When you think of Easter Island, what do you see?
I’m betting it’s the famous Easter Island heads (Moai –and then you probably think of the bubblegum-chewing head from “Night at the Museum.”
A trip to Easter Island is an exercise in appreciating everything around you. While you’re on the Island, you are literally on a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’re seeing something that so few have had the chance to see, and it’s breathtaking.
First things first–let’s get some basic vocabulary down. Moai are the famous stone statues. They’re not just heads–they are whole bodies (though often without legs). They were made in the image of important men in the various clans of the islands, and sit on burial platforms called ahu. The moai always faced inwards towards the island, and were said to inhabit the special spirits of the departed men they were fashioned after. They imbued the clan’s village with special luck and kept them safe from the rough seas, the blistering wind, and warring neighbor clans.
So, they’re pretty amazing artifacts. But, after three days of seeing nothing but stone heads, it’s easy to get Moai overload. We had started to have this happen… and then we visited Rano Raraku. Essentially a Moai Factory, Rano Raraku is where all of the Moai on the island were made. Hewn from the volcanic rocks, the moai here were carefully made into the likenesses of important men in each of the island’s clans, and painstakingly transported miles across the island to their final resting spots.
Where else in the world will you see hundreds of moai in various stages of construction littering the side of a volcano? This is why Rano Raraku is often the site of some of Easter Island’s most iconic images.
Even after seeing dozens of other moai, it’s mindboggling to play “find the moai” in the rocks. The largest was 71 meters tall, and was still in the midst of construction when it was finished.
Being able to look down from the top of the path and see the moai “moving” in their paths toward the ahus is a chance to reflect on how much work it really took to move these several-ton objects around a rocky, often difficult island landscape.
There’s one moai that is definitely not like the others. Tukuturi is the only maoi that has legs. Made from an entirely different stone than the other moai on the site, it stands out to show how different moai could be. Allegedly, this was one of the last moai to ever be made, and reflects the position taken by those who served in ceremonial choirs on the island.