With its rough seas and stone moai statues, Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated places.
Moai – the name of the giant statues that dot the grassy knolls of Easter Island. Carved out of the island’s volcanic rock nearly 1000 years ago, these enormous stone heads were built to honour the island’s very important people.
First heard about Easter Island while on holiday in Santiago, Chile, is when a documentary about a tiny Polynesian island covered in giant heads and extinct volcanoes. A five-hour flight later, we had touched down at Matavery International Airport to the swishing of grass skirts, cool coconut drinks and leis made of freshly plucked frangipanis.
As the driver had navigated the dirt roads towards the hotel Posada De Mike Rapu, he had occasionally stopped to give way to one of the 6000 wild horses that roam free on the island. Burnt yellow fields rolled quietly towards the roaring ocean; a lone palm tree the only reminder of the thick jungle that once covered this isolated land.
Impressive work ethic: Continue to walk further along the Ara O Te Moai, is the ancient trail once used to transport the moai around the island. There is a huge dented slab of volcanic rock: the Rano Raraku quarry. Most of the moai on the island – estimated around 1000 – were carved from this quarry. Some are very small, while others look around 10 metres tall. When someone important died, the village would request that a moai be made so that person’s mana (good luck and special powers) would protect them. The villagers had to feed and house the workers while they made the state, which could take a year.
It is an impressive work ethic – and the mammoth job of carving the moai is just the beginning. Most of the moai line the island’s coast, which is up to 11 miles from the quarry, and are strategically placed on platforms to protect the villages from invaders. Even to this day, questions remains about how such a primitive people managed to move hundreds of tonnes of rock around the island.
National geographic may have found the answer. It funded an expedition to Easter Island, sending archaeologists on a mission to find out exactly how these enormous statues – the largest weighing more than 80 tonnes – were transported from the quarry. They recreated the scene and realised it is possible the moai walked from their quarries to the platforms around the island.
Nearby, a fallen moai’s head sinks into the soft grass, its empty eye sockets (once made from coral) staring blankly at the blue sky above. The local people believed that if a moai fell while being transported to its new home, its mana was worthless and the moai was to be left where it toppled. Workers would then return to the quarry and start a year’s worth of work all over again.
A Birdman in the hand: The sea is swollen before leaving the jetty and by the time fishing boat reaches open waters it’s lathering into a fury. It is not exactly an idyllic day to go snorkelling in the Pacific. The guide cuts the engine beside Motu Nui, a tiny, uninhabited speck in the ocean. There were the ominous-looking cliffs of Easter Island, now being battered by swirling winds.
Up until 19th century the island held a competition called Birdman contest. Powerful men on the island would order the strongest men from their village to clamber down those high cliffs, swim across here to Motu Nui, collect the first Sooty Tern (an important island bird) egg of the season, swim back and climb back up the cliffs to the village. It was pretty dangerous crossing the water, but first man to make it back with the egg would be the winner; his chef got to be the Birdman and ruler of the island for the year.
Towards the other side of Motu Nui, the sea turns back to turquoise, where you can plop into the cool water for snorkelling. The visibility would be perfect yet there would be hardly any fish here, the water around Easter Island eerily devoid of sea life.
Show Time: The Kari Kari ballet is widely regarded as the best traditional show on the island.
Courtesy by G.N.