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Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and its Moai

Listed under Islands in Easter Island, Chile.

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One of the world's most famous yet least visited archaeological sites, Easter Island is sixty-three square miles in size and located 2200 miles off the coast of Chile. The oldest known name of the island is Te Pito o Te Henua, meaning ‘The Center of the World.’ In the 1860’s Tahitian sailors gave the island the name Rapa Nui, meaning ‘Great Rapa.’ The island received its most well known name, Easter Island, from a Dutch sea captain, Jacob Roggeveen, the first European to visit on Easter Sunday, 1722. In the early 1950s, the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl suggested Easter Island had been originally settled by Indians from the coast of South America. Archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic research has shown this hypothesis to be inaccurate. It is now believed that the original inhabitants of Easter Island were of Polynesian stock, that they arrived by canoes in the 4th century AD, and numbered less than 100. At the time of their arrival, much of the island was forested, was teeming with land birds, and was perhaps the most productive breeding site for seabirds in the Polynesia region. Because of the plentiful bird, fish and plant food sources, the human population grew and gave rise to a rich religious and artistic culture.

Easter Island’s most famous features are its enormous stone statues called moai, at least 288 of which once stood upon stone platforms called ahu. Nearly all the moai, averaging 15 feet tall and weighing 14 tones, are carved from stone of the Rano Raraku volcano. Depending upon the size of the statue, between 50 and 150 people were needed to drag it across the countryside on sleds and rollers made from the island's trees. The moai and ahu were in use as early as AD 500, but the majority were erected between 1000 and 1650 AD.

Scholars assume that the carving and erection of the moai derived from an idea rooted in similar practices found elsewhere in Polynesia. Archaeological and iconographic analysis indicates that the statue cult was based on an ideology of male, lineage-based authority incorporating anthropomorphic symbolism. Yet the statues were more than symbols. To the people who erected and used them, they were repositories of sacred spirit. Carved stone and wooden objects in ancient Polynesian religions, when ritually prepared, were believed to be charged by a magical spiritual essence called mana. The ahu platforms of Easter Island were the sanctuaries of the people of Rapa Nui, and the moai statues were the ritually charged sacred objects of those sanctuaries.

More about Easter Island and its statues from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Other expert and press reviews

“Easter Island residents fear ruin over tourist ruling”

By Rory Carroll for First Published 11 October 2009 It was supposed to be a first step in controlling the throngs of tourists and migrants that threaten the fragile ecology and cultural heritage of Easter Island. Since last month, every… Read more...

Written by press. Continue reading on

“Rapa Nui”

A weird place. No trees except for a small clump in the middle of the island. Only one swimming beach at Ana Kaena. You could swim in front of the one and only town on a calm day but the beach is rocky. There was no upmarket accommodation open when I w… Read more...

Written by  Ian Wilson.

“Rapa Nui National Park”

Rapa Nui, the indigenous name of Easter Island, bears witness to a unique cultural phenomenon. A society of Polynesian origin that settled there c. A.D. 300 established a powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architect… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

“Excerpt from 'Many on Easter Island Prefer to Leave Stones Unturned'”

By Larry Rohter for The New York Times First published January 9, 2007 RANO RARAKU, Easter Island — As remnants of a vanished culture and a lure to tourists, the mysterious giant statues that stand as mute sentinels along the rocky coast here are the g… Read more...

Written by press. Full Article from The New York Times

“A Hiking Guide to Easter Island”

Ask me which Pacific island has the most to offer hikers and I'll probably answer Easter Island. Here on an island 11 km wide and 23 km long you'll find nearly a thousand ancient Polynesian statues strewn along a powerfully beautiful coastline or litter… Read more...

Written by  David Stanley. Stanley's online guide to Easter Island

“Rapa Nui”

Before my arrival to Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, which is the correct name, I´d heard mixed reviews, some very bad. There is no doubt of the fact that the island has been badly hit by the arrival of man some 1200 years ago, there´s nothing left of the e… Read more...

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Going to Rapa Nui changed my life and confirmed me that mystical and magic things do exist

and that the vibration of tdhe place and the island so strong!

So i started to b interrested and involved to the mystical and magic places of the word.

And Rapa Nui is probably the purest and the strongest!

Easter Island has to be the loneliest place on Earth! It is also the most unique place I have been to because of its strange weather patterns, interesting inhabitants and, of course, the moai. I flew in from Santiago, Chile and rented a quanset hut and decided to go exploring right away. Renting a horse, I rode up to the volcanoe and was fascinated with how few people I ran into along the way and how the weather played tricks with you, adding to the feeling of loneliness. I'm glad I went there, but I have no desire to return.

3 Replies

Why would you not go back?

I experienced all that I had hoped to experience during this visit and feel that I would alter this with an additional visit. Besides, there's a whole lot of world out there yet to see.

Too true!

Easter Island is the place to be. The rock statues should definitely be considered an ancient wonder. Easter Island is unique, the current world wonders need more diversity.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Remote Rapa Nui or Easter Island is best known for its numerous carved monolithic heads, the moai, of which 50 are now standing sentinel on the island. Great debates rage over where the first islanders came from and why they carved the monoliths, destroying the islands ecology in the process and causing their own civilization to disintegrate.

Now almost treeless, Rapa Nui was once covered in sub-tropical forests with their own unique species of palm. Rapa Nui was also home to both ocean and land birds, now all extinct.

According to recent studies, there are 887 Moai in existence, both on the island and in museums, ranging in size up to ten metres tall and 75 tonnes. The statues were carved out of compressed volcanic ash found in a single location on the island. Only a quarter of the moai had been erected (before being toppled) in their final destinations and many remain in the quarry waiting to be transported. Although thought of as heads, the statues actually depict torsos as well, and scientists believe that they once also had eyes made of coral.

As well as the moai, Rapa Nui has many thousands of carved stones, two white sandy beaches, a shore break suitable for surfing, extensive snorkelling snd diving friendly coastlines and an interesting series of vast subterranean caverns.

Rapa Nui has become more touristy over the last decade and there are now plenty of guesthouses to stay in a several restaurants.

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