Saturday, March 21, 2009


I know I mentioned these Moai dudes on my last blog on Rapa Nui but I feel I must give them a little more attention than what they received in my last missive. If you have had your archaeological fill, just skip this blog, but be prepared for the photo albums which will feature Moai ad nauseum.

The Moai were not created by slave labor but by a master carver and his apprentices. When someone wanted a Moai, they went to the carver and bartered for his services. The Moai was then fabricated from the volcanic rock in the Rano Raraku quarry on the south side of the island. That was probably the easy part! The Moai then had to be moved to the desired location. As I mentioned in my Rapa Nui blog, it is still not conclusive how this was done. Speculations are that they were moved on logs either lying down or in an upright fashion. No matter how you look at it, this was an incredible accomplishment.

Once the Moai made it to the desired location (which was not always accomplished give the number of “dead Moai” covering the landscape), this 20 ton statue had to be erected on top of an Ahu, a stone alter. Again no one conclusively knowns how this was done but it is believed that they used ropes, wooden poles and stones. A crane sounds a whole lot easier to me. It is only after the Moai was erected onto the Ahu (or shortly before) that the eye sockets were carved; Moai in the quarry do not have eye sockets, only the ones moved to other destinations have them. Once the eye sockets are carved it is then that the Rapa Nui belived that the “statue” embodied the spirt of their ancestors that were buried in that particular Ahu. Only one “actual” eye has been found made of coral and obsidian so it has not been determined whether at one time all erect Moai had “eyes” or if only some Moai had “eyes” and the rest had only eye sockets.

Great cylindrical topknots (Pukao) were carved from red scoria and added to the heads of some, but not all Moai. These may have signified hats, hair tied up into a knot, or a feathered headdress worn by warriors and had some connection with status and power. The red scoria from which the Pukao were carved came from a different quarry, Puna Pau, which, of course, is on the other end of the island – who was in charge of the manufacturing organization of this society? Given that these Pukao were round, it is assumed that they were rolled to their destination. But a 20 ton Moai doesn't just need a small hat, it needs a BIG one! The Pukao alone could weigh up to 12 tons so even rolling it couldn't be easy. Also, how do you lift a 12 ton Pukao to put on top of a 9 meter statue? Little research has been done on this but some archeologists have suggested that the Pukao were lashed to the stautes and raised together as a unit.

There are almost as many Moai in the quarry as there are on the rest of the island. For whatever reason, these Moai were carved but never transported. The entire quarry, both on the inside and on the outside, are dotted with Moai in various stages of “life”; many still attached to the rocks from which they were carved, others free standing and upright. The largest Moai ever carved is still attached to the rock in the quarry, possibly because the carvers realized that it would have been impossible to move.

The largest Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, holds 15 Moai while smaller Ahu may hold only 5 or 7 and many stand alone. By the time that Rapa Nui was discovered by the Western World, all the Moai had been toppled due to tribal warfare, all face down, and all clearly positioned with their backs to the ocean. Only Ahu Akivi, with 7 Moai, face the sea. It was believed that the Moai faced inward toward the island to protect it's inhabitants. Only about four dozen Moai have been restored to their upright position while the majority of the Moai lie where they were last left by The Ancient Rapa Nui or buried for some future archaeologist to discover.


Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua said...

I love Rapa Nui ...

Beautiful blog.

Sophia said...

Wow, that is so amazing... what a beautiful tradition. Reminds me of the one-armed-lady on Clifton- maybe you can bring one home to replace her :)