Updated April 2020!
It’s Moai Monday! If you’ve been following along on Facebook or Instagram @quickwhittravel, you know we just got home from a Trip of a Lifetime to Easter Island, Chile! So what are those big heads all about? Do they have bodies? How did they get there? Read on to find out!
What is a Moai?
Moai is the Rapa Nui name for the stone sculptures that are all over Easter Island (more accurately known as Rapa Nui). They are symbols of power to the Rapa Nui people because they represent each of their chiefs from around 680 A.D. to 1680 A.D. Most are in the form of men, but archaeologists have found at least 10 with female features as well.
What Did The Moai Look Like Back Then?
All the Moai were roughly the same body shape, with black and white eyes and a red topknot (not a hat–a topknot is made of hair). Here is the only example with its eyes. The eyes are not original, but they are replicas made with the same materials.
Who Made the Moai?
The Rapa Nui people made the Moai–not aliens, not nature, not something else unexplainable. We don’t know a whole lot for certain, but we do know the Rapa Nui people did make the Moai! Here are some of the materials:
Where and How Did They Make the Moai?
All the Moai were carved from the quarry called Rano Raraku. This is the only place on the island with the right kind of stone. Many Moai are still in the quarry and look like they are buried in the ground. Well, that’s only half right. The artists would carve the front of the Moai, then chisel it away from the mountain and put it into a shallow hole in the ground in order to carve petroglyphs on the back. Because many of the Moai never made it out of these shallow holes in the quarry, 330+ years of erosion has caused them to be covered with dirt and allowed grass to grow, so it does look like it’s just a head sticking up out of the ground. Don’t worry–they all have bodies at this phase!
Want to see more? Take a look!
How Big are the Moai?
The largest one is still in the ground at the quarry! The Moai are anywhere from 3-21 meters long (10-70 feet), and they can weigh up to 70 tons, or maybe more! The first Moai were on the smallish side compared to the later ones that were created 1000 years later. As the Rapa Nuis’ technology and skills improved over that 1000 years, the Moai got larger and larger.
How Did They Move the Moai?
This is the thing no one knows for sure! There are several theories floating around, and the oral tradition on Rapa Nui says that the Moai walked to their places on the ahus or platforms that they stand on! The Moai were probably moved using trees that used to grow on Rapa Nui; scientists know the island was deforested by the 1650s, so it makes sense that the Moai carving stopped just 30 years later.
Have the Moai Always Been Standing?
Nope! The different tribes on the island would fight with each other, and a show of disrespect and conquering another tribe was to topple another tribe’s Moai. This was such a show of disrespect because the Moai were placed on an ahu, or platform, which was a place for ceremonies, burials of tribal leaders, and was considered holy. Also, the Moai themselves each represent a tribal leader, and they always (with one exception) face inland to watch over their tribal descendants. By toppling the Moai backward or forward, the conquering tribe show that they were more powerful. Many of the Moai have been replaced on their ahus since the 1960s, but some are still in their fallen positions.
How Many Moai are There?
There are close to 1000 Moai! Some are upright on an ahu, some are knocked over at their ahu, some fell during transportation and were left where they fell, some are still in the rock in the quarry, and many of them are “buried” in the grass and dirt at the quarry awaiting transportation that never came.
Want More Pictures?
Here are the best shots I got of the most famous Moai!
I hope you are now inspired to visit the Moai for yourself! Stay tuned this week for more about the Moai and Easter Island! And find everything you need to know about visiting on my Chile Page.
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