Moai = huge volcanic stone head or figure of (usually) a man
Ahu = large stone platform supporting the moai. Ahus often contain burials or cremated remains. It is still tabu to walk on them
Pukao = red volcanic stone 'topknot' sometime placed on a moai's head
When Dutch sailor Jacob Rogeveen moored his ship on the rocky shores of a triangular, volcanic speck of land only 12 miles long and 6 miles wide on Easter Sunday 1722 he was the first European to have clapped eyes on its tiny, treeless shore, dotted with stone platforms (ahu) supporting enormous stone statues (moai).
While the moai and the ahu are positively modern by the standards of TMA's European chronology, they were built by people living a Neolithic lifestyle and therefore I feel they are within the remit of TMA. Polynesian settlers arrived there about 900AD from (probably) the Marquesas Islands, bringing with them stone tools, fish hooks, chickens and a passion for carving stone tikis. This love was to reach insane, almost industrial proportions as their isolated civilisation developed.
The story of the initial discovery of Easter Island by the Polynesian settlers, the rise of their isolated civilisation, and its subsequent collapse after European discovery is one that has intrigued me ever since I can remember. It was inevitable that some day my curiosity would take me there.
We landed at Hanga Roa, Easter Island's only village (population 4,400) and immediately strode out north from our hotel despite the fierce sun.
Our first monument was Tahai, a complex of platforms, boat shaped houses, chicken houses, and moai, including one with its original pukao and restored eyes:
I can't begin to describe to you how I felt to finally see the moai for myself. Moth and I kept having to remind ourselves that we were REALLY here.
When you've been wowed by the moai, it's easy to overlook the intricate and carefully built stone platforms, the tops laid out in careful rows.
Not all the monuments are on the shore. Ahu Akivi has a large stone platform and seven re-erected moai and is a long way inland.
Despite the searing sun (there's bugger all shade to be had on Easter!) I had to sit and draw it.
The monument at Vinapu is, like so many others on the island, unrestored. It was interesting to see the giant moai lying face down, deliberately toppled by the islanders some time between 1722 and 1868 as the power and sacredness of the ancestors ebbed away.
The locals called this magical spiritual essence mana, I call it 'woooo!' All die-hard stone-huggers like us, whether they believe in 'woooo' or not, understand the power of standing a stone up and the very real sense of loss of something when they are toppled. Seeing the now powerless moai at Vinapu reminded me of a pod of beached whales, still magnificent and wondrous but dead nonetheless.
The seven moai re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl at Anakena's sandy beach (the only sandy beach on the island) are a magnificent sight, standing up there on their tall ahu, surrounded by Tahitian coconut palms that he planted 50 years ago. Isn't this exactly what you imagine the Polynesia of your dreams to be?
The sea, by the way, was freezing!
This A-list Hollywood show site of moai on an ahu is at Tongariki and I make no apology for bombarding you with five photos of it:
Fifteen moai! FIFTEEN!!!! All re-erected but all in there original positions.
As I sketched I could see that each one was an individual, if not exactly a portrait, certainly imbued with the spirit of the ancestor it was meant to represent.
The place is simply breath-taking.
The moai look inland (nearly all of them do) towards the volcano Rano Raraku from where they were carved, the subject of my next blog.
Photos: Moth Clark
Posted by Jane
2nd December 2011ce
Edited 2nd December 2011ce
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