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"Moai" Top 5 Page for this destination Easter Island Things to Do Tip by pure1942

Easter Island Things to Do: 304 reviews and 693 photos

  Moai at Rano Raraku
by pure1942
  • Moai at Rano Raraku - Easter Island
      Moai at Rano Raraku
    by pure1942
  • Moai at Tongariki - Easter Island
      Moai at Tongariki
    by pure1942
  • Moai at Rano Raraku - Easter Island
      Moai at Rano Raraku
    by pure1942
  • Moai at Anakena - Easter Island
      Moai at Anakena
    by pure1942
  • Moai at Rano Raraku - Easter Island
      Moai at Rano Raraku
    by pure1942

The term ‘moai’ refers to the world famous giant statues found on Easter Island. The vast majority of these moai were cut from compressed volcanic ash known as tuff at the Rano Raraku volcano on the island’s southern coast although there are a few examples of moai that were cut elsewhere on the island.
While all the moai look similar, there are actually differences between most of the moai ranging from subtle changes in expression to major differences in size, height, posture, markings and other features. These differences stem from the accepted theory that the faces of the moai depict the actual appearance of dead ancestors or ‘aringa ora ata tepuna’ whom the Rapa Nui people worshipped as deities.
The moai do share certain characteristics with most being depicted as legless, tall narrow bodies with elongated heads displaying protruding eyebrows and noses and thin, stern, pouting lips. The arms of the moai hang stiffly at the sides of the body with the long narrow fingers extending across swollen bellies. Commonly the moai have elongated ears.
The style and detailing of the moai changed over the years with the later moai displaying a far more refined style of carving. It was only the later moai that also carried a pukao (topknot) on their heads. Fine examples of moais from the later style can be seen at Ahu Nau Nau at Anakena and obviously at the quarry at Rano Raraku.
Around half of the moai ever cut are still lying on the hillside of the Rano Raraku Volcano indicating that carving of the moai was at an all time high when their production ceased suddenly and forever. No one can say for sure why the moai carving suddenly stopped but most scholars are agreed that it was a fierce tribal war that caused the cessation of moai production on the island. This unrest was probably caused by the overworking and exploitation of one tribe called the Short Ears working under the harsh management and control of another clan known as the Long Ears.
Moai sizes vary greatly with some only standing to a height of about 2 metres while the tallest is a staggering 21 metres heigh and weighs an estimated 270 tons! This moai known as El Gigante remains at the quarry at Rano Raraku and was never fully cut from the rock. The tallest moai ever cut and erected was Paro at Ahu Te Pito Kura standing at 10 metres tall. However, this was not the heaviest moai, with a moai at Ahu Tongariki weighing in at slightly heavier 86 tons!
There are many examples of ‘unusual’ moai on the island with the strangest and most mysterious being Moai Tukuturi at Rano Raraku which was cut in a highly unusual ‘kneeling position’. There is also strange moai at Ahu Vinapu which was cut from a separate quarry and originally would have had two heads. At the museum there is also a rare example of a female moai. For more on these moai check out my ‘Things To Do’ tips – ‘Moai Tukuturi’, ‘Ahu Vinapu’, and ‘ Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert’.
In total there are about 887 moai discovered so far on the island although around 394 of these moai are still at the quarry of Rano Raraku and were never erected on an ahu platform. Scholars agree that the majority of moai on Easter Island were carved between the years 1250 and 1500.
Just how the islanders managed to transport and erect these giant monoliths is perhaps, the biggest mystery of all. There are many theories around this subject with most approving the probability that the islanders used a combination of ropes, human strength and possibly wooden rollers. One theory states that the islanders could have moved the moai upright using ropes and levers and by ‘rocking’ the statues to their final destination. This is backed up by evidence showing that moai broken during transportation have fractured into several pieces which could have only been caused by falling from a height. However experiments have shown that without some form of wodden rollers this method would have resulted in severe damage to the base of the moai. Another experiment showed that the moai could have been transported upright but instead of moving it over the ground, wooden rollers under the base would could have been used making the process quicker and easier while protecting the base of the statues.
The theory that the moai were moved in a prone position on wooden rollers has been largely disproven. The moai broken during transportation wouldn’t have fractured the way they did if they had been transported using this method. Also, the largest moai ever successfully transported would have needed a team of about 1500 to pull it along wooden rollers, although an experiment by Jo Anne Van Tilburg showed that this number could be halved if the rollers were lubricated in some way.
(For more traditional views on how the locals believed the moai were transported see my ‘Customs’ tips)

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  • Written Nov 2, 2011
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