads than first meets the eye. They discovered that the Moai heads were actually buried statues with long bodies underground that had been protected from weathering and erosion by the soil around them. The mystery of these incredible statues continues to amaze those working with the Moai and those visiting the Island.
Significance of the Moai Statues
The true significance of the statues is still being debated although the common held theory is that they are representations of the indigenous peoples’ ancestors. The tribespeople carved a new statue each time a significant and important tribal figure died. The Moai also are believed to have represented communication between the gods and the islanders. Their position between the skies and earth as well as their representation of deceased chiefs are thought to hold supernatural powers and mediate between sky and earth, people and chiefs and chiefs and gods. All the Moai and ceremonial sites along the coast stand with their backs to the sea looking over and protecting the islanders. The exception to this are the seven Moai at Ahu Akivi which face out to sea and are said to help travelers find the island. Descendants of Rapa Nui believe that these Moais represent seven men waiting for their king to arrive.
Did the Moai actually walk?
One of the main mysteries surrounding the Moai is how the clans, without the use of cranes and heavy machinery could have moved these giants that can weigh up to 82 tons? Some theories verge on the ridiculous, for example Swiss novelist, Erich von Daniken, famously let his imagination run a little wild claiming they were put there by aliens. He suggested an alien space ship broke down on the Chilean island and while repairing it, the aliens created the Moai statues. Although this is an out of this world theory, it would go some way to explain the non-human elongated faces of the Moai as well as one of the Island’s names of “Eyes looking to the sky”. From the aliens to the supernatural; the descendants of the native Rapa Nui suggest and stand by the opinion to this day that the Moai statues walked to their positions to protect the clans and their ancestors. Although this may seem just as believable as the alien theory recent discoveries suggest that they may have in a way walked to their positions. Funded by National Geographic, scientists built a 10 foot, 5 ton Moai replica and discovered that they could easily move the Moai. By attaching three ropes to the statue and moving it from side to side in a rocking motion, it gave the illusion of the Moai walking across the Easter Island landscape. If you don’t believe us, see for yourself in the video below:
If only the Moai could speak in order to respond to all the unanswered questions that surround these impressive statues. As the mystery of the Moai continues, the only way to get a really understand the history and true uniqueness of these statues is to see them for yourself, up close and personally on Easter Island!