General information on the statues of Easter Island
The statues of Easter Island are called Moaïs. They are mostly vertical stone colossi, sometimes in groups, on Easter Island, a Chilean possession of the Pacific. This island is only known for this particularity that exists nowhere else.
Moais of Easter Island
First, you have to set the scene.
These statues are not as old as one could imagine: They were all erected between 1200 and 1500, approximate dates corresponding to the arrival of the Polynesians on the island (about 1200) and the abandonment of ancestor worship (around 1500, perhaps a little later). It is a period of 3 to 4 centuries during which the inhabitants cut and erected their statues before abandoning them.
Easter Island has the distinction of being the most remote island of all human habitat (2078Kms for the nearest neighbors). It is rather small, with an area of 165Kms2. It has a mountain (507m high), the highest point of the island, and 3 smaller extinct volcanoes, plus a lot of geological curiosities related to volcanism. At the time of their arrival the vegetation was varied, with forests and meadows. Nowadays only grasslands remain.
That said, the Polynesian community that came on the scene organized themselves into clans. Archaeologists have found traces of a territorial division of the island by radiation, that is to say that the center belonged to the entire community, but each clan had a triangle from the center to the coast. Each clan built villages and farmed for the livelihood of its people. But all had in common the Polynesian culture. Among them, ancestor worship played an important part.
Origin of Moaïs
The Moais are in fact only human representations, simple statues. They represented the ancestors, that is to say, the physical persons at the origin of the Polynesians, but also their culture, their history. The worship was practiced on the principle of Polynesian traditions. Each village had its "Ahus", a flat ground laid out for the worship on which the religious ceremonies were held, but also the public meetings. This esplanade served as both a place of worship and a social gathering place.
The first Moaïs were in real size, they were carved on the basis of the islands Tikis ("Ti'i", in Tahiti). A Tiki is a statue symbolizing either a man, a god, or a man-god. The representation was stylized according to a technique specific to this region of the world.
But gradually and without reason, the inhabitants of the island began to make statues higher and higher. Nowadays, those who are on the spot measure between 2.5m and 10m, with a statue of 21m abandoned before being finished, she is still in the quarry and has never been set up. They weigh several tons, sometimes several tens of tons.
Layout on the island
Once carved, these statues were moved to their final sites. When we look at a map we see that they are almost all on the coast, perfectly spaced. They form a kind of symbolic barrier isolating the island from the ocean. And yet, this is not really the case because the population was mainly seafarers, they had inherited this know-how from their Polynesian ancestors. There was therefore no reason to create a barrier, even symbolic, between the island and the ocean. So they had to have another use.
Another originality of their geographical situation lies in their orientations: They all look towards the interior of the island, except one. This provision reinforces the idea that they were no longer there to ensure that ancestors watch the new generations evolve rather than deter any invasion of the island.
Finally, we must know that there are two kinds of sites on which the Moais have been placed: They can be isolated or be integrated into an ahu, a ceremonial platform. Such a platform hosts most of the time a row of statues, all perfectly aligned and oriented, so they contrast isolated statues.
The southern coast of the island, the longest with 24Kms, hosts 13 ahus, plus two more inland. The North East Coast has 8, North West 5 plus two inland. Isolated statues are overwhelmingly positioned between the ahus, along the coast, with a slightly higher density on the eastern part of the island. The coasts bordering the two volcanoes to the south, are completely lacking, probably because of the difficulty to route them over rough terrain. The isolated Moaïs are rather to the west, apart from those around Rano Raraku's tuff quarry.
To note, and it is logical, that no statue is at altitude, because of the difficulty of bringing them there, probably.
Description of a Moais
Moais of Easter Island
The Moaïs nowadays look a little different from what they used to be. First of all, you must know that the stone they are made of, the tuff, is gray-yellow, but the weather has made them much darker than when they were cut. Then we often have the image of a head, a simple head, to represent a character. It is not so since all the statues are complete characters except the legs. They all have one body and two arms, often terminated by hands. One of the reasons that puts the head forward is that it is disproportionate to the body, much smaller than it should be. The Moaïs were almost all carved in the tufa of a career of Rano Raraku volcano, the most eastern of the island. Its slopes are besides dotted with statues, it is the classic image that one has when one thinks about the island of Easter.
These are statues in the round, that is to say we can do the round (unlike low or high relief). The main characteristics of Moaïs are a weak neck, a rectangular face, the prominent chin and the strong nose. The ears are disproportionate and the forehead is fleeing. The eyebrows are also particularly marked.
The arms are often in two parts, as on a human being, that is to say that there is the angle of the elbows. The belly is sometimes prominent, suggesting that it is a woman. This is the only feature that makes it possible to create statues.
Some are wearing a pukao, this is the name given to these strange cylindrical hats. They are made of red tuff, a stone extracted from the quarries of Puna Pau, a site near the capital Hanga Roa and which has the distinction of having the only quarry of red stones on the island.
Nowadays, their expressions are fixed, the looks are empty, but at the time of their splendor the eyes of the statues were richly decorated. The white of the eye was reconstituted with white corals and the irises were made of red tufa, like the headdresses. Sometimes they were obsidian, a volcanic rock (of course) vitreous and very black, a little translucent.
Sculpture, setting up
Moais are sculptures in the round, which means that we can go around. They are carved out of volcanic rock in a Rano Raraku volcano quarry. This quarry is in the South-East of the island, it is the main quarry from which came out almost all the statues.
Moais being cut
The job was to cut the shape of the statue in the rocky soil and then refine the lines. The waste produced was thrown on the spot, without any problem of recovery or evacuation of cut pieces. When the statue was finished on all three sides, the sculptors began to carve under it, to detach it from the ground.
Some were cut not in the ground but in the cliff, at ground level. The sculptors entered the rock, at the risk of seeing the ceiling collapse. Once the block was removed the cliff presented a hole at its feet, a kind of artificial cave.
Rano Raraku's quarry was suddenly abandoned, as evidenced by the many statues left in the sculpture class. Their number is eloquent: There are almost as many moais being cut on the island! (400 being cut for 887 on the island, approximate figure because some moais were barely sketched, so the specialists do not count them all the same way)
A pukao is the name given to the moai hat. Not all are provided, but those who have them are characteristic, their silhouette is much larger than those of their neighbors. The Pukao is a block of red tuff carved quite finely in cylinder.
The red tuff quarry is not the same as for the moais themselves, it is in Puna Pau, a volcanic cone providing a red stone.
It has long been wondered how the men of the thirteenth century were able to transport the moais and their pukao for several kilometers, on hilly terrain, which is more.
Various attempts were made during the 20th and 21st century on the spot. One of the first solutions proposed was to slide the statues on logs. This solution had an obvious advantage: It could explain why the island was deforested. But it seems that this is not the right solution, they had to do otherwise.
The solution that is most plausible today is that the statues are moved vertically, by successive rotations on its base. Each move made it move forward by the width of its base, about 2m. To maintain verticality during transport, it was necessary to hold it with tense ropes held by the force of several men. The relatively recent tests that have been done have shown that it was possible to move Moaïs for several kilometers at a very low pace. They had to meet at their sites in several months, and required the presence of twenty men. Of course, these figures are very variable depending on the size of Moais.
When a Moai fell to the ground it became impossible to lift him because of his weight. He was then abandoned on the spot, as is. Some were still undergoing straightening attempts, a hole was dug at his feet large enough to tilt him, then he had to resume the technique of moving on an inclined ramp to get him out of his hole. Tests that could - conditional is necessary - explain the presence of Moais half-buried, or lying on the ground, all over the island.
The implantation site was not insignificant, it was decided well upstream of the beginning of the cutting. We built a Moai for a specific reason. The sites of implantation were of two kinds: Either it was an ahu, that is to say a ceremonial platform, generally occupied by several Moaïs, or it was an isolated site.
Once in place his base was reinforced and his pukao was put in place. A Moaïs was still looking at the island, with one exception.
The pukao came from another career, but it was not cut in the quarry, unlike the Moaïs. The red tuff block was just cut into a cylinder and rolled up to the Moaïs site. Only then was it cut to fit the statue. These are the many traces of cutting under the cylinder that teaches us, if the block had been pulled to the ground, these traces would have been removed, which is not the case.
Remained the problem of installing pukao. Again, different theories are opposed, but one of the most likely is to think that the inhabitants of the time rose a levy to the head of the Moais, until partially bury. At the top, they planted a sturdy stake and passed a rope on either side of the stake. The ends of the ropes were passed under the pukao and returned to the picket where men, pulling, could pull it. At the top, the pukao was adjusted, and the earth removed.
This method was very complex and required a great deal of work, but so they achieved their ends.
Moais of Easter Island
Once in place the work was not completely finished since it was necessary to finish the Moaïs. The finishes consisted in setting up his eyes, it was said then that he found the view.
In practice, it consisted in putting on the eyes pieces of white corals to match the white of the eye, and in the center of making two small circles, the irises, in red tuff or black diorite.
Such a setting has recently been redone, and one of the Moaïs is now exposing his face as it was 500 years ago.
The statues of Easter Island did not give us all their secrets. In fact it is even difficult to affirm the purpose of their edification because the indigenous people, the Rapa Nui (also called "Matamua" or "Haumaka"), were simply exterminated at the end of the nineteenth century, reduced to slavery Those who remained transmitted their cultures by oral tradition and suffered cultural and biological diversity by the massive arrival, still towards the end of the XIXth century, of a strong Polynesian community christianized then Europeans. several thousand people, but none has the secrets of these statues.
The estimated reasons for their constructions
On the other hand archeology informs us quite well since this science teaches us that the people having landed on the island of Easter, around 1200 AD, practiced the worship of the ancestors. This worship consists in venerating not a god but the ancestors of a community. It is obvious that the Moaïs symbolize the ancestors.
Their provisions on the island confirm this fact. They are all, with the exception of one, placed on the coast and turned towards the interior of the island, where the inhabitants lived, a little as if they were watching them. If they had had a protective role they would have been shot most likely to the ocean.
Their symbolic roles at the time of the god Make-make
Once the cult of ancestors abandoned the Moais no longer symbolized the past, but where other civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians, did not hesitate to destroy the relics that preceded them, the Rapa Nui decided to keep. Perhaps also because of the difficulty that would have had to put them down, but that was probably not the reason. Some of these statues are now lying on the ground, including and among them some that are not in the quarry, so not under construction or transportation. We can see them as a desire to shoot them down, but it makes more sense to see the effect of a natural disaster. If it seems hard to believe, just imagine that in 400 years of abandonment, many statues were buried at least until the shoulders, when they were complete before. It means weather, precipitation, wind and from a more general point of view the climate is capable of profoundly modifying the surface of the island. It is therefore not absurd to think that some statues have been able to lie down naturally.
That said, if there was no desire to bring down the statues once the cult of ancestors abandoned, the fact remains that the quarry was abandoned too, and that the statues that were there during cutting were covered, apparently voluntarily, with debris. One can see there a will to mark the change of worship.
Their roles from European explorers
When the island was discovered, from the late seventeenth century, and until the late nineteenth, the statues of Easter Island were basically seen as its symbol, but nothing more. The curiosity in their regard was not even very strong, the Europeans were not interested in these great statues at the end of the world or at least if he did, their remoteness made them less interesting. It must be said that at the time, and until the twentieth century, civilizations other than those of Europe were mostly seen as curiosities to be analyzed.
History of Easter Island
The history of Easter Island is relatively simple to approach, because it starts relatively late compared to the stands that can be found elsewhere, and it has almost an end date. Everything begins around 1200 and ends at the end of the nineteenth century, and the history of the island has three major phases: A colonization of a Polynesian people (1200-1500, the origin of the Moais), a change of behavior which imposed a new social structure (1200-1687, which made disappear the Moaïs) and the island as stake of the Europeans (1687-1877). From there the original settlement of the island is so weak that it can be considered as having disappeared. The population believes again, but under the action of immigration.
The initial settlement and the erection of Moaïs
Before 1200 there was no human settlement of Easter Island. Of course unknown to the Asian, European, African and Micronesian civilizations, the island of 160 Km2 only was discovered by the Polynesian civilizations only at this period. Although this period is questioned by scientific analyzes done on the spot during the nineteenth century, in practice, the more recent and precise the analyzes, the less doubtful the settlement of Easter Island will be. around 1200. These migrants probably had to arrive from Mangareva, the main island of the Gambier archipelago, but we can not exclude an arrival by the other nearest islands: Marquesas Islands or Pitcairn.
Once there, they organized themselves into territorial clans. At the time there were about ten clans that divided the territory into triangular pieces starting from the center of the island. Where all the territories joined was the common territory, where one could discuss the needs of all the clans. Each clan had its villages, a little behind the coast. It was villages of stone houses with common buildings and a social structure turned on the worship of the ancients. The cult of the ancients is a worship that has no gods, it is content to worship the ancestors, a tradition that aims to ensure the oral transmission of the history of the people in question.
The Moaïs are a representation of the ancestors, they are idols in charge of the protection of the island and as such they were placed all around the island. There is also a large number of places of worship on the coast. These statues were installed between 1200 and 1500, the period of belief in the cult of ancestors. From 1500 an event arrived, upsetting the established society. This date of 1500 is of course very arbitrary, the change having occurred perhaps a little later, sometimes we even announce the 17th century.
The cult of Make-make
It was not a sudden upheaval that caused the change in Easter Island society around 1500, but rather an awareness - probably forced by the facts - that the relatively small island could not provide. food to the whole population if the latter did not deal with the problem of the ecosystem. Indeed, in addition to having to deforest for food the inhabitants had to cut the trees to build the Moais, to transport them, carve them, etc. Without trees, the ecosystem was disrupted, food became scarce and part of the population had to leave. Specialists found traces of Pitcairn Island settlements from that time, proving the migration of part of the population. However, this hypothesis has never been proven, and deforestation could very well have happened later. As always, there are surely several factors that have had to intervene, and we exclude neither internal wars, which could have destroyed most of the population and therefore need the establishment of another society, nor natural disasters, they also able to base a civilization so fragile.
To face the problem, and whatever the cause, a simple solution was found: The cult of the ancients was replaced for the benefit of a God, Make-make, the bird-man. The Moais were abandoned, some were willingly laid, others buried. The main quarry in which they were carved was also abandoned. It should be known that there were as many statue in the process of manufacturing as statues already erected, or 400. All those in the process of manufacture were buried, covered or simply left as is. The old places of worship were abandoned. The new society that appeared was spontaneous, it was based on the previous one. A new caste of priests was born, and this new organization was able to resist the extreme island conditions imposed by the geography of the island, and that until 1687, year of the discovery of the island by the pirate Edward Davis.
The harmful influence of Europeans
If Edward Davis was the first to discover the island, he did not disembark, unlike Jakob Roggenveen, a Dutch sailor who acted for the Dutch West India Company. It was he who gave him his name: Easter Island, because it was addressed on April 6, 1722, Easter.
The second European to approach the island was Felipe González de Ahedo who took possession of it in the name of the Kingdom of Spain. It was November 15, 1770. However he did not know that it had already been discovered and therefore already belonged to a European kingdom, the Netherlands, who claimed it and got it.
James Cook made a stopover on Easter Island on March 13, 1774, then the French navigator La Perouse, in 1786. These increasingly frequent stops on the island set up a mechanism that the local population could not guess, namely its slow eradication on the one hand the development of unknown diseases and for which it had no natural antibodies, and on the other hand its kidnapping intended to turn them into slaves. This happened in the mid-nineteenth century when South American traders raided the island to capture as many people as possible to work for their accounts.
The population of the island probably never exceeded 2000 people, when it increased it was naturally limited by the lack of food resources. Once the raids were done, the population was too small to survive. In addition, the people behind these abductions took the opportunity to eradicate the culture of the island by suppressing priests and destroying places of worship. The date of 1877 is symptomatic, it corresponds to the smallest population of Polynesian origin that the island has never reached: 111 people. But since the middle of the nineteenth century other populations arrived, forming a mix that will not cease to matter. It is this mix that will save the population on the island and will make that there still exist, today, descendants of primitive people on the island. The migrants coming mainly from Tahiti and the southern islands for the majority of them, from Europe and for a tiny part, from China.
At the end of the 19th century, several Europeans settled on the island, which was then Christianized, and a new organization was set up. In 1888 Chile officially annexed it, and nowadays it is still a Chilean territory.
Geography of Easter Island
Easter Island is a Chilean island in the Pacific. It has the distinction of being the most remote island of all inhabited lands, and that on the whole of the Earth. Its closest inhabitants are 2078km away, on the island of Pitcairn, to the east. The second is 2,829 km, it is Alejandro Selkirk Island. Tahiti is more than 4000Kms away.
It measures 24Kms long and has a triangle shape, for an area of 162Km2.
It is not very rough, is made of three massifs including two volcanoes. There is a third volcano, smaller, these three volcanoes forming a straight line along the longest side of the island. The highest point is the Maunga Terevaka, with 507m of altitude, but the average of the island is much lower. Its landscape consists mainly of medium mountains, low hills, rounded, eroded by wind and frequent rains. Its ribs are usually shredded.
Easter Island Map
The vegetation is razed: It is the heir to the human activity which has eradicated little by little the local resources. There were forests at the time of the arrival of the first inhabitants, around 1200. They had reduced to the arrival of the Europeans and do not exist at all nowadays. It is the need to cultivate land (for the locals) and the opportunity to raise livestock (for European settlers) that favored deforestation. Do not neglect the destruction of trees for the purpose of manufacturing the Moais, but declare that this is the origin of the extinction of the dense vegetation of the island is a mistake. This is undoubtedly an aggravating factor, but perhaps not determinative.
The island is small, from the hydrological point of view it would have been normal that it does not have any river. This is indeed the case, at least permanently, but there is in the crater of each of the three volcanoes a large water reserve that has always ensured the water supply of the inhabitants.
In addition, the climate being tropical rainwater is partially captured.
Easter Island is volcanic, so it is made entirely of volcanic rock. Three volcanoes run along the longest coast, but it has many other smaller craters. The stone is essentially basalt.
The island is under the subtropical climate. It rains frequently, especially during the austral autumn (March to May). The temperature is not that high, but it is fairly constant: between 16 ° (during the austral winter, in July and August) and 28 ° (in February)
Do you want the Moaïs, really? Good luck!
And yes, if you really want to see one, you'd better go to a museum, because going there is not easy ...
But if you want to get there, then you have to fly from Santiago de Chile (one flight per day) or Tahiti (one flight per week) You will land at Mataveri International Airport. The island is very sparsely populated, but since tourism has been growing slowly since 1967, it still has good tourist facilities, including hotels. It is of course advisable to have booked your accommodation before going on site. A tour-operator is a pretty good idea, given the complexity of the trip and the administrative constraints you may encounter.
Also know that you will not be alone: the island receives about 80 000 visitors a year, more than 200 per day.
To do on Easter Island
Of course, the main activity is to discover the Moaïs. Several are easily visible, following the only paved road of the island, then taking the tracks. Some are more isolated in nature and are not meant to be seen by tourists, because there can be dangers (falls, various injuries) The career of Rano-Raraku, which is the main quarry of the Moais, is an interesting visit goal since we discover many statues being cut, abandoned at various stages of completion. Some are even completely finished but have never been transported to their sites.
Among other activities that the island has, there is the inevitable local museum, the Anthropological Museum Père Sébastien Englert, to discover. It is home to a rounded belly female Moais and many remains of the original Polynesian civilization.
Diving sites are also popular because the water is known to be particularly clear.
There is also the discovery of the local way of life, which will be easy for those who have easy contact, and walks in the hilly landscape. Do not miss either, the walks around the three volcanoes, they are not so high that it and not only allow to see these geographical curiosities closely, but also to admire the island of a culminating point. As it is not very big, it can be seen entirely.
The Moaïs in museums
Of the nearly 400 Moaïs that were made on Easter Island, about ten were exported. Three of them are in France. There are two at the Louvre Museum, one at the musée du quai Branly. In London you will have to go to the British museum in London. New York has one, it is at the Museum of Natural History. Brussels, Washington are also cities where you can see Moaïs.
Otherwise there are also in Chile of course: in Santiago, Viña del Mar and La Serena.
Administratively the island is managed by Chile, the nearest country. It is part of the Valparaiso region. It is occupied by a little over 6000 inhabitants, this figure varying slowly upward or downward, depending on the decades. Its capital is Hanga Roa, home to most of the population. It is a simple town made of low houses with lush gardens. It has hotels and restaurants, various shops, a library.
The economic activity of the island is mainly oriented towards tourism, but the fishing is also important and provides a part of the supply of the population.
The Moaïs are the name given to the statues of Easter Island. There are 887, essentially half of them along the coast of the island, while the other half are still carving in the quarry.
They measure from 2 to 10m for a weight of up to several tens of tons. They represent men, they are carved according to a unique archetypal based on simplified anatomical elements. They have a long nose, a strong neck, a clear forehead and long ears. They sometimes have a pukao, a hat made of red tuff.
The Moaïs are a representation of the ancients, they are integrated into the worship of the ancestors, a cult widespread in the Polynesian islands and which was imported at the same time as the settlement of the island, around 1200. It is estimated several years the time it took between cutting, transport, setting up on site and decoration. They were almost all carved in the quarry of Rano-Raraku, southeast of the island, then routed on the ahus, ceremonial platforms that are found throughout the island, or more simply on an isolated site. Some were abandoned during transport, they lie on the back, on the ground. Those who were permanently settled had eyes made of white coral and red tuff or black diorite, to simulate the eyes.
The community that built the Moais was the "Haumaka", a people of Austronesian origin who came from neighboring islands around 1200 AD. They are the ones who built the Moais. Around 1500, maybe a little later, they changed their worship and then worshiped Make-make, the bird god. The Moai were then abandoned. This abandonment was so sudden that the statues under construction, and there were many, were left as they were, vaguely buried for some of them. The first European incursions on the island, from the 16th century, will mark the end of this civilization. If the first centuries are normal, with relations of discovery between the Haumaka and the Europeans, the mid-nineteenth century saw Peruvian slavers arrive who swept up almost the entire population. Almost extinct, it was saved by the massive introduction of a new Polynesian population, the "Rapa", which, mixing with Europeans and some Chinese, still form today the population of the island.
Dimensions and weight
Moaïs have varied sizes and weights, of course. The first ones that were carved were the real size, that is to say they measured about 1m60 to 1m80, no more, for an approximate weight around one ton. But gradually the dimensions have grown, reaching sizes of 10m for larger ones. On average, they are 7m high, but it's really average, no statue is really the same size as its neighbor.
The weight of these statues ranges from a few tons to a few tens of tons. The largest statue on the site is 21m high, but it was never erected, it was being sculpted when the ancestor cult was abandoned, making these statues useless.
Anecdotes and curiosities
Easter Island is the most isolated island in the world. The community that lives on the spot has its closest neighbor 2078Kms away, the world record.
Scientists have tried to prove how Easter Island was colonized, using boats similar to those used in the 13th century. From the nearest island it took only 19 days of sailing!
Easter Island has no river, at least permanent: The only fresh water is stored in the craters of two of the island's three volcanoes. Without these natural reserves life would have been impossible.
The Moaïs inspired Hergé for Tintin's album "Vol 714 for Sidney". This story presents megalithic monuments of a mysterious civilization. They represent technological characters whose gigantism is closer to the Moais.
Contrary to what one might think the Moaïs were not looted by the Europeans, unlike what could have happened for other civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia) Probably too far and too heavy, these megaliths did not have enough interest to bring them all back. Only 10 of them were removed and then exhibited in museums around the world.
The entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995
"Rapa Nui" is the name given to the people who colonized Easter Island first. This colonization took place around 1200. If this name is today the best known, they do not name themselves rather "Haumaka" or "Matamua".
It is a people of Austronesian origin, that is to say from the South Pacific islands. Their language is "Rapanui", and that's where the typically Western confusion comes from between the name of the people and their language.
Literally, this word is translated as "The first", in reference to the original peoples of the islands, which the oral tradition brings from the Marquesas Islands.
After settling on Easter Island, they lived in isolation until the arrival of the first Westerners at the end of the 16th century. In the mid-nineteenth century Peruvian slavers raided the island, capturing most men to force them to work in guano mining. It was almost the end of this civilization, only a few members escaped.
The island was then largely populated by the Rapa, a close ethnic group who settled as agricultural workers on behalf of French producers. There followed a mix between the Europeans, this exogenous group, the small endogenous group and some Chinese families who came there. Nowadays it is estimated that there are still a few thousand native Haumaka on the island and a large diaspora, mainly in Chile.
The rapanui had a clannish organization: On the island, the territory was divided into 11 triangular zones, starting from the center of the island and spreading towards the coasts. Each area belonged to a clan that built villages there. A clan said "Mata" in the local language.