Known as Rapa Nui in Polynesian dialect and Isla de Pascua, the Easter Island in the South Pacific at 2200 miles from Chile is the home to some of the most unusually giant statues called Moai. These unique monumental statues are found to be devoted by the locals who are traditionally called as the Rapanui people to their ancestors. Colossal size, lengthy facial parts as compared to the body, and absence of legs are some of the stunning features of these Easter Island heads made from stone. It is precisely because of these statues that today, millions of visitors visit this island every year.
The island was named ‘Easter’ by the Dutch explorer who first spotted it in 1722 on the day of Easter. Nestled in between Chile and Tahiti, this one is the world’s most isolated islands, which is inhabited. It is so remotely located that the nearest inhabited land is at 1,290 miles called the Pitcairn Island in the west.
The triangular-shaped Easter atoll is said to be one of the youngest formations by an ancient volcanic eruption and is only of 64 square miles in size. In contrast with this small size, it is an incredible spectacle to see the tight-lipped statues that cover many different parts of the island, which were built between the 10th and 16th centuries AD by the Rapa Nui folks. Even today, these are shrouded in secrecy as it is still not known as to why and how they were made.
The island is a Polynesian one in the Southeast Pacific engulfing three extinct volcanoes. The Easter Island itself is a big volcano flanked by a green forest that has now disappeared along with the dense thriving of the nomadic birds as well as wild animals. One of the reasons for vanishing of the forest is these Easter Island heads.
The first inhabitants were the Rapa Nui people who came here in between 700 to 1,100 CE at Anakena – the most apt landing spot for the canoes and catamarans from the turbulent waves. These people were blessed with artistic as well as religious know-how before they came here and this is evident from their carvings of Moai.
These Easter Island heads in form of giant stone statues called moai used to formerly stand on Ahu – the enormous stone platforms. Some 250 of these platforms are spaced at 1.5 mile apart to form almost an uninterrupted line flanking the island’s perimeter. Today, around the island, over 600 moai statues are scattered showing the different stages of their completion; which are visible in quarries or on the old paths between the quarries as well as along the shore – the most selected zone of erecting these statues.
All of these Easter Island heads are sculpted from the hard stone that belonged to the Rano Raraku volcano. On an average, the statue is 14 feet 6 inches in height and weighs 14 tons with an exception of a few that are of 33 feet and weighed over 80 tons. Interestingly, one from the bedrock is 65 feet long and weighs 270 tons. With these statistics, it was found that some 50 to 150 people were labored to carry these giants on sleds and rollers that were built from the island’s trees.
It is believed that these colossal stone carvings are the revealers of the Rapa Nui’s tradition and belief. These people used to believe that a living being boasts a two-way symbolic link with the dead: the living one would secure a good place of living via the offerings in the world of spirits, while the dead will automatically fulfill all the desires of the living. This is logically the main reason that is assumed behind the building of these giant statues that are of the ancestors. Even the pose of these statues symbolize the belief: the front means guarding the descendants, while the back towards the sea means pointing towards the sacred spirit world.
Where to see the statues
- Ahu Tahai, ceremonial platform at Tahai around a ramp of spherical beach stones holding the earliest ahu structures from 690 AD
- Rano Raraku, the mountain whose stones were used in building the heads on its slopes
- Ahu Tongariki, where 15 famous moai statues in a military lineup are seen
Camping at Anakena, but bring all water and food.
When to visit
October, November, March, and April.
How to reach
By the Chilean carrier LAN from Lima and Santiago.